“Sport marketing” has 2 dimensions: marketing in sport and marketing with sport. Marketing in sport is like any other marketing job but the object is sport. Marketing with sport is expressing your brand through the medium of sport.

Let’s focus today on marketing with sport. Most of the time, the only lever used by brands is sponsorship. Marketing with sport is associated with linking visually a property and a logo. (Logo on a shirt or a board, a sportsperson holding the product and smiling). Objective? Brand awareness.

Take the Premier League - how many of the shirt sponsors are well-known brands. 3 or 4? The rest are unknown brands, new or new to the UK, often betting companies trying to buy awareness quickly with a specific target.

On the other side, the rights holders mostly sell sport with the promise of “eye balls”, the promise of awareness. “Our X thousand fans in the world seeing your brand, X millions TV viewership etc.” Numbers, big and occasionally inflated. The bigger rights holder use that a lot, but weirdly the smaller too, when in reality they don’t get any significant numbers. As a CMO I use to tell the salespeople from rights holders: I can get more eye balls with my traditional media budget so talk to me about something else.

What if marketing with sport could offer more? What if it could help brands bring to life the purpose of a brand?

A brand should have a purpose in the life of consumers. An authentic and simple desire to impact positively the life of the consumers. To nudge a little change that will improve society. To stimulate a new desire to raise the bar in our life or society.

How to you best do this with sport? Today the “players” on the pitch are mostly ads scripted by an agency, played by actors (often with a slow-tempo soundtrack). A fake reality that consumers see through. Or worse, that consumers could reject. “Purpose-washing” anyone?

At the same time, on the bench, there is a player called “Brand purpose”. Sport has in its DNA this capacity to nudge people and society to be a better version of themselves. Sport has in its genes the power to inspire change, to nudge ambition for something better - for you and the world. Sport brings people together. Sport is the most diverse and inclusive social space around us. Sport teaches respect, fair play, physical and mental well-being. Sport can even make Londoners kind to each other for a full 2 weeks. We all remember London 2012!!

Time to change the game plan: bring “brand purpose” from the bench. Time for brand builders to connect with sport to drive brand purpose. To capture real stories, from real people. It requires brand building though - shaping, positioning and amplifying the outstanding raw material into a marketing proposition that will drive both commercial success and nudge society to be a little bit better.

Play a new team for 2023. Bench awareness, and play brand purpose up front - let it show you what it can do

Michael started his career at P&G and L’Oreal Most recently he was the CMO and strategy director for Müller where he led ground-breaking brand building partnerships in sport. Michael is now the Managing Director of Sport&Brands a brand strategy consultancy in sport, a company he co-founded. Contact him on michael@sportandbrands.co.uk

Michael will be writing a column for the MAD//Fest Newsletter regularly throughout the year.