Sports marketing can be defined as "the specific application of marketing principles and processes to sport products (e.g., teams, leagues, events, footwear, equipment) and the marketing of non-sports products (e.g., food & beverage, autos, telecom services) through associations with sports." It's been part of the foundation for global brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, Ford and Budweiser for decades.
On the other side of the marketing table, there's cause marketing, where brands team up with relevant charities or social causes to raise awareness and dollars to make a difference in the community. Cause marketing can be an effective image-building tool for a brand while helping a charitable cause gain greater visibility and possibly new sources of funding.
So, here's a crazy idea -- what would happen if we combined the two? To put it into true marketing speak, it's like the old Reese's slogan: "Two great tastes that taste great together."
Thanks to the efforts of some very passionate sports fans, there are now soccer programs that teach HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, skiing & Snowboarding coalitions raising awareness for climate change, and golf programs that help Native American kids build self-esteem and lead a healthier life.
And there are hundreds of professional athletes who dedicate their free time to building skate parks in depressed urban areas, helping senior citizens enjoy their final years, and assisting veterans' transition back into society, while also raising funds to fight everything from cancer and autism to poverty and homelessness.
Supporting these programs does more for the collective good than simply buying signage at an event or paying an athlete to wear your logo. It supports the same people who buy your products, watch your programs and attend your games and events.
A recent Harvard Business Review article said, "So little is spent on advertising and marketing by charities that the IRS form 990 they are required to file each year doesn't even have a line item for reporting it. Yet it would be considered malfeasance to launch a product or service in the for-profit sector without an adequate advertising budget to build demand for it."
Not so in the world of sports. In fact, it's safe to say the entire industry is driven by marketing spend -- from sporting goods and services, teams and events, to the marketing of consumer goods and services via those same sports events and athletes. Last year's Super Bowl -- the marketing Mecca of U.S. sporting events -- generated over $420 million alone in media, sponsorship, tickets and licensing revenue, according to Forbes.com.
Now, I'm not saying this is a bad thing -- not at all. It's an opportunity. An opportunity to step up the plate and make a difference.
What I am saying is those marketing dollars can do more good if they're channeled into sports cause marketing. It's that rare "win-win-win" in the business world: The brand wins, the consumer wins and the cause wins. No one leaves the field hanging their head after the final whistle sounds.
Think of it this way -- if just 1% of the $11 billion spent annually on sports sponsorship was channeled into sports cause marketing, that would be $110 million going to do some serious good in the world.
The HBR article goes on to say, "Charitable giving has remained constant in the U.S. at about 2% of GDP ever since we've measured it. Charity is not taking market share from the for-profit sector. No wonder. It's hardly allowed to market. If enough additional demand were built to raise that figure to 3% we could achieve a transformation in our ability to combat social problems."
So I challenge all of you -- my peers, colleagues and fellow sports marketers: Sports cause marketing is a better way to approach sports marketing. The causes are there, ready, willing and able to help you market your brands. Just imagine what we can do if everyone pulls on the same rope:
That sounds like positive ROI to me.