Sports Marketing: Winning Strategies, Wild Fans, and the Money

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PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the North American sports market will reach $80.3 billion by 2022. The sports industry presents many opportunities for advertisers and school athletic departments. To realize the full financial benefits of marketing in such a large industry, it’s important to understand how sports marketing works, how fans think, and how to keep sports teams top of mind for committed fans.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration program.

How athletic departments use sports marketing strategies to promote their programs to communities and fans.

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Strategies and Domains in Sports Marketing

In addition to the action on the field, the sports industry is heavily influenced by high-stakes marketing strategies involving sponsorship deals and million-dollar endorsements.

Financial Action in the Sports Industry

By 2022, four key segments will produce $23.8 billion in media rights, $21 billion in gate revenues, $20 billion in sponsorship, and $15.2 billion in merchandizing. The enduring value of sports teams is recognized by the investments of millionaires and billionaires. Forbes has documented the valuations of eight recently purchased teams and found them to range from $370 million (the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes) to $2.3 billion (the NFL’s Carolina Panthers).

The Four Categories of Sports Marketing

Sports marketing can be deployed via theme-based strategies, where the marketer uses traditional marketing strategies to incorporate a sports element into the marketing program for non-sports products. It can also be used via product-based strategies, where sports products are marketed using traditional marketing strategies. A third sports marketing strategy is an alignment-based tactic, where marketers of non-sports products partner with a sports property through one or more forms of sponsorship. Finally, it sports marketing can be executed via sports-based strategies, where marketers of sports products are recognized as official sponsors of a sports property.

Sports Sponsorship

Traditionally, sports sponsorship happens when the sponsor is acknowledged by the sports property, and the sponsor has permission to use the sports property’s trademark and logos in efforts to leverage the sponsorship. However, there are several other ways that sports sponsorship can occur. Venue naming rights, for example, enables the sponsor’s name to be part of the building name, such as Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Hard Rock Stadium. Another sponsorship strategy is endorsements where an organization is endorsed by an athlete, such as David Beckham’s endorsement deals with Adidas and Pepsi. A third sponsorship method, licensing, is where a sponsor is granted the right to produce and sell the logo apparel of a sports property, such as the licensing agreement between Take-Two Interaction Software Inc. and the NBA and NBPA.

Inside the Mind of a Sports Fan

Before marketers and school athletic departments can begin to create engaging campaigns, it’s important to understand the mind of a sports fan.

Hitting a Home Run with Fan Satisfaction

Research has shown that fans who have a positive emotional experience at a sports game are more likely to be satisfied and more likely to return than fans who do not. Factors influencing satisfaction with a game attended at a stadium include entertainment factors such as quality of halftime shows or popularity of mascot, electronic enhancements like lighting and music, and other factors including comfortable seats, team traditions, team performance, the game’s importance, and passion.

The Passion Factor

The “Dualistic Model of Passion” identifies two types of passion: obsessional and harmonious.

Obsessional passion is the uncontrollable urge to participate in an activity. Obsessive fans need a specific team to win to feel happy and fulfilled, consider a specific team’s performance a central aspect of their existence, and have poorer relationships with their partners. Harmonious passion is the love for an activity that is a natural part of an individual’s life. Harmonious fans enjoy a game regardless of outcome and are more likely to have high levels of self-esteem and life satisfaction.

The Role of Sports in a Fan’s Identity

Research has shown that engaging in enjoyable activities leads to their internalization in one’s identity. These activities become a passion that then plays a part in defining the individual. For example, cheering for a football team indirectly entails cheering for the self.

Bing a sports fan influences a fan’s self-esteem, pride, identity, and belonging. It fosters connects between players and fans, between fans and their families, and between fans and personal elements like regional pride and aesthetic tastes. Sports fans require extra proof of allegation or a higher standard of evidence against their teams, as they feel they’re defending their own identity.

How to Promote Interscholastic Sports Programs and Games

To ensure student-athletes continue to play and sports programs remain funded, school athletic departments need strategies to promote their programs and games. Some of the ways this can be achieved include sharing and acknowledging player and coach achievements, fostering a culture of personal growth and service through recognition and rewards programs, and modeling community service. It can also be helpful to cultivate a following on popular social media platforms through tactics such as publishing posts that have a targeted and local focus, using high-quality visuals, and being a thought leader. Some of the ways sports games can be promoted include using social media to interact with fans and provide in-game presentation integration, creating themed games such as Military Appreciation Night, and tailor events to specific audiences such as younger athletes or families.


Sports games are fast-paced, action-packed emotional roller coasters for fans, coaches, and athletes alike. However, the behind-the-scenes work required to hold a successful event is strategic and methodical and takes months of planning. Before a single ball is thrown, marketers are planning sports marketing home runs.