Sports has long held the power to captivate, engage, inspire and evoke the most primal and profound instincts of the human emotion. After all, sports are largely a metaphor for life. From the earliest inception of the Olympic Games, created literally to peacefully solve conflicts between nations, to the more recent franchise extensions, created to galvanize cities, sports have been something positive to rally around, emotionally invest in and, most importantly, believe in, amid a modern-day life posing few opportunities to do so without the heavy and complicated consequence of reality.
Given the ever-growing complexity of our world, politics, social status, economic uncertainty and rapidly changing human behavior on a scale we’ve still yet to fully comprehend, it’s no wonder sport not only remains as popular as ever but has grown to a fever pitch of the world’s curiosity and not-so-guilty pleasure. No longer simply a genre of interest, but a dominant force in culture and ingredient of society, sports are as much a part of global life as education, politics and even religion—to some, you might say it even is a religion.
It’s only logical that the explosion of sports as a global lifestyle would bring with it a corresponding explosion of sports marketing—both self-promotion for the actual event of sport itself and the myriad of supporting products, services, organizations and adjunct associations that fully encompass the ecosystem of this thing we broadly call sports.
How Far Is That Reach?
In fact, the genre is so big and robust, it’s really only fair to consider it in two distinct ways. One being the actual pure physical sport or event across the wide and eclectic range of sport types both physically and digitally. The second being the massively complex global lifestyle and culture born from its ethers.
The reach of sport seems endless, along with the possibilities to dig deeper, push further, expand greater and fully extrapolate every angle, metaphor and connection point one could imagine relating to the game on the field (pitch, rink, court, mat, diamond, lane, arena, etc., as well as the lifestyle off it).
It’s quite interesting, then, to consider that, while sport, and the angles from which one may look at it, is an ancient pastime, the art of storytelling in sports has only just begun its modern renaissance.
Yes, we’ve been telling sports stories since sports were born, but in many ways those stories have been relegated to the facts, the fans and the circumference that sport contained as a physical activity between two opponents. It’s only in the last century that those stories have begun to evolve, and truly in the last decade those stories have massively proliferated in style, tone, medium and genre.
I’m More Than Just an Observer
Being a storyteller at heart, and one personally immersed in the world of sports, I’m often asked, “Why sports?” My answer has always been a bit open-ended. So, amid a few back-to-back panel discussions, on the heels of reading a few important articles that struck my further curiosity and within an insanely overwhelming schedule of balancing a slate of TV shows and feature films in development, as well as a constant flow of advertising stories immersed in and around sports, I thought that now was the time to properly answer the question and perhaps glean some fascinating insight myself on just why this moment in time is truly the next frontier in sports marketing.
While I embody the heart, soul and mindset of an athlete, from the way I physically train my body, conduct my diet regimen and execute my rigorous work schedule, I was never the biggest sports fan growing up. I wasn’t a huge team player and didn’t chase a dream of sports stardom only to settle for a life of sideline reporting albeit with a camera, a pen and a penchant for the dramatic. I somehow inherently connected to something greater within, something beyond the surface attraction of superstar athletes and the big lights and grand stage of sports spectacle as seen on TV. I was always most fascinated with the very rich metaphor that sports offered to life—the drama of the game, similar to that of the emotional landscape of the human condition, rife with the excitement, mystery, struggle, humor and integrity encompassed by the game of life.
I guess somehow I’ve always known that sport was that grand metaphor for life. So, in telling sports stories, I was drawn to examine the messiness of life through the most fascinating filter, from a sort of safe and measurable distance. It is a radically effective way to truly dive deeply into the very meaning of why we are here and who we really are … as men, women, children of all ages, races and backgrounds. In looking at this realization for myself, I then shift the focus to the question on a much larger scale posed at us all.
Why Sports Marketing?
In realizing my own motivation, I’m inclined to consider the inherent attraction by so many companies surrounding the space of sports to tap into this very same alchemy of emotional space without the baggage or vulnerability that comes with emotion for emotion’s sake, or entertainment for entertainment sake. I believe that brands, et al, have come to the same realization I have, that they have finally caught on that the way to a man’s heart is not through his head or his stomach, but through his love of sport. And given the growing equality of women’s ambitions not only to step on a level playing field but to kick ass, dominate, outshine, outplay and outwork the best of their male counterparts, no matter the game or the field at play, the marketing of sports to both men and women of all backgrounds is an even richer territory for us all to embrace.
In fact, much like the original reason the Olympic Games were born, the modern purpose of sports marketing is to level a global playing field of the farthest reaches of diverse thought, belief and behavior so that we may somehow come to a unified understanding of humanity. This truly makes for a game that is safe, powerful and radically effective for a wide range of global players, with an equally robust list of product, services and offerings.
More Than Just a Game
To tell a story of two opponents from the furthest reaches of opposition, laying down their differences to simply play a game, if only for a moment in time, is as profound a purpose as any. And the result is one where that moment is a glorious occasion and that game is one everyone wants a piece of.
As we all dig deeper into the life of sport, we start to see that there are so many untapped narratives, so many angles not yet illuminated, and so much unrealized potential in the story of sport. This new dawn of sports marketing is as rich, plentiful and exciting as any genre of marketing or storytelling there has ever been, and this is the very golden age we are living in.
Whether you’re an athlete, brand, service, team, league or an organization that caters to any or all of the above, there is a story to tell and an audience dying to hear it.
With the current paradigms of funding, platforms, channels and monetization completely upended, this renaissance of sports storytelling (and corresponding marketing) is only going to expand and keep expanding.
Every entertainment platform, streaming channel or large content network is interested in sports in one way, or possibly even a combination of ways. Many brands previously not sponsors of sports now want to align to sport and the lifestyle that richly defines it.
We’re Just Getting Started
As I steal time from preparation for a shoot tomorrow, a call with a sports brand, overseeing the edit of another project and addressing script notes on yet another long-form sports story, I am as immersed in sports storytelling and marketing as I could ever have imagined and yet I’m still just as fascinated by how this all became so popular in the global zeitgeist.
In considering the landscape of sport, its emotional impact, complexity and myriad rewarding possibilities, I’ve found the answer to the question of why I tell sports stories. I think it’s why sports stories in both marketing and entertainment have become so ravenously popular.
Sports truly are a grand metaphor for life. And those of us who are living it are as humbled, empowered, enriched and inspired to explore it, discover it, celebrate it and share it with the world as we are by absorbing it.
So, perhaps I tell stories in sports because I am a practitioner of life. Or maybe because I’m fascinated, curious, obsessed and bewildered by the emotion that life offers and sports is the perfect vehicle to dive headfirst into the murky waters of exploration in search of some answers, or at least some very powerful experiences.
And if your brand is born of sport, your product built for athletes or your service or organization bred for those who eat, sleep and breathe the culture of sport, there’s never been a better time than now to tell stories from the heart, soul and competitive spirit and never been a better vehicle to express the most powerful stories that life has to offer.
May we all continue to explore where this thing called sports will take us and always be open for the answer being the journey and the destination being this wonderful fulfillment we get from playing the game.