Sporty sponsors: The 5 best sports sponsorship activations

Whether they’re chanting anthems, clapping their hands or stomping their feet, sports fans make their enthusiasm known. Fans are the backbone of the sporting community, and often the team that they support become an integral part of their identity. This is why it is crucial that top brands bring their A-game to their sports sponsorship activations — they need to keep these devotees engaged, connected and give them the ultimate experience.

Below are five of our favourite digital engagements and sports partnership activations. So sit back, relax and take a look at the few brands who have hit it out of the park.

What is a sponsorship activation?

Before we give you the rundown, let’s clarify what sponsorship activations entail. Simply put, sponsorship activations are a way for brands to enhance their visibility and engage with their target audience through sports-related events or via partnerships with athletes and teams.

It is all about bringing the sports partnership between the brand and sporting organisation to life as well as creating the ultimate experience for fans. Traditionally, sports sponsorships were showcased through logos on kits or stadium signs, but nowadays fans expect more than brand recognition — they want to engage with the brand. Sports sponsorship activations are enhancing their brand image by aligning with the positive values and emotions associated with sports. By engaging with consumers on a deeper level through interactive experiences, it fosters long-term brand affinity and loyalty.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the five best examples of sports sponsorship activations and what made them successful.

1. Snickers x Blippar 

The beloved Mars chocolate brand sweetened up the Super Bowl LVIII this year by leveraging Apple’s new augmented reality (AR) technology during the adverts. Collaborating with the technology content company Blippar, fans who owned an Apple Vision Pro headset were able to step into a virtual experience where they could practise kicking field goals or visit the “misfortune teller” T.J. Watts of Pittsburgh Steelers. The experience invited Super-Bowl watchers to share their rookie mistakes or embarrassing moments, all for a chance to win an at-home football viewing set up. By targeting NFL fans and inviting them to share their experiences and vulnerabilities, they forged a stronger and deeper emotional connection between their users and their brand.

Fans are hungry (no pun intended) for new VR and AR experiences, and as Gabrielle Wesley — Chief Marketing Officer for Mars — notes, the use of this new tech meant Snickers were able to “redefine audience engagement through the latest technology, while remaining authentic to our beloved brand.” Since gaining significant media attention from this partnership, Apple’s revolutionary new headset has made at-home AR technology possible, enabling users to transform their living spaces into a personalised metaverse. The Snickers NFL activation was one of the very first brand experiences to use this cutting-edge technology.

This innovative activation tied directly to the brand’s sponsorship of the Super Bowl and successfully provided a fun, interactive way for fans to engage with the event and even win luxurious prizes and tickets to the Super Bowl. By targeting NFL fans, the immersive and exciting experience fostered brand loyalty to both The Mars Agency and Blippar, while increasing brand visibility for Apple’s new Vision Pro headset.

2. Puma IGNITE x Usain Bolt 

In 2015, Puma launched a product called Puma IGNITE — their latest running shoe that provided maximum energy return. For a day, New York City saw pro runners, locals, tourists and even NYPD officers power away on 25 branded treadmills whilst wearing IGNITE footwear. At the same time, the treadmills collected and stored the amount of energy the runners exerted in their brand new kicks. This spectacle was broadcasted on six large LED screens and a giant 13-foot semicircular LED tower, showcasing the energy harnessed by the IGNITE shoes.

The energy trackers placed on the treadmills were crucial to the activation, serving as the primary measurement tool to gauge the runners’ distance. When the threshold reached 100%, Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man and Puma’s spokesperson, appeared in a puff of smoke.

This running experience was a stellar opportunity for individuals to connect with Puma while trying out their brand-new product. Furthermore, surprising participants and spectators with an appearance from Usain Bolt gave them not only an unforgettable experience but also added a layer of credibility and trust to the brand and product. It is safe to say that this sponsorship activation was a success — the Times Square billboards garnered 125 million impressions with an estimated social media reach of 15.5 million.

3. Vodafone 5G x The Wimbledon Championships 

In July 2023, visually impaired fans were able to watch live tennis like never before. Throughout the Wimbledon Championships, Vodafone trialled new 5G powered GiveVision headsets which used 5G to stream live footage of tennis matches and enhance the footage to suit the person’s specific sight profile. This was achieved by bringing the headset closer to their eye to stimulate the photoreceptor cells in the retina (cells that respond to light), and meant that their sight could partially be regained.

The new technology allowed fans to watch their favourite players from anywhere in the stands. This was a huge serve for Wimbledon as previously, sports fans using the headsets could only access the broadcast live feed within 10-20 metres of a transmitter box located in a predetermined ‘accessibility’ area.

Fan engagement should not just be limited to some; it should be accessible for everyone. We love how Vodafone successfully showcased how the power of 5G technology can make sport more available to tennis fans. In comparison to other sports activations, it’s safe to say game, set, and match, Vodafone.

4. Angry Birds x Chicago Bulls 

Known for several innovative partnerships with a variety of sports teams, in 2018, Angry Birds surprised fans when they partnered with the six-time NBA’s champions, the Chicago Bulls. The collaboration between Rovio, the creators of the beloved app, and the NBA took flight when they announced that an Angry-Birds Eye View Cam was going to be installed on the courts; giving basketball fans up-close and dramatic footage from above the backboard in all of the Bulls’ home games.

Broadcasted along the top of the backboard was a line of “Angry Birds 2” text along with an image of one of the iconic Angry Bird characters in the top right corner of the frame — this little bird ensured viewers didn’t forget who was responsible for the unique camera view. Fans from around the world were able to tune into the game to see all of the above-the-rim action via their local broadcast.

Despite being an unconventional sponsorship, this partnership was a clever and effective way for Rovio to align its mobile game with one of the NBA’s most valuable franchises. Furthermore, this activation not only incorporated new features and brought new technological advancements onto the court but also allowed both Rovio and the Chicago Bulls to reach new audiences.

5. Heineken x UEFA Champions League 

Heineken and the UEFA Champions League have built a reputation for global activation excellence over the course of their 25-year partnership. This year’s activation exceeded expectations as Heineken launched their latest sponsorship — Cheers To The Real Hardcore Fans. This campaign redefined what it meant to be a die-hard supporter, in an effort to tackle the negative hardcore fan stereotypes and make football more inclusive.

Heineken teamed up with their new ambassadors, Dutch team captain Virgil van Dijk and former lioness Jill Scott MBE, to celebrate the modern face of football fandom. The campaign kicked off with a global competition to find the world’s most dedicated “real hardcore” football fans. The winners were provided with a once-in-a-lifetime weekend experience to attend the UEFA Champions League final.

Heineken’s partnership with the UEFA consistently strives to elevate the fan experience year after year. This activation extended the excitement of the final to wide audiences and contributed to fuelling engagement and creating positive brand associations. Heineken has once again taken a clear creative stance, stepping down from any brand self-celebration, and has focused its commitment towards its extraordinary community. This campaign in particular really highlights to fans how Heineken values their support. Being designed to reward loyal fans, this activation brings Heineken closer to the action, forges a sense of exclusivity for participants, and creates unforgettable moments.

Fancy taking a punt at a partnership?

These are our favourite sports sponsorship activations examples, and are a great display of how some brands are changing the game. But if you are still seeking inspiration or just want to know more about how sponsorship activations work, Pitch can help you.

At Pitch, we can enable your brand to harness the power of sport in your favour. With major collaborations like The FA, Beats by Dre and Uber Eats, we can help take your brand’s sponsorship activation efforts to the next level. You can learn more about our sponsorship activations here and check out our portfolio. Get in touch with us to make an enquiry.

Further Reading