In Sport Sponsorship, Sports Marketing

Let’s clear the air! Marketing may be associated to many definitions. Click this link and you will find over seventy of them:

For the sake of simplification, marketing may be defined as the full set of actions a company can deploy to interact with its target customers. There is plenty of marketing and communication actions, including:  advertising, promotions, direct marketing, direct mail, digital marketing, sponsorships, PR, and so on and so forth.

When marketing activities are based on and associated to sports, the official term is sports marketing activities  and they are part of a sport marketing plan or a sports sponsorship marketing plan or program. As the different types of sponsorship and sports marketing have already been discussed in a previous article, there is no point in dwelling on the theory of it. For the purpose of this article, it may suffice to say that sports marketing is the branch of marketing that leverages the passion of the target customers for the sponsored activity in order to achieve a predefined result, irrespective of this being the purchase of a product or service, the re-positioning of a brand, and so on.

What is a marketing strategy?

The Business Dictionary online provides the following definition for strategy: a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem. Examples may be: a political, electoral, commercial, advertising strategy; a team strategy.

What do we mean when we talk about sports marketing strategies? What are the differences between a strategic sports marketing plan and a marketing plan?

Is the reference to sports enough to define a marketing action as a sports marketing action? Or is the use of the adjective not enough, and multiple interconnected and subsequent actions are required, all aiming at achieving a specific result?

To put it in simple terms, marketing actions connected to sports are sports marketing actions and, as such, they (sports marketing actions and transactions) may be designed in different ways, using tools and approaches that are sometimes one the opposite of the other.  When taken all together and within a “marketing plan”, these actions contribute to converting a mere marketing plan into a strategic sports marketing plan.

Strategic Sports Marketing Plan

What is included in a strategic sports marketing plan to give a company a competitive advantage over its competitors? The answer is: an analysis of both the market and the competitors, the motivation for choosing sport x instead of sport y, the rationale of the activities that will be implemented. It is basically the strategic elements that highlight the direction to be taken and the choices that will be made, supported by research.

The strategic marketing plan is the basis for the operational marketing plan which contains the set of actions that will be implemented in pursuance of the strategy. Let’s now try and summarise the sequence of steps:

  1. strategy;
  2. planning of the activities that will be implemented;
  3. implementation of the activities;
  4. measurement of results. 

Example of strategy

A company named Alfa (a name we have made up for the purpose of our exercise) has decided to use sport and sports events because it is no longer willing to bother its existing and prospect customers with advertising messages and wants to catch their attention by touching their hearts. This decision is typically contained in the strategic plan. The strategic plan also contains research motivating and justifying the company’s decision to select MotoGP in place of cricket or soccer.

The operational marketing plan, on the other hand, lists in detail the specific actions that will be implemented to pursue the above-mentioned strategy.

An example may help in this case too.

Take a large company that sells products for personal and household care, among others.  The company knows that its target, the household Purchasing Manager, is in most cases the mother who takes care of her family. The company is looking for a way to be appreciated by such target and to create an emotional connection to her. The idea is to do something that is appreciated by the Purchasing Manager, instead of breaking the TV programmes she loves.

The company may try and communicate with its target audience using very popular events which have a large TV impact (e.g. a link-up to a music festival) or it may opt for sport, which is one of many potential alternatives.

In the specific case mentioned, the intention is also to overtly recognise how important the purchasing manager’s decision is for the development of a to-be athlete (i.e. her son/daughter). The most obvious example of this strategy is undoubtedly the case of a large corporation like Procter & Gamble during the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and following such event.

Squaring the circle: P&G “Thank you, Mom!”

In a stunning campaign, which emphasized the importance of the mother in the training of the champion-to-be, Procter linked up to the Olympic Games and gratified mothers (the PMs) with emotional spots that showed the entire world the key role mothers play in the growth of a champion.

The company subsequently implemented tactic actions on the territory aimed at promoting the purchase of specific products. These actions were associated to the supply of sports materials to schools in need, located close to supermarkets, with a view to contributing to the growth of the territory in which its customers live and the children of the PMs go to school. Last, but not least, direct actions were implemented in schools with the participation of winning testimonials from the sponsored National Team. Athletes met the pupils and became a source of inspiration for the champions of the future, and this was all thanks to the mothers who were simultaneously the targets and the supporting pillars of the project, because there would be no champion at all without a mother giving her time and energies for his/her growth. A mother purchasing specific products creates the resources for sports materials or the opportunities for some pupils to meet testimonials who can change their life through inspiration.

We had the honour and privilege to be part of this campaign, as we collaborated with Procter & Gamble for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Click here if you wish to know more about this.

Theory or practice, what’s more important?

The strategic phase is undoubtedly very important and, as such, it deserves great attention and competence. The use of sport enables taking very different roads, linking up to a single event or series, financing grassroots activities or sponsoring the number 1 athlete, and so on.

The discussion may be whether it is more effective to link up to a number 1 sports star or to carry out activities like those explained above, in connection with the Olympic Games. Or whether it is better to become an actual Media House, such as Red Bull, which has leveraged various sports properties by producing and disclosing high-impact contents on the socials, and has thus become the industrial tycoon of beverage it is now in just 35 years.

There is no good or bad choice, to be honest. The two examples above – the promotional activity connected to Olympic sponsorship and the TV spots “Thank you, Mom” by P&G or the sponsorship of high-impact properties such as Red Bull or Toro Rosso F1 – may all give great results, and they actually do. The same great results, however, are also achieved through grassroots operations which are performed to sponsor amateur sports.

The choice is really up to the company, based on its sensitivity, target and many other factors, including those connected to the territory and budget.

Execution: it is essential to do things well

Although the above is true, it is at the same important to remember that an excellent sports marketing strategy can be voided if the resulting sports marketing plan is not implemented to perfection. Thorough planning and correct management are the basis of each and every successful action.

The company should at all times resort to professionals that can respond to and support the company’s at both stages: the creative and strategic stage and the subsequent activity implementation stage.

Click here if you wish to have an overall idea of what you may find in an operational marketing plan. It may not be comprehensive, but it can give you a good indication.

One thing is for sure: sport and its simple rules, which need no explanation, are an easy way to communicate with everyone, and this offers good opportunities to companies. If you feel like evaluating whether sport and motorsports may be used by your company and add value to it, do not hesitate to contact us at our phone numbers or email address:



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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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