At a baseball game this summer, my friend Gabby carried on about how much she loved the Phillies. When I asked her a question about a specific player, she replied, “Who is that?”
I’m temporarily embarrassing Gabby to prove that even if you’re not a diehard sports fan who knows every player and the blood type of the coach’s sister’s neighbor’s second cousin on their mom’s side, you probably have a team that you root for, even if it’s just the local team.
Sports bring us together. Have you ever high-fived the fans around you at a sporting event when your team scored? Have you ever struck up a conversation with someone because they’re wearing your favorite team’s gear? (Feel free to derail and read about the friend I made because he was wearing a Yankees shirt in my previous article.) In these instances, sports have the power to unite complete strangers. Over 100 million people typically tune in to the Super Bowl each year. To put this into perspective, the United States population is estimated to consist of 327.2 million people. That means almost a third of all people in the United States enjoy watching the Super Bowl each year. Every four years, the whole world comes together and is united through sports at the Olympics.
Sports inspire us. Did you ever hang a poster of your favorite athlete in your room as a kid? How about this: did you ever make a purchase because you saw your favorite athlete using that product?
Sports affect many of our buying decisions, whether we realize it or not. In a survey I conducted, I asked people to name their favorite athlete. I then asked them to choose their favorite sports apparel brand. In almost all cases, participants chose the brand that endorses the athlete they stated as their favorite. Even subconsciously, sports endorsements influence us.
The objective of my survey was to show how important sponsorships are. When I asked about favorite athletes, the names Derek Jeter, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods were popular responses. What do these athletes have in common? They are all sponsored by Nike. The people who stated these athletes as their favorites also listed Nike as their athletic wear of choice.
Seeing an athlete utilizing products of a certain brand allows consumers to make connections between that athlete’s greatness and their brand. The idea here is for consumers to think, “If Derek Jeter drank Gatorade and won five World Series rings, drinking Gatorade might make me a great athlete, too. If Tiger Woods could win 82 times on the PGA Tour, wearing Nike clothing will help me perform well like Tiger.”
The reputation of the athlete translates into the reputation of the brand’s products. Brands want consumers to think that their products must be the best if certain athletes are using them. Nike, for example, wants consumers to think that if LeBron James is choosing to wear Nike shoes on the court, Nike shoes must be of the highest quality.
At Wimbledon in 2015, Novak Djokovic lost the second set of a tiebreaker versus Roger Federer. In a fit of rage, Djokovic attempted to rip the Uniqlo shirt he was wearing but was unsuccessful. The quality fabric held up despite the athlete’s anger, and the event turned out to be an incredible marketing ploy for the Japanese brand. Then Chief Merchandising Officer and Co-Marketing Director of Uniqlo U.S.A. Justin Kerr stated, “It was an incredible moment where the athlete was trying to express himself and Uniqlo’s quality almost gets in the way.” Djokovic did go on to win at Wimbledon that year.
Essentially, these athletes serve as a bridge that connects the brand and the consumer. Their athletic greatness attracts consumers who look up to that athlete to the brand. That year at Wimbledon, Djokovic showed the world that Uniqlo products were so durable and of such high quality that not even he could destroy them in his outburst and that wearing Uniqlo helped him win the tournament. In the minds of consumers, this associated Uniqlo with quality and greatness.
Check out this Gatorade commercial featuring Derek Jeter. This ad is perfect for so many reasons. All baseball fans can acknowledge Jeter as one of the greats, and Gatorade uses this to their advantage. This commercial exudes warm, positive feelings, and associates Jeter’s legacy, greatness, and the way people adore him with Gatorade. With the exception of a brief cameo of the logo on a cooler in the background, you’ll notice that an actual bottle of Gatorade was not seen in the ad even once. You didn’t need to see one. By the end of the commercial when the famous number 2 flashed on the screen with the Gatorade lightning bolt followed by the brand’s logo, you were likely feeling the love and admiration for Jeter and subconsciously associated these feelings with Gatorade.
This is why brands pour so much money into these athletes. Basically, these athletes are walking advertisements, proving the high quality of the brand and associating greatness with the company. All the money spent on sponsorships (approximately $65.8 billion in 2018) is worth it, as these athletes are connecting us to these brands whether we realize it or not.
Whether you know sports statistics by heart or simply enjoy a good time out at a game, sports have more of an effect on us than we know, especially when it comes to our purchasing decisions. In the end, athletes bring increased revenue and exposure to brands, and they provide us with some pretty cool fashions and role models.