Guest Post: History of Advertising in the Sports Industry

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From simple wooden signs to high-tech Jumbotrons and impeccable social media presence, sports advertising has changed tremendously over the last 100 years. And since sports fans are some of the most brand-loyal people and some of the biggest consumers of content, it’s not a surprise that companies are battling to enter the sports market. In order to understand the importance of marketing in sport, here’s a little advertising 101 when it comes to the sports industry.

Tobacco cards

In the 1870s, first cigarette cards came out. They featured baseball players in hopes to boost sales and develop brand loyalty. This is probably one of the earliest examples of sports stars and brands working together for mutual benefit. Later on, tobacco cards developed into bubble gum cards which are still collector’s items today.


If you ever watched an American Football game, you’re probably familiar with the recognizable Goodyear blimp gliding over the arena. Well, the first of its kind was built by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and used in 1925. Later, Goodyear started equipping these blimps with glowing signs and LEDs which can advertise brands and products even during the night.

Naming equipment lines

In 1934, famous golfing brand Wilson decided to name one of their golf club lines after Helen Hicks. The company was not only impressed with her performance, but also with advertising success thanks to these clubs, so they started sponsoring more and more women golfers, eventually taking over the entire LPGA.

Adidas and free merch

Owner of Adidas, Adi Dassler, was a huge fan of American sprinter Jesse Owens. Since Adi knew Owens will become the star of Berlin Olympics, he wanted to see the sprinter in Adidas shoes despite all the racial turmoil. Dassler wanted to show the values of his brand and the quality of his products by putting as many athletes in his gear as he could no matter their gender or skin color. Eventually, Owens received a free pair of Adidas shoes, making this exchange one for the books—it’s one of the first instances of free merchandise used for advertising.

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Selling stadium naming rights

Sportsman’s Park, St. Louis Cardinals stadium, sold naming rights to Anheuser-Busch brewery. That same year, the new Busch Stadium was opened, making it the first venue to be named after a brand. While some fans opposed this blatant commercialization of the game, owners received much-needed revenue that kept the team afloat. Later, many other sports arenas followed suit so we today have Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Cadillac Arena in Beijing, The O2 in London, AT&T Stadium in Texas and many other.

Screens at stadiums

In the 80s, the first large screen was installed in Dodger Stadium. This giant by Mitsubishi was named Jumbotron and these are now incredibly common. Jumbotrons are crucial in watching live events since they allow viewing of close-ups and replays. Of course, they also play paid ads.

Web presence

Today, even the smallest local teams and events have web pages that are not only used to advertise sporting events and players but also showcase sponsors. Some companies even specialize in creating infographics, brochures and content for these organizations. For instance, content and design company Infostarters specializes in online promotion deals that include both research and design part of advertising. The important part for sports fans is the design that will attract the audience to engage with the team, events and products they advertise, and that’s where experts come very handy. This part of advertising is crucial because it provides the content to be shared on social media, one of the most important modern means of advertising.

Social media

Athletes, teams and leagues all use social media in order to improve their marketing efforts. Via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, every part of the sporting industry can build brand awareness, reach the audience and communicate with fans in an easy and cost-effective way. Social media’s most important trait is its ability to engage sports fans in a more direct and intimate way. When fans “Like” or “Follow” a team, league or athlete, they can get daily news and updates. Many teams also incorporate sponsorship integration into their posts (Minnesota Vikings “Touchdown Tracker” sponsored by FedEx).

From its humble beginnings, sports advertising became one of the most important ways for brands to reach a wide audience. Tobacco cards might be a thing of the past, but social media and web marketing are just starting their battle for the sports industry and we will live to see where this new trend takes us.

Author Bio:

Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.

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