What Is Sports Marketing? Definition, History, and How to Create a Strategy

Sports marketing creates emotional connections, increases brand recognition, and reaches a wide and engaged audience. But what is sports marketing exactly, and how can it be used to connect with consumers and promote products and services?

Learn all about sports marketing below, including how to create a marketing strategy using this tactic, how to measure success, and the exciting future trends and predictions for this profitable industry.

Key Takeaways

  • Sports marketing is a type of marketing that promotes products or services through sports-related activities and events.
  • The aim of sports marketing is to increase the popularity of a sport and its assets, such as ticket sales, sponsorships, merchandise revenue, and fan loyalty.
  • Sports marketers have a long history, from the ancient Olympics to modern endorsements.
  • Types of sports marketing include sponsorship, advertising in sports (in-game promotions, event advertising, athlete endorsements), public relations, and community outreach.
  • Creating an effective strategy involves targeting the right audience, engaging with storytelling, leveraging digital platforms, sponsoring local teams/events, using relevant hashtags, and measuring success.
  • Future trends include virtual and augmented reality for fan engagement, eSports in event marketing strategies, and personalized experiences based on data-driven analytics.
what is sports marketing

Sports Marketing Definition

What is sports marketing? Sports marketing is a type of marketing that aims to promote products and services through the use of sports-related activities and events. This can include sponsoring teams or athletes, creating branded content around sporting events or personalities, or leveraging social media platforms to reach sport fans.

The main goals of sports marketing are to increase brand awareness, drive sales, and enhance brand loyalty. Sports marketing aims to create a positive image of a brand by associating it with sports events, athletes, or teams. This can be achieved through various marketing tactics, such as advertising, sponsorships, endorsements, product placements, and events.

Who Should Use Sports Marketing?

Sports marketing is not just for sports brands or teams. Any brand that wants to reach sports fans can benefit from sports marketing. For example, a car manufacturer might sponsor major sports events to create a positive association with sports fans.

Similarly, a food company might use a sports celebrity to endorse its product to create a sense of trust and credibility with consumers.

Sport marketing can also be effective for small businesses that want to reach a local audience. By sponsoring a local sports team or event, small businesses can create a connection with their community and build brand loyalty.

Historical Background of Sports Marketing

At its core, sports marketing works by using the passion and enthusiasm that people have about sports to create a connection between a brand or product and the consumer.

Brands can form partnerships or sponsorships with sports teams or athletes, including logo placement, advertising, or product placement. These partnerships can help to increase brand recognition, credibility, and affinity among consumers.

Understanding sports marketing today involves looking back at how it all started.

Early Beginnings

Sports marketing isn’t a modern invention. Its roots can be traced back to ancient times.

The Role of the Ancient Olympics

Sponsorships played a huge role in the Olympic Games. Athletes rarely won monetary prizes in the games, nor were they traditionally paid during training.

As such, wealthy individuals in their home areas were persuaded to sponsor participants. This tradition remains prevalent today, but instead of wealthy people, it’s big brands who compete against each other to sponsor teams and athletes.

Gladiator Games in the Roman Empire

The Romans loved public entertainment, and one of the most popular events was the gladiator games. But the state didn’t rely on public interest alone to fill the amphitheaters.

Several inscriptions found in Pompeii showcase the concept of advertising, which was not so strange in ancient Rome, from “for rent” signs to election posters and promos for gladiator games.

First Modern Endorsements

The first example of sports marketing as it is known today was on baseball cards, which appeared in the late 1880s. Prominent figures were featured on these cards, leading to a collecting frenzy that persists even today.

Evolution in the 20th Century

New technologies changed how sports marketing unfolded.

  • Emergence of radio and television broadcasting: in the 1920s, radio stations began getting commercial licenses to broadcast live play-by-play. Ten years later, games were broadcast on TV.
  • Growth of professional leagues: Major League Baseball, the NFL, and the NBA all emerged in the early 1900s in the United States.
  • Sponsorship and endorsements: Baseball players began to endorse a variety of products regardless of whether there was any notable connection between the brand and the athlete.

Types of Sports Marketing

types of sports marketing

There are few ways to approach sports marketing:


Professional niche sports sponsorship refers to the financial support offered to sports teams, individuals, or leagues by an outside organization.

For example, Adidas has been a major sponsor of the FIFA World Cup since the 1970s, designing new ball lines and clothing for the event.

Relationships with sports stars increase brand visibility, help attract new customers from the fan base, and sell sports products. It can also improve the public’s perception of a brand, particularly when sponsoring small leagues or local sporting events.

But you need to establish your brand’s sponsorship selection criteria carefully to ensure the connection is relevant.

Advertising in Sports

Fans are exposed to advertising in several ways.

  • In-game promotions: You can be exposed to ads while enjoying a game. Think of Super Bowl commercials or seeing brand logos being featured around a stadium as prominent examples.
  • Event advertising: Sports marketers can be tasked with promoting specific events, not necessarily games. They may promote community events, new merchandise, or fundraising efforts through several strategies, such as social media, outdoor campaigns, TV ads, and more.
  • Athlete endorsements: These are ads where an important figure associates their image with a specific product or service, such as Louis Vuitton’s campaign with Messi and Ronaldo or Serena Williams’ Gatorade ad.

Fans are used to marketing playing a bigger role in their favorite pastime. However, companies should consider a few things before launching their marketing strategies:

  • Which sports consumer typologies apply to them
  • The type of content their target audience would respond to
  • Choosing appropriate partnerships (with products and services relevant to the sport or figure)
  • Timing their campaigns, etc.

Public Relations and Community Outreach

Sports are just as much about the fans as the athletes or games. Public relations in sports aims to maintain or improve the relationship sport fans have with a team, event, or overall sport.

A good PR move for sports marketing is community outreach, which is a type of effort done to improve community relations. Some examples include partnering players with small and local businesses to strengthen their relationship with a community or sponsoring amateur sports leagues.

Moreover, this approach to sport marketing also focuses on crisis management strategies, which are employed whenever a sport (or one of its actors) is involved in controversy. These moments can hurt the bottom line of a team, so the PR group aims to minimize damage as much as possible.

How to Create a Sports Marketing Strategy

There are several ways to create a sports marketing strategy, and your approach is heavily influenced by the specifics of what you want to promote (such as a sports clothing brand, a specific event, unrelated product, or others).

Your sports marketing strategies will also be different if you’re a large brand versus a small brand. Luckily, you can adapt this tactic to fit — if you’re a smaller brand, you can sponsor a well-known local athlete or team, while major brands will most likely stick to professional sports leagues.

Either way, if you want to work with an athlete or team, you’ll need to reach out to their sport management department and make a deal that’s beneficial to both parties.

Here’s how you can create a sport marketing strategy for your brand, no matter the size:

Target the Right Audience

Your efforts are influenced by the behavior of sports consumers in your specific niche. Sports organizations should not only identify who their fans are but also what drives them to follow a sport.

Before launching a campaign, you need to gather enough information and organize the data as follows:

  • Segmentation and demographics: Create both broad and niche segments of your target in terms of where they live, who they are (age, gender, occupation, etc.), and their specific needs and desires.
  • Fan base analysis: Determine what drives your target by exploring fan behavior (both for existing and new fans).

Then, you can choose the appropriate marketing tactics that can incentivize sport consumers to act in a specific way.

For example, if you understand an individual’s psychological connection to a specific sport and measure sports evangelism in your sector, you can create more targeted campaigns, design effective partnerships, and increase loyalty with fans.

Engage Through Storytelling

The relationship people have with a professional sports team is deeply personal, as shown by sport psychology studies, as the fan can identify themselves with the team and its players.

Storytelling is a crucial approach for sports businesses to both leverage this connection and improves its strength.

  • Building emotional connections: People connect with certain sports organizations due to location, a sense of belonging to a community, and more. A sports marketer can tap into these connections to increase the emotional link between a fan and the team.
  • Player profile features: Sports fans feel, in a way, part of the team they follow. Building player profiles increases the level of familiarity they have with a team and strengthens their loyalty.
  • Brand association with sports values: When you market products through sports, the quality of that association is crucial to the outcomes. The simplest strategy here is to consider the values of the sport or team and pair them with brands or products that suit them.

Leverage Digital Platforms

In-sport and street marketing are still important tools for the sports industry, but digital media helps reach a wider audience at lower costs.

Some digital efforts to include in your sports marketing plan include:

  • Social media marketing: Advertising on popular social media platforms not only increases the visibility of a sports product, event, or team, but social marketing also contributes to increasing team loyalty and helping form meaningful connections with fan bases.
  • Influencer partnerships: Sports organizations and athletes may partner with people with large social media followings to promote virtually anything they need, from events to new lines of sports products. Associating with relevant influencers helps increase visibility and attract new audiences.
  • Content creation: Content can serve various purposes, from helping fans learn more about their favorite sport teams and players to increasing media buzz and selling more season tickets. Content can come in the form of blogs, podcasts, live streaming, interviews, and more.

Sponsor Local Teams and Sports Events

Smaller brands can start by sponsoring local sports teams and events. This tactic is much more affordable than sponsoring national or international teams, but it still has a significant impact.

By sponsoring a local team, you can gain exposure to a specific market and build a relationship with the team and its supporters. This can lead to increased brand loyalty and engagement.

Hashtags are a powerful tool for increasing visibility on social media platforms. For instance, using hashtags like #sports, #fitness, #workout, and #training can expose your brand to a much wider audience interested in sports and fitness.

Research and use the most relevant hashtags within your niche to ensure maximum exposure.

Measuring Success in Sports Marketing

measuring success of sports marketing

Given that sports are such a dynamic industry, all marketing efforts must be closely monitored. Marketing managers and other relevant actors must focus their attention on the following:

Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

These are specific metrics that can help a marketing team assess whether their efforts are paying off. You can identify your KPIs based on the type of sports marketing program you run, such as:

  • Sponsorships: Measure brand exposure, brand recall, sponsor sentiment, and subsequent goals of the partnership, such as increased engagement, brand mentions, leads, and sales.
  • Advertising: Analyze the data registered both on social media and other relevant platforms, including traffic, impressions, engagement, and conversion rates.
  • Public relations: Gathering and analyzing the extent of media coverage, the community impact of events, and overall public sentiment regarding the team or event.

Analyze and Optimize Campaigns

Sports marketing experts should also know what to do with the information they gather.

These metrics can help improve decision-making at the marketing, team, and event planning levels. For instance, tracking public relations may reveal key issues that should be communicated to a sports management team.

If public sentiment regarding a team skews negatively, public opinion may be improved through actions taken by management, such as scheduling the team for more public appearances, which will, in turn, help improve sponsorship results for any brands.

These metrics help marketers make continuous improvements and focus their efforts on the strategies most relevant to reaching their goals.

Future Trends in Sports Marketing

The face of sport marketing is changing, and you can expect to see these trends featured more prominently:

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Fan participation is crucial in sports, but it’s also limited. Stadiums can only fit so many people, and issues like cost or location also influence how many fans can take part in sporting events.

Through AI and AR, participation opens up to anyone who wants it. These technologies provide opportunities for more fan engagement, such as through video games where a user plays alongside their favorite athlete.

AR and AI can also have in-stadium applications. Smart cameras improve security and safety in stadiums, streamline parking, and reduce waiting times at restrooms.

ESports Marketing

Around 532 million people worldwide tuned in to watch an eSports game in 2022, and viewership is predicted to grow.

While currently separated, you can expect eSports to play a bigger role in sports marketing strategies. For example, event marketing efforts can include eSports tournaments, which engage audiences and raise awareness for different sports.

The prizes of the tournaments themselves could be incentives to improve participation in such events, like tickets for the entire season.

Data-Driven and Personalized Experiences

Moving forward, you can only effectively market to sports fans if you rely on modern technologies such as AI and new tools in the data analytics field.

These tools help gather and organize data seamlessly, with little to no manual labor required. Also, all that information can improve your other marketing tactics and help you create highly personalized content or campaigns for sports audiences.

Final Thoughts

Sports marketing creates awareness and drives sales. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is sports marketing?” you know it can work for anyone.

By understanding the goals, tactics, and benefits of sports marketing, you can create a successful marketing strategy that leverages the passion and excitement of sports.