What is sports marketing and why is it so important?

Your alarm goes off and it’s time for your morning run. Jumping into your Nike running shoes and Gymshark training shirt, you start your daily workout and finish it off with your favourite Huel protein shake as a post-workout meal. See the common theme here? Each choice made in this scenario includes a sports product – all of which have had extremely effective marketing strategies behind them.

While there are a variety of definitions from industry insiders online, this article will give you a full breakdown of what sports marketing is, what is involved, who should be utilising it, and how it can be beneficial to both athletes and businesses.

What is sports marketing?

With more than 1.8 million sports fans in the world, marketers are continually looking for new ways to connect with potential customers.

Using both physical and digital mediums, organisations will adopt multiple strategies in order to enhance their brand image, connect with fans, and increase revenue streams. This can include sponsoring a famous team or athlete or simply advertising a specific product.

One of the most prolific examples of sports marketing is former basketball player Michael Jordan’s partnership with Nike — which ultimately changed both the nature of sports marketing and history. In 1984, growth had stalled, profits were down, and Nike’s sales had dipped by nearly 30% from the previous year. However, after an active pursuit of Michael Jordan (who at the time was a rookie basketball player and was yet to become a NBA superstar), Nike signed a five-year contract with him, offering him $250,000, and his own sneaker — The Air Jordan.

Nike developed a clever marketing strategy around the suggestion that the NBA had “banned” the shoes for being too colourful, and they sold $70 million worth of shoes within a month of release.

Why is sports marketing important?

Sports marketing goes far beyond simply promoting sports. Rather, it is a way for sports organisations to interact with their followers on a personal level and build a community. In order to have a successful marketing strategy, most businesses will use the 4 Ps framework to underpin their campaigns. 

Let us give you a rundown of some of the reasons why sports marketing is important and the benefits it holds for both brands and fans. 

Enhances fan engagement

Sports marketing plays a pivotal role in connecting fans with their favourite sports teams and athletes. It extends beyond just selling products or merchandise and cultivates a community for fans. Maximising fan engagement is crucial for sports organisations and will often be achieved by creating a social media presence, using immersive technology, and providing unique fan experiences — or even all of these. 

Check out Vixi Live by The Famous Group, which gave spectators in nearly 50 basketball stadiums the chance to send a video-selfie via a QR code to moderators who then broadcasted their faces to the big-screen during the game.

Boosts brand visibility and exposure

Sports marketing can drive traffic and start conversations. If you have ever celebrated in your living room as your favourite team scores a goal or wins a championship, then you’ll understand how sports have the ability to stir emotions, inspire loyalty, and leave a lasting impression on you. 

Sports marketing capitalises on this synergy by partnering with teams, athletes, and sporting events. Brands strategically tap into this passionate community by creating engaging and relevant content, campaigns, and partnerships to boost brand visibility and reach wider audiences. This also helps enhance credibility — 80% fans are more likely to trust brands or recommendations from their favourite athletes.

Fuels revenue growth

Sports marketing campaigns generate a substantial flow of revenue for sports organisations, teams and athletes. Sports agency Two Circles reported the global sports industry currently generates $159 billion in annual revenue, and is set to achieve $260 billion by 2033. Fans that are engaged are more likely to transition from passive to active participants and as a result, this can drive ticket and merchandise sales. 

Additionally, sports sponsorships are a common strategy for brands both big and small due to the sporting world’s large audience base. Sponsorships can be a great way for brands to put themselves in the spotlight, which increases brand awareness and results in more sales. One study found that athlete endorsements generate a 4% increase in sales on average, demonstrating just how effective a marketing tool sports sponsorship can be.

Social impact 

Consumers are more likely to trust and support brands that align with their values and interests, especially brands that are supporting specific social causes. Throughout history, influential sports organisations and athletes have not been content to simply just entertain. Instead, they’ve leveraged their reach to champion social causes, speaking out on issues like racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmental sustainability.

This trend has continued to gain momentum, with brands increasingly joining the game. Even prominent ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry’s secured a sports sponsorship deal with Vermont Green Football Club in 2022 to advance social and environmental justice in Vermont. The inaugural initiative was set up to raise necessary funds for “historically marginalised communities in Vermont” through a commitment to Juba Star Football Club — an organisation which provides a safe space for the development of former refugee and immigrant youth. The club also featured Ben & Jerry’s logo on their FC training tops, demonstrating the organisations’ shared value.

If you would like to read more about some best sponsorship examples, check out our guide here.

How Pitch can help you

Sports marketing is more than just a sideline. It’s a powerful strategy that fuels the growth of the sports industry, fosters enduring fan connections, elevates brands, and even drives positive social impact.

For over 20 years, Pitch has helped brands reach bigger audiences and understand fan passion. We specialise in all things digital, and can help set up your brand with the right talent, tools, and expertise that is needed for an effective marketing strategy. You can learn more about our platforms here and check out our portfolio. Get in touch with us to make an enquiry.

Further Reading