In Sports Marketing

A key crossroads for sports marketing consists in the one marked by the different sports marketing types. This discipline is very often addressed without considering the dual meaning of its name, which bears substantial differences in it. It is primarily a linguistic confusion. What English-speakers transversally define “Sports Marketing” (and they are the undisputed masters of this matter, although it is not true that sports marketing was born in the US) is a reality with two distinguished sides, which are clearly reflected in the twofold essence of its name: marketing of sport and marketing with (or through) sport.

Definition of Sports Marketing

We would like to start our stream of considerations on sports marketing types from two definitions, which are key to this subject matter in our opinion.

The first definition of sports marketing is found in Mullin, Hurdy & Sutton in their famous book titled Sport Marketing (2014). The three authors define sports marketing as a rational, coherent system that helps link sport consumers with sport products. The second definition is a bit more outdated, but nonetheless efficient and important. It is taken from Advertising Age, one of the best known advertising and communication magazines in the world, founded in 1930 by G.D. Crain Jr. in Chicago. Sports marketing is here defined as the activities of consumers, industrial products and communication people who increasingly use sport as a communication tool. So sports marketing is a marketing strategy.

Sports marketing types: primary types

The two definitions above help understand that two completely different aspects are referenced, right from the basics. On the one hand, we have the “marketing of sport”, i.e. the set of activities and competences intended for the promotion and improvement of sports enjoyment and consumption (we will present some figures later on). On the other, we have “marketing with sport” or “marketing in sport“, the use of sport as an efficient communication tool for businesses. This is what we define as primary sports marketing types, which form the first large category of sports marketing.

Anyone involved in initiatives aimed at bringing a sport product closer to end consumers has to do with the “marketing of sport”. This includes marketing operators of sports businesses and organizers of events, professional sports leagues, championships, sport teams and so on. For instance. When you find a promotion entitling you to go to the stadium with a friend free of charge, you are exposed to “marketing of sport”. Other marketing of sports examples include the huge ADV campaigns football clubs launch at the beginning of the season for season tickets, or charity events to raise money for a good cause and therefore casting good light on the team.

Marketing through sport”, on the other hand, involves players who use sport as a booster to grow a business that is not directly connected to sports. Players who use marketing through sport include sports marketing agencies, brands resorting to testimonials, and so on to communicate with sport fans /customers. An example of marketing through sport is the Opel brand using Valentino Rossi to promote their car model Opel Adam.

Evidently enough, the differences between these two sport marketing categories, and the resulting professional profiles especially, are substantial and they represent a very important crossroads for new comers in this sector. The two types of professionals linked to these categories are different, but often they must be complimentary in order to get the greatest value from sports sponsorship and sports communication deals.

The “sport” product

The two types of sports marketing above and any deriving differences are primarily due to the intrinsic complexity of the “sport” product. From the standpoint of marketing, defining sport according to common criteria is quite complex – namely as the set of peculiar characteristics manifesting themselves in the form of a service, physical product or intellectual product that meets the needs of a specific market and generates economic and other profits which justify its renewed existence.

What is a sport product then? Is it season tickets? Is it a hospitality ticket to watch the MotoGP? Is it a basketball sneaker? Is it a live broadcast of a Formula 1 Grand Prix race? Is it practising a sport discipline? Is it a ski pass for the skiing week? Is it a motorbike running on track under the eyes of million TV viewers? Is it a famous athlete appearing on a billboard?

Although it may sound impossible, all the examples mentioned above (and many more) are sport products with a well defined and clear sports marketing path to support them. The great specialization and the vertical approach required by the various areas of sports marketing is under everybody’s eyes: it is hard – extremely hard, indeed – to simultaneously take care of ticketing, organisation of a sport event, sponsorship activation, athlete management, and so on.

Each sports marketing sector has its own competences and professional profiles and they are becoming increasingly more specialised and deeply-rooted as time goes by.


Sports marketing types: secondary types

As explained above, the multi-faceted sport product is matched with as many diversified sports marketing types. Our analysis started off with the examination of “macro types”, i.e. marketing of sport and marketing through sport. The time has now come to get a deeper insight into the issue and address secondary (or micro) sports marketing types, i.e. those more closely connected to sport products.

These types include:

  • marketing of sports events;

  • marketing of sports teams;

  • marketing of sports businesses;

  • marketing of individual athletes;

  • marketing of places, stadiums and facilities where sporting activities take place;

  • marketing of Public Bodies, Federations, Leagues and Series, with the purpose of promoting, growing and developing individual disciplines and championships;

  • marketing of equipment for practising sports disciplines;

  • marketing of media and means of communication which broadcast and disseminate news, live shows, sport talk shows and sport programmes;

  • sport licensing;

  • sports sponsorships.

The list above may actually continue. Its sole purpose is to emphasise one very clear peculiarity: each different aspect of a sport product corresponds to a different type of sports marketing.

Marketing in sports: from the sports product to the sports market and sports economy

Each and every form of marketing in sports -whether it’s marketing through sports or marketing of sports- has its stepping stone in the peculiarities of the sports product, of the sports market and of the sports economy. Sports marketers in every field and discipline know very well that dealing with sports fans and sports organizations is very different from dealing with traditional consumers or brands.

This has lots to do with the way sport is hard wired in our brains, affecting our psychological and emotional sides and becoming a major vector for socialization and bonding. I might like a specific brand of candy very much, but I would hardly call myself a fan of that brand, or wear a tshirt of that very biscuit at the gym or at school. At the same time, if I am having tea at a friend’s, I would gladly eat another brand, if offered. While it might sound a very basic and shallow example, it shows how things are different with sports and with the whole idea of being a sports fan.

Mullin et Al. show that the sport product, economy and market have some unique traits that can be summarized as such.

Primary sport product characteristics:

  • Competition
  • Separation from traditional Space-Time
  • Regulation
  • Presence of Physical Performance or Special Skills
  • Presence of Venues or special equipment

Secondary sport product characteristics:

  • It is intangible, experiential and subjective
  • It generates strong identification
  • Has contemporary consumption and production
  • Non-predictability
  • Control out of the hands of marketing

Characteristics of the sports market:

  • Need for several organizations to operate simultaneously
  • Plurality of experts
  • Product dependence on strong seasonality
  • Product inference with many other markets and spheres of life

Characteristics of the sports economy:

  • Difficulty to price according to traditional canons of “how much does it cost to produce?”
  • Indirect revenues are often much higher than direct ones
  • Whoever buys the sports product must, more often than not, spend much more than just the price of the product

Decisions on the sports marketing strategy are heavily impacted by the above mentioned features. Just to mention an example, non-predictability alone would be sufficient to highlight the many distinctive traits of marketing in sports. Many, if not all industries, would use performance and results to promote their product or service, claiming that a specific car will save you 15% of fuel or this specific smartphone will make you ten times more effficient, or that this camera has 10 megapixels more.

Sports marketers and managers just can’t do that. They can’t say: “come see the game, we’ll beat the Jaguars tonight” or “come to the racetrack, this driver will win the Grand Prix after a spectacular comeback from the back of the grid” What if you don’t beat the Jaguars? What if the back-of-the-grid driver never manages to overtake the field and ends his race in 17th? But that’s the beauty of it, and the reason we all love it.


What is the position of RTR as a leading sports marketing agency in motorsport sponsorship?

At macro type level, RTR Sports is a sports marketing agency, therefore an agency of marketing through sport. Our stated mission in the past twenty years has been the provision of consultancy services to businesses that are willing to use sport as a communication tool. At micro type level, our focus (i.e. the sport product that is our core business) has been equally clear: motor sports sponsorships, more specifically sponsorships in MotoGPFormula 1Formula E and MotoE. In parallel, we have developed other components of the sport product which are closely connected to the sponsorship product: activations. Hospitality, Licensing and on-field Events are part of our DNA too. If you wish to have a look at our case histories of past sports sponsorships, visit our dedicated website area here and the relevant website sections dealing with hospitalities, licensing and events.

If you are curious to know more about this topic or are willing to find out how sports marketing strategies can help your company grow, or you’d like to discuss some sport marketing examples and showcases, do not hesitate to contact us at our email address:

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Emanuele Venturoli
Emanuele Venturoli
A graduate in Public, Social and Political Communication from the University of Bologna, he has always been passionate about marketing, design and sport.
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  • B. Pitts

    Just wanted to reach out to let you know a few things – first, the “first definition of” sport marketing is not the 2014 Mullin-Sutton-Hardy book…. In fact, the first published definitions were in 1996 in Pitts & Stotlar, Fundamentals of Sport Marketing book. Today, I recently published the 5th edition — Fundamentals of Sport Business Marketing (2022) and in the first chapter you will find far more accurate information and definitions of sport marketing than what you have here (that is now very old and outdated). Please just look for the newest book and please consider using it to inform you and your business. In all respect and humbleness: Professor Dr. Brenda G. Pitts.

    • Emanuele Venturoli

      Dear Dr. Pitts,
      Thanks for reaching out and for your highly appreciated comment.
      Sure, this is a rather old article that gets updated every now and again but maybe needs some revamping.
      We would be very happy to read more about your newest publication.
      Also, rest assured we will update the piece with the suggested information.
      If you ever find time for a quick call about your work and the future of sports marketing, we would be thrilled to have such conversation.
      Thanks again and we hope to hear from you soon.

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