Marketing Course Highlights America's Sports Obsession

September 19, 2012

Ellen Novar (right) is pictured with members of her class wearing apparel of favorite sports teams. The  exercise touched off discussions on how team loyalty developed, as well as the overall pervasiveness of sport in American society.

Ellen Novar (right) is pictured with members of her class wearing apparel of favorite sports teams. The exercise touched off discussions on how team loyalty developed, as well as the overall pervasiveness of sport in American society.

It dominates the media, often defines cities, impacts the economy in the billions and has its own de facto national holidays — sports.

It’s no wonder that companies from Pepsi and Chrysler to Wal-Mart and have hitched their financial stars to popular competitors and events to the tune of $13 billion in sponsorships this year.

Last February, CBS Sports’ presentation of Super Bowl XLVI featured 58 commercials that resulted in $75 million in revenue. This summer, NBC and its cable and Internet affiliates broadcast more than 5,500 hours of Olympic Games coverage to some 219 million American viewers — it was the most-watched event ever.

Ellen Novar is teaching a course in sport marketing at Wilmington College. She recently had her students come to class wearing their favorite teams’ apparel. The exercise revealed how they themselves are consumers of sport marketing.

“I was hoping that our class dressing up would have sent a message about the pervasiveness of sports in our society,” said Novar, assistant professor of marketing. She is a Chicago sports fan and came to class attired in a Bears T-shirt.

As expected, Ohio State, Bengals and Reds merchandise was prevalent, but others wore clothing in support of the San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Duke University and Arsenal from soccer’s English Premier League. Wilmington College was represented as well.

“Sports teams depend on marketing,” Novar added. “Sponsorships often make up the majority of revenue earned by a franchise so, in order to field a good team (and pay the salaries commanded by top players), sports properties must earn a significant amount of sponsors.”

She cited another class exercise early in the semester in which the students introduced themselves by mentioning who most influenced their interest in a particular sports team.

“Of course, it was largely parents and siblings,” she said. “I wanted them to realize that sports is truly a ‘product’ that generates incredible amounts of loyalty and is passed from one generation to the next — that’s quite powerful and different than most other products and services.”

Indeed, witness one of sport’s iconic franchises, professional football’s Green Bay Packers, which have enjoyed more than 300 consecutive home game sell-outs. With more than 80,000 fans on the team’s season ticket wait list, “until death do us part” takes on a much broader connotation.

With 111 million American viewers, the Packers’ defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV in February 2011 broke television’s single event viewing record, eclipsing the series finale of M*A*S*H, which held that distinction for 28 years.

By the way, Super Bowl Sunday, a de facto national holiday, regularly takes claim to the most food consumed in a single day each year after Thanksgiving. That event transforms sport as commercials are produced to run exclusively during the day’s coverage and the world’s biggest musical acts — such as U2, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones — consider it a milestone of their careers to play the halftime show.

Required class reading includes Mark Yost’s book, The 200-MPH Billboard: The Inside Story of How Big Money Changed NASCAR.

Novar said NASCAR is widely recognized as the ultimate sport marketer and is second only to NFL in number fans in the U.S. It has grown “exponentially” since its humble beginnings in the 1940s and 1950s and has been a trailblazer in creating models for bringing sponsorship dollars to major sports.

Witness the pervasiveness of advertisers’ logos on the racecars, racetrack and teams’ racing apparel.

“NASCAR has revolutionized marketing the sport and marketing through the sport using significant sponsors,” she said. “Its fan base is considered the most loyal to the sport's sponsors and corporate America has grown in its investment in the sport — a ton since the 1980s.”

Novar said the book demonstrates both the marketing of a sport and marketing through the sport, “which I really like!

“NASCAR really is the grandfather of sport marketing and students should be learning best practices,” she added.

She noted the class also would delve into strategic planning and marketing, the consumer behavior of sports fans, researching sports fans, pricing structures for sporting events and the promotion of sporting events.

The class will attend a professional sporting event and, assuming the role of a marketing researcher/ critical observer, individually evaluate the game experience, environment and marketing implications.