Sports marketing: Past, present and the future

Global news wire gives us a clear number game of sports industry growth, from $354.96 billion in 2021 to $501.43 billion in 2022 and is further expected to grow at a CAGR of 41.3% over the next decade. Of course, this includes the booming esports sector and with its socio-culture importance in people’s lives, the overall economic impact and social impact on local communities and hyperlocal audiences, every aspect of sport sector has seen tremendous growth. Sports marketing is one such field that is in high demand and becoming a highly specialized profession. From the education sector, start-ups in esports, to well established brands investing in sports, everyone is seeking to hire a sports marketing professional to lead them.
What is sports marketing?
It is a niche marketing that is solely aimed at promoting sporting events, products and services working with a sports team, tournament or an athlete. The main purpose of this is to use the influence of this team/ athlete to gain attention of a wider audience. A fine example of this is how Nike partnered with Mike Jordan, a famous basketball player, for its new line of shoes and branded them as Air Jordans.

How did this help Nike? Well, it opened up a whole new sub-group market for Nike. It built a craze for sneakers and a niche of sneaker collectors, giving rise to a term called Sneaker heads.

Also Read: 10 celebrities who started their own clothing lines

The past..

Based on marketing’s close relationship with revenue generating activities (say from TV coverage, merchandise sale etc), sports marketing was originally viewed solely from the angle of making more sales, bringing in more revenue and assisting the commercial activities of sports organizations.

In the past, sports marketing was seen more closer to merchandising and sales as a promotional tool and still an area to develop. Over the process of growing, sports marketing was later thought of more like an umbrella of promotional elements that would encapsulate aspects of commercial sponsorship, advertising and publicity. In 1983, it is noted in an article by Mullin’s how vital sports marketing is and was then known to have three distinctive styles:
-marketing to promote fan interest,
-marketing to promote sport participation, and,
-marketing to promote fan consumption of products through sport.

While the last two received much attention from the global experts and were worked on largely, Mullins argued that it was the first point of promotion of fan interest that would need more deeper research and understanding of sports psychology, social and culture aspects, age groups, interests and more. Academia heard his point loud and clear and did an ample amount of research which today offers us the base of everything we know from understanding of fan engagement and characteristics, fans’ sport experience landscape etc. Sports marketing literature started to develop deep concepts that were heavy on research to help us deepen our grasp and appreciation of fans’ interest, passion and areas of consumption of a particular sport and how crucial marketing is in this process.

Past has also shown how concentrated the global audience was on a certain number of sports, like the US for Baseball, India for Cricket, EU on football etc. Sports as entertainment in the past have been restricted to sitting in front of a television or a projector screen for hours at a go with half the neighborhood with you, not offering sports brands many opportunities to market or advertise beyond sponsorships or tournaments.

Also read: Digital transformation defining future of sports industry

The present..

Fast forward to the 21st century, we are not simply consuming sports in all forms now, from watching matches at indoor and outdoor state-of-the-art stadiums to virtual reality sports gaming, but also making the most of it via various formats to earn money while watching, being involved etc. Today, the evolution of sports marketing has not only been limited to event or team/athlete sponsorships but is also focused on consumer engagement at all levels, weather it is making a viewer choose their own team and make money via fantasy leagues, branded gear to wear, in-stadia games and engagement opportunities – brand are going all out to connect with sports lovers.

With the digital transformation over the last decade, our present-day sports marketing has become a highly skilled profession with specific degrees that help you gain this skill set while aiding you to connect with a high network of individuals across the sports sector. Our present world is looking at sports beyond Cricket, Football and Baseball. While the culture or professional leagues may have kick started from Football and Cricket, these sports also aided to pave a way for other sports to follow suit. Hockey, Kabaddi, Boat rowing, and few others that were otherwise very hyperlocal and concentrated sports, today are global sports with many professional leagues and a huge fan following.

With Metaverse in the making, virtual sports have already taken center stage and the esports industry, though not even existing a couple of decades ago, is the front leader in the booming sports sector today. What was limited to simple sponsorships or ads over TV/ radio is now expanded to:

-marketing sports businesses and sporting events,
-marketing individual athletes,
-marketing of stadiums and its facilities (many brands are focused on building sports facilities and offering them via apps for bookings to local audiences)
-sports licensing,
-marketing of sporting equipment’s (with AI, blockchain, VR/AR and IoT taking over, sports start-ups are making state-of-the-art tech based products/ services that help in collecting player data, match data and offer these data segregations for making crucial decision for coaches/ team/players/ audiences)
-marketing media and means of communication (media deals today are one of the major considerations of sports marketing and are also high value partnerships that include sports talk shows, live shows etc.)
-marketing of Federations, leagues and series, public bodies etc.

Also read: Rise of digital sports gaming industry

The future..

Key factors that have affected sports marketing are:
-Social Media
-Emerging technology
-Access to internet
-Wide consumption of hyperlocal/cultural games/ sports

While our present is already shaped by these pointers, our future is still a work in progress and all these factors mentioned above are core reasons for what we are about to venture into.

Also read: E-commerce for Sports

A. Metaverse: Metaverse will be a game changer for esports and how we experience sports today. Opening a brand-new venue for sports marketing to explore. This will be a new beginning for sports marketing professionals that will need for them to go back to the drawing board to understand what works in the virtual world. Virtual stadiums, sporting events, athletes to consumers – this is a whole new world to explore.

B. Emerging Technology: NFT’s have been taking over the fashion and art world by a storm and the sports sector is not far off. Leading brands in sports and athleisure like Adidas, Nike have already built NFT’s that have been sold out soon post launch while partnering with global celebrities and designers.

Another fine example is virtual closets – with metaverse playing in heavy, virtual closets are projected to be the next big thing, a fine sports marketing professional will be sure to encapsulate this trend.

C. Power of collective: Future of sports marketing surely lies in collaboration and synergies with many channels and partners. In our hyperglobal to hyperlocal world, there are many opportunities sports marketers can grab. As an example, Nike today can partner with various designers/celebrities from Japan, India, Mexico and build limited edition collections/ collectors’ items – both physical products or virtual.

D. Social Media: Subscribers based content already in testing via Instagram, social media is about to get even more up, close and personal. Making sure your sports ambassador has his/her own share of unique subscribers for your brand to be promoted amongst a loyal audience will be key.

From sports sponsorship, fan engagement and sports brands, everything is about to get examined from a new lens of emerging tech and social media. Its potential is yet to scratch the surface of sports marketing, the progress is uninhibited and unlimited for sports marketing.

Sports marketing is one of the core modules in Sports Management at MBA-ESG. Students are encourage and trained to become young and successful sports marketers who are ready to take up challenges beyond classroom learning.

Also read: 10 celebrities who started their own sportswear lines

Author: Mankiran