Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about sports marketing, and this past weekend I was reminded of why; the emotions tied to sports are palpable and real and they are the kind of emotions that brands can only dream of being associated with.
Its really simple if you think about it. Try and find one other area of life where the emotions are as high or as passionate as they are with sports. I’ll go out on a limb and say that sports only come second to birth and death when you consider their emotional ramifications. If you hear a diehard sports fan, it’s not uncommon for them to be as excitable and enthusiastic when talking about their favorite baseball or football team as when you hear a parent talk about the birth of their children or the memories of their parents when they’ve passed on. It taps into the same emotional core in our brains and it creates lifelong associations. The kind of associations that brands want to see, at least on a microcosmic-level.
It’s not realistic to assume that household cleanser or shampoo can create that same emotional connection, but it is extremely plausible to consider that brands want their consumers to think strongly about a positive association with their brands, which is why sports sponsorship is such a tricky business. Sports sponsorships require a brand to engage in a long-term relationship, and a very trusting relationship, because you have to have faith that the athlete will stay relevant, and on the right side of the ethical mores that society puts forth for people in a position of attention and focus. Athletes are aspirational as well as inspirational, meaning that we can all aspire to be like them (i.e. as self-confident as Tim Tebow). They are also fatally humanistic, meaning they are only as good as the best or worst of us (see so many examples of mistakes from athletes in recent years). It may not be fair to place an athlete on a pedestal and hold them to a higher standard, but that is what we do and that’s why sports sponsorships exist. There is an associative value to working with them, and to transferring the positive brand equity we have in them to a brand. That value is high for a marketer and athletes make significant money off of them, as well.
If you think of the best sports marketing images of the last 50 years, you think of images of strength and confidence. The kind that comes from a truly inspirational sports figure. For me, I think of Mean Joe Green in the Coke commercial. I think of Michael Jordan in the Nike spots flying through the air. I even think of humor (when its done right) like all of the Peyton Manning Mastercard commercials. These are images of confidence, and the brands that were able to harness the power of sports were able to stand out and differentiate themselves in the eyes of consumers. That differentiation translates to sales.
What is really interesting to me about sports marketing is that it would not have existed without television, and its future is indelibly tied to online video. Sports is a physical and visual medium. You have to be playing sports to understand the physicality involved, and you have to see others play sports to learn about it and understand it fully. If TV had never been invented, the NFL would be nowhere near as popular as it is. The NBA and Major League Baseball would be half the size they are today. Television created a way for anyone and everyone to see sports without having to physically be there, and the images you see on those broadcasts have inspired millions of people to pick up a bat or ball and play. Those images are inspirational, and online video is going to extend them even further.
Social media and mobile media are the future of sports marketing. Mobile video, and sharing video through social platforms – this is where the future of sports marketing lies because these images can take on a life of their own. The more those images, in all of their video glory, can be shared and seen by droves of fans, the more impact they will have and the more opportunity there is for a brand to reach a passionate audience. The television (and a close second with the actual stadium) is never going away and will always be the primary vehicle for sports marketing, but digital media has one heck of a future for sports marketing. Just you wait and see!