The Fallacies of Sports Marketing

 Sports marketing can be great. When done right, I am as big of a proponent of it as anyone. Nonetheless, just like any marketing initiative, it has its pitfalls, which can be very dangerous – especially if emotion rules decision-making.
The affinity people have toward events, teams, universities, players, coaches and etcetera can result in ill-advised spending that lacks any defined (and productive) strategy, goals or objectives. In general, people have positive feelings about where they went to school, the team they rooted for growing up or an event they’ve frequented since their youth. This is okay, however it should not be a dynamic that blinds logic. In reality, salespeople know this affinity exists, and unfortunately, a significant portion of them (and the companies they represent) take advantage of it in a self-serving fashion.
Nobody wants to openly admit it, but I am willing to contend a significant portion of stadium/venue signage is purchased because marketers (or their bosses) like seeing their own sign. More power to you if you have the resources to do so and are willing to admit it’s a status-rearing purchase. Where I don’t see this rationale being appropriate is when it is in relation to a publicly traded company or even worse, a tax-supported entity like the National Highway Traffic Safety Association or a Community College System spending to display prestige.
Monkey see, monkey do. Under this framework, it is quite obvious many marketers unwittingly spend irresponsibly on sports marketing as a response to a competitor’s (or competitors') presence in the space. What’s even worse is buying something so your competitor can’t – which like buying for status, happens much more than anyone will openly admit on the record. Take for example, the financial services/insurance and auto industries; about a third of the biggest spenders in sports fall within in these categories. Is peddling insurance, slanging credit cards or dealing cars really that much more profitable than hawking other products or services? Maybe, but I tend to think not, otherwise GM and Bank of America would be in Apple’s position. What happened is a few large insurance companies, banks/credit card issuers and auto makers invested heavily in sports 20-30 years ago and to keep up with the competition, peers have spent wildly since.
Official designations (i.e. Official Tampon of the NFL) not built on an organic foundation or endemic tie-in are frequently pointless and can do more harm than good. I recently saw a commercial for Dannon touting it as “The Official Greek Yogurt Sponsor of the NFL” – what the hell. Even worse is what The Big Ten Conference has done making Kaytee the “Official Wild Bird Seed of the Big Ten Conference.” I am at a loss of words, and not the only one who thinks it’s atrocious: I am fairly confident the three factors I previously mentioned: affinity, status and copycatting/blocking your competitor, had something to do with Dannon and Kaytee’s decisions. Either that or libation resulting in mutliple stomachs being pumped was present. To be clear, Official Designations aren’t all bad - some are great and make a lot of sense, such as the Official Shoe of the NBA, Official Fuel or Tire of NASCAR and/or the Official Energy Drink of the US Snowboarding team. But, as previously supported, it’s quite perplexing when companies try to associate themselves with entities having no real connection.
Due to empirical data suggesting it works, sports marketing continues to grow – I will not dispute this. Where I’m a little concerned is the fact it’s very hard to determine how much of that growth is due to frivolous decision making based on the circumstances discuss herein.