Even in a country as sports crazy as the United States, the economic value that can be directly attributed to pro sports is rather small – about the size of that of the cardboard box industry. It begs the question then why no sizeable enterprise has ever been built that broadcasts, reports, and discusses ad nauseam the goings-on of cardboard boxes.
The answer might lie with sports being a social/community phenomenon.
In the Netherlands for instance, professional sports organisations’ direct share of GDP is well below 1,5% while maybe 15% of Dutch television and print media cover sports and pure-play sports magazines sell 20 million copies each year.
The turnover generated by businesses in the vicinity of a sports venue on game days is enormous: every single major US college football game is estimated to inject between 5 and 10 million of spending into its local economy. Additionally, of course, professional sports breeds interest and incentives for recreational sports, boosting demand for sporting apparel or equipment. Just do ask Nike.
It is not a coincidence that the bulk of North American corporate sponsorship budgets has gone into sports for some time now, with no sign of the growth abating anytime soon.
Competitive sports have been successful in forging the most heterogeneous groups into emotionally connected communities for ages.
Why do football club Celta de Vigo and French carmaker Citroën have the longest-running shirt sponsorship deal in Spanish football? It may well be the only way to have thousands gladly overpay for the team’s shirts and market your brand on their chest.
Sports marketing offices have become experts in accommodating their fans’ largely emotionally driven needs and desires. The word fan itself derives from the Latin term for religious devotee – entirely similar to the Greek enthousiast incidentally. Being a fan can imply anything from supportive or devoted to plain mad, depending on who is judging.
Today’s socially networked world lends itself to these emotional responses going viral.
Converting regular customers to brand advocates is central now to brand (re)positioning strategies. A good ambassador not only regularly buys what you have on offer; he or she actively advocates your cause and encourages others in his online and offline network to do so too. Ambassadors talk about you, market for you and lead customers to you.
What sports marketing makes trivially clear is that marketing revolves essentially about turning brand loyalty into fostering an almost “irrational” identification with a brand, often embedded in a social/community dimension. If that is the new normal, marketing may soon be regarded as a special case of sports marketing instead of the other way around.