Sports Marketing: what it is, types and how to do it

What is sports marketing?

Sports marketing is that branch of marketing that deals with promoting goods and services through sport while simultaneously promoting sport itself.

It may be marketing a product, an event, or a sports federation.

The core of the system lies in the events, matches, tournaments, and competitions, but these are temporary, so there is a need to create other types of content with which to communicate and extend the reach of the sport.

Sport in fact does not boil down to a match, it is much more, it is preparation and training, it can be watched by the public but also practiced. We have always been passionate about it, it has been an integral part of our culture since ancient times and spread around the world in various forms. Few things are as successful and have the same ability to excite and retain an audience.

Fans tend to develop a strong sense of belonging to their team. A team they often follow since they were children. It is therefore about loyalty, love, and tradition. Amateur sportsmen and women identify with their idols and cultivate a great passion for their hobby that would otherwise, in most cases, be unattainable because it requires discipline, perseverance, training, and hard work in order to achieve their goals.

types of sports marketing

Similar assumptions are also necessary for marketing. There are indeed similarities between sports and marketing.

The two sectors are similar in a way and by working together they can benefit from each other.

The potential effectiveness of sport in promotion has been well understood by marketers: using it as a medium for an advertising campaign means exploiting its popularity.

To sum up, sport for marketing is a fertile ground of content, stories to tell, and emotions.

Marketing, on the other hand, sophisticates the communication and promotion of sport, facilitates its dissemination in the media, and increases its commercial value in no small measure.

Sports sponsorship

Sports sponsorship involves the affiliation of a brand, a company with an athlete, a team, an association, or an event. It involves acquiring the rights to them in order to gain both economic and image gain.

Sport is an excellent visibility accelerator and a sports partnership for a company means brand awareness, brand loyalty, and good market positioning.

For the sports property, on the other hand, it means financial gain, visibility, and supply of sports equipment and clothing.

Sometimes athletes become influencers like many show business personalities.

To give a simple example, a brand associates itself with a volleyball team by providing the playing uniforms. Fans will also tend to prefer that brand over others for the simple fact that the respect and consideration they have for their team also transfers to the brand sponsor. The brand is positioned in the minds of consumers and is sometimes identified with the team, the player, or the entire association (e.g. Nike has been the official supplier of all NBA teams since 2017).

Evolution of sports marketing

Let’s take a look at some highlights and characteristics of sports marketing in history:

  • 1870 The tobacco industry promotes a non-sporting product through sport for the first time: “tobacco cards” inserted in the packets depict football players and the words “player’s cigarettes”.
  • 1936 Jesse Owens (US sprinter and long-distance runner) is one of the first to receive free merchandising from the Adidas company.
  • 1954 Sportsman’s Park Baseball Stadium sells its naming rights to the beverage company Anheuser Busch. It then becomes the Busch Baseball Stadium (Missouri).
  • 1970 The origin of sports sponsorship can be traced back to around the 1970s when tobacco companies were forced to look for alternative solutions for their promotions as they were banned from the main advertising channels. They were banned from advertising their products on TV, radio, and billboards. The communication vehicle they find is a motorsport environment that shares the business values such as strength, recklessness, and risk. (This affiliation between sport and tobacco will end definitively in 2010 with the “tobacco ban”: no sporting event can be sponsored by the tobacco industry). The success of this tactic immediately attracted the attention of more and more companies and the great potential of sponsorship was soon known.
  • 1980 Mitsubishi’s first mega screen appears in Dodger Stadium (California).
  • 1986 TAG Heuer (a Swiss watch company) used sports personalities as brand ambassadors for the first time.

Things have changed a lot over the years.

Marketing continues to evolve, incorporating new technologies that shape it and amplify its reach.

Moreover, the extreme versatility of the competitive world and the multitude of disciplines that are part of it makes one realize how wide the scope of sports marketing is.

Types of sports marketing

Despite the extremely flexible and multifaceted nature of sports marketing, we can identify categories:

  • Marketing of sport: marketing of federations, teams, events, and individual athletes. That is, the promotion of sports with the aim of engaging and stimulating the public to participate
  • Marketing for sport: this can be the marketing of sporting goods, equipment, and services, or sport-related products
  • Marketing through sport: the latter acts as a context. Sponsoring is done for a good not necessarily related to the sports sector through events, personalities, or sports associations.

How to do sports marketing today?

One thing is certain: you cannot ignore digital marketing if you want to do marketing today. Especially when it comes to lesser-known, perhaps local, realities, digital is crucial. 

As with any marketing project, analysis and initial planning are the basis of everything.

  • Business and market analysis
  • What kind of marketing are we going to do? For a regional event? Or a brand through a famous player?
  • Calculation of the budget to be allocated
  • Define objectives, identify metrics to be monitored
  • Assessing the timeframe needed for the campaign to deliver results
  • Profiling the audience and identifying the target group: one of the positive aspects of sports marketing lies in the peculiarities of the target group, the sports fan. They behave differently from the average consumer because they are usually already very attached to their team or passionate about a particular discipline and are therefore more likely to develop positive feelings towards, for example, the sponsor.

Marketing exploits this peculiarity to migrate the “loyalty” that the fan has towards the team to the brand, to the product But this is only one case. In the case where instead it is a competitive event that is sponsored, the objective is to create engagement, to push people to participate, targeting also those who are not necessarily fans.



Associating with sponsors is also, of course, a necessary step. It will be the job of the marketing professional to mediate communication between brands and sports figures. The aim is to create a link between brand and sport, between product and athlete for the reasons we have already explained.

Another important point to consider in a sports marketing strategy is to decouple economic results from competitive results. Winning the championship, and winning the gold are not variables that can be controlled by marketing, whereas emotions are.

And how. Sports marketing does not offer guaranteed victories but unforgettable experiences. It is a matter of belonging, of pride: you do not watch your team lose or win, but you lose and win together with them.

Identifying and associating one’s company with sporting elements, therefore, allows one to benefit from the existence of this kind of sentiment.

Omnichannel approach

Another point that could be of interest is the adoption of an omnichannel approach and the development of a transmedia narrative.

By omnichannel we mean the synergetic management of different channels of interaction between company and consumer.

By transmedia storytelling, we refer to that narrative that takes place on different types of media presenting itself in different forms that will be integrated into the user experience.

Digital marketing is made up of different types of media; an integration between these and the more classic offline methods makes it possible to intercept more people, but also to tell them everything about sport in a multi-sensory way.

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Digital for sports marketing

  • Inbound marketing is the approach of attracting users by providing them with highly interesting material with the aim of getting them attached to the brand. The fact that when sports target we are talking about people who already tend to be in love with the topic could facilitate the magnetic process of inbound. People tend to look for information on the web. Therefore, websites and web magazines, sports blogs, newsletters, email marketing, and mobile marketing are all channels that can be used to offer updates, and information material and keep the user’s interest alive.
  • Sports Social Media Marketing Social media play a key role. They increase brand awareness, brand value, offer the possibility of targeted advertising, increase interaction and shorten the distance between brand and consumer. In this case also between the fan and his idol, can exploit Facebook groups and create communities by stimulating engagement Not only with regard to big teams and celebrities. For example, jogging and triathlon groups on Facebook where participants post the results of their training sessions, spurring each other to improve. They challenge each other, give each other advice, and exchange opinions on products, and experiences. Another example is Twitter, which can be an excellent platform to follow events in real-time, while on Instagram one could show what is happening “behind the scenes”, can launch challenges and contests. Social media raise media attention and make the user more involved.
  • Storytelling for sports means starting from that emotional sphere we have talked so much about and developing it into a story aiming to stimulate and inspire the audience. It also means telling the story of how the sporting experience unfolds from preparation to the final result, creating engaging narratives that stick in people’s memories, showing who these heroes and these athletes are, and giving fans the chance to identify with them. There are as many sensations and perceptions typical of sport as there are disciplines within it. Football is unbridled passion and tradition, rugby is noble and loyal, motorcycling is recklessness, skydiving is adrenalin, artistic gymnastics denotes elegance and synchrony between the elements, and again the challenge of the impossible, power, legend, balance, health. There is no shortage of archetypes and possibilities for storytelling, which is why we defined sport as fertile ground for marketing at the beginning of the article.

Combine your passion for sports with the power of marketing: discover how digital storytelling can help you promote brands and athletes in the sports world


Sports marketing: courses and professions

Sports marketing is a real area of study for which there are specific bachelor’s and master’s degree courses.

Knowledge has to be acquired in different areas such as sports representation, event organization, media communication, digital, storytelling, social media management, reputation management, etc.

The sports marketing manager is the figure who is responsible for planning and managing projects and campaigns.

He must possess knowledge that enables him to have an overview of the mechanisms and at the same time be able to handle the details (perhaps with the help of a team of specialists).

He must be familiar with so-called traditional and digital marketing, as well as an informed person who is passionate about sports.

sports marketing courses

A sports marketing manager is responsible for managing sports events, concluding sponsorship contracts, analyzing and planning the strategy to be implemented, allocating the budget, and much more.

If you need to supplement your digital marketing knowledge, if you believe you are suited for a managerial role, and want to discover what opportunities the online world offers, I recommend you take a look at the Digital Marketing Manager Certification course.

A master’s degree will give you a universal insight into the mechanisms of digital marketing, but above all will give you the opportunity to put what you learn into practice right from the start.

To learn more about how to implement an online communication strategy in the sports sector, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be at your disposal for all your doubts and needs!



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