The Hoot

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Us vs. Them

by sadie • July 14

As we watched the World Cup finals this past weekend, we found our attention wandering to the flashing billboard fences in the background. Sponsorship is such an integral part of sports that the absence of regular commercial breaks was conspicuous, if not also refreshing. Soccer is a rare example of a sport whose continuity doesn’t allow for a break in play. Ergo, no commercials (at least not during action).

Yet despite the dearth of commercials, sponsors still managed to wriggle their way on screen. In fact, across the Wide World of Sports, there is no aspect that has not been branded at some point.

• Stadium names (Citi Field)

• Event names (Pepsi 400)

• Team names (New York Red Bulls)

• Contests, statistics, info graphics (Aflac trivia)

• Camera angles (Goodyear blimp)

• Logos on equipment and uniforms

• Personal sponsorship of particular athletes (Citizen Eco-Drive’s Unstoppable Ambassadors)

• Television commercials and segment sponsorship

Sponsors participate at every level, whether it’s sport-wide, team-affiliated, or specific to a certain player. Cash-strapped sports organizations get necessary funding from sponsors who in turn get recognition, credibility, and excitement. But that’s only half of the story.

Sports and brand loyalty are two areas where it is still socially acceptable to be competitive. They build on the same impulses and pride, which is why people identify with some brands as strongly as they identify with sports teams. “Coke people” and “Pepsi people” are classifications of species.

The final game in this year’s World Cup wasn’t just between Spain and the Netherlands - it was Nike vs. Adidas! And while there were likely few fans who picked a side based on the shoes they were wearing, it certainly didn’t go unnoticed by the execs at both apparel companies. In fact, NASCAR sponsors Budweiser and Miller Lite are known to keep reports of how their cars do respective to the other each race. Diehard Budweiser and Miller Lite drinkers take notice too (although probably without the spreadsheets).

Branding, at its most successful, taps the same energy that sports teams do. When combined, there are times when sports marketing synergizes the best of both worlds, heightening the rivalry and adding to the intricacy of the experience.

* Image courtesy of