Using Sports To Drive Awareness

Fri, 2016-04-01

Sports fills an important role in our society.


From a personal standpoint, sports equates to physical activity, which equates to fitness, which equates to wellness.  If you run, walk, climb, swim, play a sport, hit the gym or otherwise take in some form of exercise, participation in such activities makes you a healthier person, overall. 

From a spectator point of view, sports helps – in many ways – to define who you are, where you’re from and the social circles to which you belong.  Are you a long-suffering Cubs fan?  An overconfident Patriots supporter?  A look-ahead-to-next season Capitals aficionado?  Spectator sports gives you an instant community.  After all, even political debates don’t draw followers to a local watering hole to root, cheer and support the candidates of your choice.

Sports, however, does.

Ever since the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants put professional televised sports on America’s landscape with their now legendary 1958 NFL championship game, sports has emerged as a major platform through which to sell products, services, concepts, ideals and institutions.  Is there little wonder why Super Bowl 50 was able to generate $4 million for a :30 commercial and $8 million for a one minute block?

Plainly put, sports marketing works.

But you don’t need a corporate logo slapped on a venue like Minute Maid Park, the Pepsi Center or Philips Arena, to sell your products … local sponsorship of running races, youth and adult participatory tournaments and golf tournaments can go a long way toward telling your story to a captive audience.

Take, for example, the case of SoccerFest; one of the Washington, D.C. area’s longest-standing youth and adult participatory soccer celebrations. 

Born in the shadow of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, contested here in the United States, McDonald’s created a small-sided youth competition as a way to create a legacy in Washington, D.C. as a direct by-product of their sponsorship of the games.  For the next 14 years, McDonald’s marketed and branded this event through in-store promotion, external advertising and direct marketing to the point where – in 2008 – the competition attracted 485 teams from all throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.  Along the way, they introduced and unveiled new products, including their then-revolutionary McCafé  line of beverages and coffee drinks.  “It was the greatest non-store promotion McDonald’s has ever implemented in this part of the country,” said Julie Dixon, vice president at Golin Harris, McDonald’s regional public relations representatives.  “The event put our client’s image, brand, even its product, directly into the hands of the consumer.”

And it worked spectacularly.

But the following year, the regional McDonald’s cooperative elected to divert its resources from youth soccer more directly into product merchandising; and while the decision to drop its sponsorship was met with initial concern by event organizers, they soon learned that there were other options available.

Enter D.C. United.

In 2009, the Washington-area’s highly-decorated Major League Soccer team sought a platform through which to publicize, promote and market Volkswagen, their primary presenting partner.  Through a title sponsorship, D.C. United SoccerFest, Driven by Volkswagen, effectively brought its messaging – and its product line – directly to the 3,000-plus parents, coaches and relatives of the 1,800 youths who participated in the two-day soccer celebration.  Parents and coaches enjoyed the opportunity to test-drive the vehicles in the tournament parking lot, while an extensive email marketing campaign plus onsite, branding and signage left little doubt as to the identity of the supporter.

For Volkswagen, their involvement was a no-brainer.  “We always want to get the kids involved so up by the field we have a bunch of games, a number of contests and some giveaways but for the adults we provide the opportunity to actually get their hands on our vehicles,” said Bethany Munt, Volkswagen Product Specialist.

Today, six years later, D.C. United is still as an event sponsor, despite the fact that Volkswagen dropped their partnership with the pro team three years ago.

“United clearly recognizes the benefits of their association with this game,” says Steve Winter, President of Brotman|Winter|Fried Communications (BWF), the event management team for SoccerFest.  “So each year, they come back on board and use the tournament as both a launchpad and as a platform to help market other team sponsors, partners and affiliates.” 

SoccerFest is just one of approximately a dozen different events BWF creates, manages and operates for a variety of clients and national organizing bodies.  In 2016 alone, the agency will host three running races, two multi-event corporate sports festivals, a national high school ice hockey tournament, a girls’ fast pitch softball tournament and a nationally-sanctioned U.S. Figure Skating regional championship.  “Each of these events provides vastly different forums through which sponsors, vendors and affiliate partners can market themselves; and they don’t have to spend six figures to make it so,” Winter said.  “For fees as low as $15,000-to-$25,000, companies can ‘own’ our events and deliver their messaging to a captive yet highly active audience … for as little as $500, they can sell their products and services on-site.”

The bottom line – quite frankly – is that sporting events, at every level attract attention … and as long as there are kids who play, and adults who watch, there will always be a viable and willing audience for promotional support.


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