The Foundation and Future of Sports Marketing

What is Sports Marketing?

Sports provide a communal experience unlike any other, and that connection creates an unmatched opportunity for brands. Whether in the promotion of sports themselves, or the promotion of a brand through sports — it’s all about bringing people closer to unforgettable moments. The goal line stands, buzzer beaters, and walk-off home runs not only bring people in for a moment, but create fans for life.

Sports marketing allows brands to piggyback on the sentiments and devotions of fans towards their favourite teams and athletes.


Sports and sporting events are by their very nature:

  • Exciting
  • Emotional
  • Unscripted
  • Global
  • Immediate

Athletes are real life heroes and idols and sports marketing leverages the enormous influence they wield. In-stadium, at a sports bar, or in your Twitter feed— sports require appointment viewing in our on-demand world. When brands link themselves to these emotionally charged moments, they seer themselves into collective memory and can win alongside the teams, athletes, and communities that make sports great.

History of Sports Marketing

Early sports marketing focused on product placement and brand awareness, with large companies attempting to build product credibility through affiliation with particular teams and athletes. It wasn’t until the rise of televised coverage of sporting events that sports marketing in its modern incarnation really took off. Brand exposure through a sponsorship package is no longer enough— brands today use sports marketing to reach a global community of passionate fans and consumers worldwide. The best sports marketing earns not just eyeballs but attention, connection, and conversation.

What is important today is not that you are exposing your brand, but rather that people are talking about your brand.


Sports Marketing Through The Years

  • 1870s – Baseball stars of the day first appear on tobacco cards
  • 1936- Adi Dassler provides spikes free of charge to the sprinter Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics
  • 1939 – The first major League Baseball game is televised helping make Babe Ruth the first six-figure athlete in professional sport.
  • 1940s-50s – Regularly televised sporting events give rise to modern sports marketing
  • 1980s-90s – Corporations start getting creative and innovative
  • 2000s – Social media changes the sports marketing game
  • 2012 – Opendorse is founded

Endorsements in Sports Marketing

Endorsements leverage an athlete or team’s credibility to promote a brand or product. While sponsorships speak to a brand’s involvement with sports properties (teams, leagues, etc.), endorsements use an actual human to reach consumers. Until recently, the cost of entry has been so high that very few brands could execute. But social media has changed the game, and the age of gold medalists on your Wheetie’s box has given way to a democratization of endorsements.

Today, you don’t have to be a platinum artist or first-ballot Hall of Famer to earn endorsement opportunities – celebrity is less of a requirement than attention from a specific audience. And brands of all sizes can connect with athletes to amplify their message. Local and niche brands have a unique opportunity to work with athletes that are particularly suited to their market. Omni-channel corporate sponsorships and product placement are now almost passe, with fans and audiences craving more authenticity. Social media helps fans feel closer to the action and closer to their favorite athletes, which gives endorsements more authentic value than ever before.

How Does Sports Marketing Work

Sports marketing connects your brand with an existing audience, and ties into the moments, content and stories that they’re already passionate about. Whereas traditional marketing starts with a product or service and finds an audience for it, sports marketing starts with a captive audience and finds products and brands that are a good fit. Sports marketing also capitalizes on the alchemy of emotion that’s inherent to the game (pun intended). With sports and sports fans, the excitement is built in. For sports marketers, the question becomes: how will you use it?

Athletes are at The Center of The Story

Athletes at every level have created stories that transcend generations, cultures, and continents. There are heroes and there are villains. Flashes of triumph and depictions of pain. All unscripted, unpredictable, and loaded with the raw emotion felt only in sports. Without the athletes, these moments don’t happen and the connection to fans doesn’t exist. The unmatched bond between athletes and their fans is the most powerful connection in sports.

When athletes speak, fans listen. In fact,

Athletes engage their audience at a rate 11-times higher than sports properties, and 8-times higher than sports publishers.

Why center the athlete in sports marketing?

  • People prefer interacting with humans instead of logos
  • By the numbers, athletes have the most engaged audiences in sports on social media.
  • The content you share will earn more attention and be more effective

Opendorse helps connects brands directly with athletes and their decision makers. Instead of soulless tweets written by a social media intern, athletes can customize your message so it’s authentic and lands with their followers. Instead of 10 rounds of revisions resulting in zero approved content and no fulfillment, Opendorse is a catalyst and leader in getting sports marketing content published. When timing is everything, Opendorse helps brands and athletes make the most of amazing moments before they pass.

Unique Challenges

  • Creators without content – athletes rarely have the content they need or want to share with their followers
  • Outdated contracts that haven’t evolved for new opportunities
  • The contract and negotiation process is long and difficult
  • Athletes aren’t easily accessible/ fortressed by gatekeepers
  • Sheer volume of content makes it hard to be heard at all
  • Getting content published in their feed is difficult
  • Content media rights often lack definition


  • Sponsorships/Corporate Partnerships
  • Naming rights
  • Influencers/athletes
  • Endorsements


  • Brands
  • Sports teams
  • High schools
  • Colleges
  • Leagues
  • Players associations 
  • Publishers

The Evolution of Sports Marketing

Sports marketing has shifted from an arena where only the biggest brands and corporations could play to an increasingly open, immediate, and hyper-connected field. One-way channels of communication between brands and audiences are being replaced by ongoing conversations between brands, players, teams, and fans. New platforms and a 24-7 news cycle mean you’re no longer relegated to activating during a game, in a broadcast, or on the select few sports channels. With social media, marketers are able to not only improve and extend those timely activations to a second screen, but can now reach and engage fans more often and more effectively than ever before.

Social Media and Sports Marketing

Social media has opened the doors for sports marketing to reach its full omni-channel potential, allowing you to provide fans with a seamless experience from the stands to their social feeds. Social is universally leveraged by sponsors and advertisers to engage with fans and drive outcomes in connection to their favorite teams, leagues, and athletes. It’s become a top tool for sports publishers. From top broadcasters like ESPN to local news, social media is often the first outlet to break news and share the biggest moments from games and events.

Social Media has Changed the Game

  • Made sports marketing more accessible to more brands:
    • The cost of entry and exclusivity is accessible to brands of all budgets.
  • Made omni-channel strategies more available:
    • You can build connection in more channels, more seamlessly with social.
  • Made sports marketing more measurable:
    • You can target, reach, and measure your impact for every tactic on social.
  • Made sports marketing more authentic:
    • It’s not enough to slap a logo on a backboard anymore. Social allows brands to build real connection with fans by providing the moments and conversation they desire.

Athletes on Social

  • 10X more engaging than sponsors in US sports
  • Have larger cumulative audiences than the channels of properties, publishers, sponsors, and advertisers.
  • Share 50X fewer posts than sponsors, resulting in less diluted feeds

Simply put, athletes have “it.” Whatever it is that drives the passion from fans when they take the field of play stretches into social. Cheers become engagement, connecting fans with each post they publish.

Social Media = Sports Marketing for All

To use a sports metaphor, social media levels the playing field. Sports marketing isn’t just for professional athletics anymore—it’s available and valuable to teams and athletes at every level. The same goes for brands. Giant corporate sponsorships may never go away, but now brands big and small can use sports marketing to engage audiences. For teams, leagues, and other sports properties, social has provided myriad new channels to reach and engage fans, providing avenues for success that transcend follower counts and retweets — but provide real opportunities to achieve business outcomes including ticket sales, fundraising, event promotion, and community involvement. Today’s sports marketers have channels at their fingertips that provide more efficient, measurable, and agile methods to connect with fans.

The Future of Sports Marketing

The future of sports marketing belongs to the teams, athletes, schools, and brands that can deliver the human connection audiences crave. That connection holds great power. The “athlete as influencer” model will continue to grow. We’ll see more content that points to experiences on the field. Fans will see more and more content from athletes on their social channels. Teams and schools will continue to look to expand the fan experience beyond the stadium and broadcast. Overall, a trend toward providing touch points and authenticity that reflects the game itself—in all it’s excitement, drama, heartbreak and glory.



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