The 3 main types of sponsorship in sport

As Nelson Mandela once said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite.” It’s little wonder then, that billions around the world spend so much of their lives playing and watching sports — 1.5 billion people tuned in to the 2022 FIFA World Cup final alone to see Lionel Messi lift football’s most famous prize. 

Because of this immense reach and ability to capture our imagination, it’s common for companies to harness the power of sport to boost their brands. You probably don’t have to dig that deep to think of a famous sports marketing campaign, whether it’s Pelé’s pause for Puma in the 1970 World Cup, Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign with Colin Kaepernick, or Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” 2016 Olympics adverts. 

One of the most effective sports marketing strategies is sponsorship, which is the financial support of a sport by an outsider for the benefit of both parties. Almost any kind of organisation can be a sponsor, however, it’s typically a commercial brand that does so.

This type of marketing can offer plenty of benefits for both parties — and no, we’re not just saying that because we’re a marketing agency. Honest. There are financial and publicity advantages for those being sponsored, as well as increased brand awareness and improved brand image for the sponsoring company. 

To further explore the power of sports sponsorship, we’ve broken down the three main types and their benefits for brands. 

1. Sports athlete sponsorships

Sports athlete sponsorships are those where individual sportspeople are sponsored by a brand. Perhaps they might wear branded apparel while playing sport or during commercial appearances like press conferences, or they might appear in advertisements or other promotional materials for the brand. The brand will either offer a set fee to them or pay for things like their kit, equipment or travel expenses in return.

What are the advantages for brands?

Individual athletes can offer brands huge reach, with some much more marketable than the teams or organisations they represent. The most obvious example of this is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has almost 550 million followers. This is more than all the football teams he’s played for combined, and over 100 million more than his arch rival Lionel Messi. Such athletes are also immensely popular with the public, so being associated with them can do wonders for a company’s brand image. 

What are some examples of sports athlete sponsorships?

Some famous examples of sports athlete sponsorship include Uniqlo’s sponsoring of Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Nike endorsement, and Under Armour’s sponsoring of Anthony Joshua. Here at Pitch, we have significant experience running sports athlete sponsorship campaigns, such as partnerships between Betfair and Rio Ferdinand, Beats and Anthony Joshua, and Uber Eats and Andrea Pirlo.

2. Sports organisation sponsorships

Sports organisation sponsorships involve entities like a team or league being sponsored by a brand. Like with individual athletes, they will either receive a fee from the brand, or payment for things like kits, equipment or ground maintenance. 

In return, a team may display the company’s logos around its stadium, for example, while a league might include the sponsor in its name.

What are the advantages for brands?

Many sports organisations also have a large reach, meaning sponsoring them offers massive exposure for brands. For sports teams in particular, fans are also incredibly loyal to those they support — see John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood — which can foster brand loyalty in the sponsoring company in question. An advantage of sponsoring local sports clubs in particular is helping brands to build relationships in the community, enabling them to enjoy closer relationships with their customers.

What are some examples of sports organisation sponsorships?

A couple of examples of famous sports organisation sponsorships are Barclays’ sponsoring of the Premier League and the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes Benz and Alfa Romeo sponsoring Formula One racing teams. Some sports organisation sponsorship campaigns Pitch have run include partnerships between ThinkMarkets and Liverpool FC, cinc and the ECB, and Yokohama and Chelsea FC.

3. Sports event sponsorships

Sports event sponsorships are where sports events — like an international or regional tournament — are sponsored by a brand. This type of partnership can involve things like the event either changing its title to incorporate the brand’s name, or using the brand’s logo on official products. The event organisers will either receive a set fee or have expenditures like venue hire, hospitality, catering, publicity, programmes and officials’ costs covered. 

What are the advantages for brands?

Sports event sponsorship offers great opportunities for boosting brand awareness. You just have to look at the viewing figures of events like the World Cup and the Olympics to see the extent to which sports event sponsorship can raise a brand’s profile. 

Another big reason companies favour this type of sponsorship is the opportunity to associate themselves with certain kinds of events, improving consumer perception. For instance, events like Wimbledon and the Super Bowl have a certain level of prestige to them, which is epitomised by the fact it costs up to $7 million for just a 30-second advert during the latter. Yes, you did read that right: seven million dollars. 

What are some examples of sports event sponsorships?

Among the most renowned examples of sports events sponsorship include brands such as Coca-Cola, Airbnb and Visa sponsoring the Olympics, and the likes of Rolex, Slazenger and Ralph Lauren sponsoring Wimbledon. 

Pitch is well-versed sports event marketing, as demonstrated by our work for sports brand Asics which sponsored the London 10k. Here, we ran — pun very much intended — a digital marketing campaign to activate the inaugural headline event to great success. 

If you’re seeking help in harnessing the power of sport for your own brand, then look no further than Pitch’s sports sponsorship services. We have worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, sports stars, teams and events, delivering world-class campaigns that have seen our clients’ stature soar. Get in touch with us today to find out more or make an enquiry. 

Further Reading