In Sport Sponsorship, Sports Marketing

Is it better to sponsor a Championship, a team or a club, or a specific athlete?

This is a very common question we are often asked and it’s actually a very good question every company should ask themselves when deciding to invest in a sport sponsorship.

Deciding where to invest your money as a sports sponsor is a tough task, with decisions to be made over individual athletes, sports teams/clubs and championships right from the start – before you even get into the nitty-gritty of kit, tech, restaurant deals, or other potentially lucrative services.

Choosing where to place your bets is complex, with factors including timescales, budgets, and objectives to consider too. So, with all these factors weighed up, is it more beneficial to sponsor an athlete or a championship? What about one tournament, or a particular team? And where should your branding physically appear, to ensure it gets seen by as many eyes as possible?

Here, we’ve put together some tips on the best way to ensure you reap the rewards of your sports sponsorship deals – and make sure your campaigns have value long after the final whistle blows.

Consumer products and services

Companies providing consumer products or services (such as mobile phones, banks, gaming or sportswear), might be in a unique position to team up with sporting brands that are aligned with their core values.

Partnerships are key to any game, and this is no exception. You don’t need us to tell you that products with a strong demographic base could benefit from teaming up with sports championships or brands that are national or international, with customers with the same interests spanning multiple locations. Utilize this kind of sponsorship, and the world is your customer. Examples that have reaped rewards include the English Premier League, which has run successful campaigns with Barclays Bank, EA Sports, Carling and Nike, amongst others.

There are things to be wary of here, too. It’s likely that the partnership will suffer from being slightly diluted, meaning that it will need to have a very clear, long-term plan in order to drive real results. The branding needs to be strong, otherwise, the message will fail to get through. After all, if you want real global scale (i.e., with a championship) you’re going for the breadth and in pursuit of a huge audience, rather than for an emotional connection with one player and their fans. Having said that, reaching millions of potential customers instead of a niche audience is hardly a bad thing – but nevertheless, this is something to be aware of.

Another risk that might avoid when sponsoring a tournaments or a championships instead of a single team/club or athlete, is an early and unexpected exit.

And it can happen, as we perfectly know. Just think about what happened to the Italian football team that this year haven’t qualified for the next FIFA World Cup 2022. And they didn’t qualified to the previous FIFA World Cup 2018 either. So what happens in this case if you are one of the sponsors of the Italian team? You basically loose all the visibility and the commercial opportunities linked to the event. adidas will not sell all the football shirts that they were expecting to sell, as Puma did when Italy won the Euro 2020.

If the club you are sponsoring is not playing or is eliminated in a very early stage of the competition, you will automatically loose some brand awareness.

If you are sponsoring the Championship or the whole tournament, you would avoid that risk.

Again, food for thoughts.

Exploiting how we watch sports

For the majority of people across the world, sport is consumed through a screen – whether that’s on a TV, tablet, mobile phone or any other digital device. It makes sense, then, that this need for and reliance upon digital connectivity is utilized in sports sponsorship. If 90% of the population is watching a sports championship on TV, why not take advantage of this and make sure your TV products are used to relay the matches that they’re watching too, alongside your logos and brand messaging?

This is a sponsorship strategy that can bring forth huge rewards, as sports championship viewing figures are incredibly high, as well as being global. Technology and sporting events are the perfect allies.

Need an example? This year, Lenovo has sponsored both Ferrari F1 and Ducati, aligning itself perfectly in terms of speed and connectivity with MotoGP and Formula 1. Such partnerships, when brands fit together in this way, don’t have to work overly hard to convince the consumer that they’re making the right choice.


In 2016, LeBron James signed a beyond lucrative, lifetime contract with Nike – one that will see him rake in a cool billion dollars.

Just last week Wimbledon saw a bold statement made through clothing sponsorship too, when world no.2 Roger Federer broke a two-decade-long tradition of wearing Nike and appeared sporting a Uniqlo jacket. Rumors of the deal being worth a cool 300 million dollars have abounded.

The list goes on – Air Jordan, Anthony Joshua, Puma, Under Armor, Usain Bolt. All are iconic, all are superstars of the discipline, all are beloved by their fans – and that goes for the brands as well as the sports stars. It’s these collaborations that make sports clothing sponsorship deals so vital to consider when you’re making marketing decisions.

There are, of course, countless other examples of sports icons teaming up with fashion and sportswear brands to bring their messages into the public eye – almost always in a massive way. There’s no doubt that clothing sponsorship is a winner – and extends off the pitch and to occasions that might require formal wear too.

These days, social media and sports influencers can take possibilities even higher, reaching even more potential customers – the sponsorship options with clothing really are limitless.

Personal care, grooming and the wellness boom

Whilst we’re on the subject of individuals influencing the consumer via well-targeted and strategic marketing campaigns, it’s a good time to consider the way that sportspeople have reached – and often exceeded – the bounds of celebrity over the past two or so decades.

Maybe David Beckham was the start of the footballer as a true celebrity, with the Becks haircut and brand Beckham taking over the tabloid press and the fledgling internet of the early 00s. Even if sportspeople as viable celebrities was a thing before that, it’s taken almost until now to find the right name for them, highlighting the power they have in the advertising and sponsorship world: yes, I’m talking about “influencers”.

Since sportspeople as brand influencers first took off, the platforms by which we can connect with their audiences have grown exponentially, and more quickly than we could ever have imaged: Instagram stories. Snapchat geo-tagging. Facebook Live. Twitter hashtags that dominate the internet for days. And because we all want to look – and feel – as good as a celebrity sports star, when they recommend products to us we’re more than likely to lap them up.

Of course, there are multiple opportunities to use these platforms, and this is where the multidisciplinary event, the championship, the particular team and the individual all have their place.

Some examples from  recent history stand out. One is Procter & Gamble’s Thank You Mom campaign, launched during the 2012 London Olympics, continued at Rio 2016 and used at various other events since, which used an emotional message and a universal truth to transcend international boundaries. Another is Italian swimming champion Federica Pellegrini’s shampoo sponsorship, also facilitated by Procter & Gamble. In these two cases, the event (the Olympics) and the individual (Pellegrini) organically create a strong message of trust, whilst coming from two very different angles. Both aspects work together as separate yet equally effective testimonials to elevate Procter & Gamble’s brand.

For a strong example of where personal care sponsorship has worked effectively within a team dynamic, consider Unilever and Rexona’s support of the Williams F1 team – a team that visits five continents every single year. The reach here is huge. Joint brand promotions, such as one that saw winners drive an F1 car at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, have the perfect platform – as well as a captive, global audience – in situations like this.

This kind of sponsorship, clearly, has the potential to reach a huge audience – one that is international and already has the trust of the event, team or influential sportsperson to rely on. It requires creativity, and it’s likely that the more creative the campaign is, the more buzz it will ultimately create.

Food&beverage: how they invest in sport sponsorship

Finally, we’ll think about how food sponsorship can bring forth successful yields. Whether it’s a multinational, long-term campaign (like McDonald’s whopping 94 years sponsoring the Olympics, or Coca Cola’s 40+ relationship with the World Cup), or a much smaller scale, such as sponsoring a winner’s podium at a single event, the benefits are easy to see. After all, even if your actual level of sponsorship is minor – say, you sponsor the podium and the champagne popping that is done by the race winner – the event is still likely to be streamed and televised on a huge scale, especially if it’s along the lines of the F1 or MotoGP. This kind of celebrating moment is the one that the press will pick up on and circulate, too. And suddenly, your brand is across the world’s TV screens and social media feeds.

Of course, all this depends on your objectives, target markets, and the scope that’s possible for your campaign – but that doesn’t mean that a campaign that has had success in one country can’t be replicated and optimized in another, or indeed in multiple others. Take Ferrero International, for example, which is rolling out its Kinder+Sport | Joy of Moving campaign, designed to “bring the joy of movement into the life of every child”, to 25 countries globally. Again, like with Procter & Gamble, it’s a case of clear aims and an emotive universal message. Some might call that a dream partnership.

The key to success in this is really working out which partnerships align best with your brand values, and those of your target demographic. Other examples of sponsorship campaigns that have really hit the spot include Red Bull and Monster, both of which have taken sports sponsorship to new levels of success with multifaceted campaigns across the various different sporting arena – ranging from kayaking to Formula 1.

So, what’s the answer?

As we’ve discovered, there are multiple ways that sports sponsorship can utilise powerful individuals, major championships and promising teams to achieve pre-specified goals – and on many occasions, you might be able to use some aspects of all three to create powerful stories.

Of course, the main question you need to consider is on your specific aims. Do you want the trust, passion, and loyalty that comes with the sponsorship of an individual? What happens if he/she gets injured? How will you be able to cover that period of time when your athlete and ambassador is not playing? Have you ever thought about that?

Another thing you should ask yourself before closing a deal with a sport ambassador is if you share his/her values, believes, actions and behaviour even outside the football pitch, or the tennis court or the race track.

Think about what happened with Novak Djokovic and the Australian Open 2022. Novak is not only an incredible tennis player, probably one of the best in the World and actual nr 1.

He’s also a man that has strong opinions of other matters not tennis related; he has clearly expressed his opinion on Covid and vaccines and therefore, if you sponsor him, you should be aware of that and of the possible backlash and consequences of his decisions, declarations and believes. As a company/brand you have to think about your consumers before investing in an athlete.

Do you want to reach the demographic that is their particular fanbase? Or do you want to be seen globally, by millions of people, for a shorter period of time? If so, a championship might be the right way to go. Maybe your aims are more localised, to one particular city, region or country – if that is the case, supporting a local or national team might be the answer.

Whichever you choose, you’ll have a wealth of sporting talent to pick from and more technology than ever before to help you achieve what you’re aiming for.

Question on budget, timescale, target demographic, social media capability and projected aims are, of course, up to you and your company, and will take some serious consideration. It’ll all be worth it when the sponsor reaps its rewards, though. As they say, the ball’s in your court.

If you are interested to know more about Sports Sponsorship and sponsorship activations please have a look at  What is a Sponsorship Activation.

If you’d like to have more insights, or discuss any specific projects, get in touch – we’re on


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Riccardo Tafà
Riccardo Tafà
Managing Director for RTR Sports, Riccardo graduated in law at the University of Bologna. He began his career in London in PR, then started working in two and four-wheelers. A brief move to Monaco followed before returning to Italy. There he founded RTR, first a consulting firm and then a sports marketing company which, eventually, he moved back to London.
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