Why Humans are Obsessed with Sports & Why Marketers Maximise it

27 Jul,2021


By Bhuvi Gupta


Bhuvi GuptaWell aware that I belong to the minority I have always been surprised by the widespread obsession around sports. Why do so many of us care about wins and losses, have heated debates around teams and players, stay up at odd hours (to catch up on international matches) for something that ultimately has no impact on our lives?


Last week, I went down the rabbit hole to find out how science explains it. Turns out scientists are mystified too, But they’ve been working on it, and this ASAP Science video shares some logic, which adds up. Apparently, watching the team you support, win, leads to a spike in both testosterone and dopamine levels. Testosterone helps spike brainpower, awareness and muscle growth and Dopamine activates the pleasure centers in the brain, helping increasing memory and learning. Hence, we are biologically wired to watch Sports.


These biological hormonal spikes are not limited to Sport but even to Politics. This explains the mystifying skyhigh TRPs during exit polls and 24/7 on counting day, even for state elections too far from your location to have any impact on your life.


Marketers know that this works and that possibilities are endless. With the ubiquity of the mobile phone there are now a plethora of options for advertising across budgets. With easy access to content, India is also moving beyond cricket for advertising, product placement and brand ambassadors.


Generating mass awareness at mega sporting events

From a marketing POV, sports advertising works best for the ‘generating awareness’ peg of the marketing funnel. Every year, records are broken for advertising revenues earned during IPL in India, the Super Bowl in the US and other tournaments across the world. IPL and Super Bowl ads are recognised sub-genres. And marketers can use the various platforms available. These include in-stadium advertising, advertising on TV, and digital, second screen advertising, social media advertising and digital content platforms for post-match analyses. There is a well-oiled ecosystem that works to maximise eyeballs and using it well, while no cakewalk reaps dividends.


Work + Play for B2B

B2B companies have been using international sporting tournaments to create awareness at both B2B and B2C levels while building new business opportunities. Case in point, Indian IT companies in the last decade. In 2015, HCL officially partnered with Manchester United to innovate a unified fan experience. This partnership used technology to transform both the real-time stadium customer experience as well as the digital user experience. A ‘physical’ UnitedXperience Lab was also set up at Old Trafford Stadium.



In the same year, Infosys also executed a similar partnership with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of the men’s professional tennis circuits. They have been instrumental in supporting ATP’s development of key digital assets and infrastructure, including ATP PlayerZone, ATP Stats Leaderboards, ATP Second Screen, and the ATP app.


Such partnerships help showcase the company’s skills while getting them eyeballs globally.


Brand Ambassadorships

The oldest trick in the book, but still so effective are vanilla brand ambassadors. The medal and match winners are role models for ordinary citizens. Their tough journeys to the pinnacle of sporting success occupy reams of media coverage and remembered. All players have clearly defined value systems and choosing an ambassador whose values align with the brand can work wonders to generate awareness and credibility. I like the way Indian brands are now gravitating towards Olympians, Badminton, Boxing and Weightlifting stars and looking forward to the advertising that Tokyo 2020 winners will bring in the wake of their wins. An international favourite is the world’s largest pasta company, Barilla’s long-term association with tennis legend, Roger Federer.  The brand releases one campaign about every one-and-a-half years that highlight quality, simplicity, and excellence which are values synonymous with Federer.


Watch the 2020 Covid-19 campaign ‘The Rooftop Match’


Sports are the best of reality TV and give all the thrills except those voyeuristic. The viewer gets unedited and unscripted emotion, drama and discord, fun and all the dopamine hits described before. There are underdogs and alphas, strategizing and wild cards and even fixing. Marketers need to expand their budgets beyond cricket in the long term and not just in the wake of wins. The urge to watch is biological and there is so much that can be done!


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