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Ah, October – arguably the greatest sports month of the year. The NFL and College Football pictures are starting to clear up, the MLB playoffs are in full swing and the NBA and NHL regular seasons are right around the corner (or are supposed to be, at least). Athletic competition has existed for thousands of years; however the concept of sports marketing is a fairly new one in the grand scheme of things. One of the earliest forms of modern day sports marketing goes back to the 1870s, when tobacco companies would include baseball cards in packs of cigarettes to encourage sales. As sports started to become a more mainstream form of entertainment, and athletes began to sew themselves into the fabric of local and national pride, marketing and athletics continued to form a symbiotic relationship. Today, sports are a multibillion dollar industry. There is no doubt that, thanks to the brilliant marketing of some of the world’s top athletic organizations, sports have become a dominant force in the world of marketing and advertising.
This month we will view the relationship between sports and marketing through three separate themes – the first is the macroeconomic impact that sports can have on the economy and other industries. Sports may appear to stand alone, but think about how far their reach extends. Restaurants are certainly beneficiaries of a great match or game. Some restaurants claim that their Sunday sales increase by as much as 15% during the NFL season. When a potential lockout threatened the 2011 season last year, restaurant owners were nervous – very nervous. They were almost devoid of being able to use one of their most appealing marketing options. Another industry affected by sports from a marketing standpoint is transportation. Mass transit in New York has used sports in its marketing. Recent stations built outside of Yankee Stadium and Metlife Stadium (home to the New York Giants and Jets) have given the MTA a boost. “Take the Train to the Game” is spread along the walls of train platforms, billboards and bus stops all over New York. This works on two levels: it is a green initiative and discourages drinking and driving. On average, the percentage of people who take mass transit in “The City That Never Sleeps” increases about 45% during games.
The second theme is the relationship between certain sporting events and the marketing surrounding them. Of course, here in America the mother of all sporting events is the Super Bowl. But as much as we love football, we have actually reached a point in which some people are more interested in seeing the commercials during the game than they are the action itself. According to a Hanon McKendry poll taken prior to the 2011 Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, 65% of women said that they watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. Even more surprising is the fact that 45% of men said they primarily watch for the commercials. 111 million people watched Super Bowl XLV live in 2011. According to this poll, the majority of them didn’t even care about the game. That is the power of sports. Even if those watching don’t know the difference between a touchdown and a field goal, there are very few circumstances under which such a large group of people gather together and devote their attention to one medium. Sports provide that.
Finally, we will delve into the relationship between athletes/organizations, sponsors and consumers. Whether it was Mickey Mantle crying “I want my Maypo,” “Mean Joe” Greene trading his jersey for a bottle of Coca Cola or Tiger Woods’s connections to brands like Gatorade or Gillette, brands have never shied away from using athletes to promote a product. Nike alone currently uses over 75 different athletes in their advertising. When the company’s Air Jordan XI Retro Concord sneakers were released in December of 2011 (promoted by using Miami Heat forward Dwayne Wade in advertisements) thousands of people lined up in front of stores around the country, which eventually led to quite a few cases of violence and vandalism as shoppers tried to get their hands on one of last year’s hottest pieces of apparel. It just goes to show the effect associating your brand with a popular athlete can have on sales.
Social media has also introduced another layer of the athlete/consumer relationship. Now, not only can fans follow their favorite athlete’s performance on the field, but they can catch a glimpse into what athletes are actually thinking, particularly through Twitter. Of the hundreds of athletes tweeting, some of the most followed include Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano), Shaquille O’Neal (@SHAQ), Lance Armstrong (@lancearmstrong) and Chad Ochocinco (or Johnson, depending on whether or not you want to go vintage) (@ochocinco).
The point is that sports marketing options are definitely plentiful. Conversation is here to look at how athletic organizations take advantage of their popularity, determine what kind of job they are doing and elaborate on how this applies to marketing in general. I hope you find our perspectives insightful and please feel free to contact us with questions or to further the “conversation.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to watch SportsCenter.