Trends & Features

The state of play in sports industry marketing

Many more traditional marketing channels have been severely restricted or, in some cases, irradicated completely. For some brands, it been very much a case of evolve or die.

With this in mind, we speak to Daniel Macaulay, Founder of internationally renowned sports marketing consultancy, Brandwave. We ask what has changed, where are the new opportunities, and how can we capitalise on them?

Rational or emotional proposition?

This is one of the biggest mistakes brands make when it comes to marketing but it’s also one of the biggest opportunities.

Premium, more technical brands are generally the worst offenders always looking for the next USP and proudly displaying pointless acronyms like war medals.

We all think that we are rational creatures, but the research shows we are not. Most people buy 80% for emotional reasons and only 20% for rational reasons. That is to say; we buy with our hearts before our heads. We make an emotional decision about why we want or need something and then we try to post-rationalise why it was a good purchase.

I think defining and articulating a brand’s ideology started to become a big thing around a decade ago but back then, it was more of a nice to have. Now, being ‘purpose led’ is a necessity. There is more and more research showing that consumers don’t buy ‘what you do’, they buy ‘why you do it’.

I also think that authenticity is crucial when it comes to brand purpose. We live in the digital age where brand claims can easily be fact checked in seconds.

Younger consumers are extremely sceptical when it comes to brands claiming to be ethical in their business practices and/or sustainable. If a brand is faking it, they are likely to be caught out and called out sooner or later. That kind of damage is hard if not impossible to repair. The Abercrombie & Fitch scandal around diversity is a great example of this.

Ecommerce or bricks and mortar?

To say this argument is polarising is an understatement. The answers that we are given day-to-day always have a high coloration with who we ask. The candle sellers didn’t invent the lightbulb. People don’t often like change even when the writing is on the wall. Generally, points of view are self-serving and self-validating. That is to say; in most cases the bricks and mortar retailers believe that they are the future and vice versa.

Personally, I think it depends a lot on the demographic of your customer base. I love the bricks and mortar experience. I like interacting with real people. I like trying stuff on but I’m Gen X at nearly 44.

The Millennials and Gen Zs are a different breed altogether. They are digital natives and are perfectly happy doing everything online. The COVID pandemic and several lockdowns have hyper-accelerated global societal trends toward digital that were already in place. Brands such as Gym Shark are clear evidence of that.

I think that ultimately, the answer is around creating robust eco-systems with as many touchpoints for brands to engage with consumers as possible. Bricks and mortar can learn a lot from digital by capturing as much usable consumer data as they can and making the whole experience faster and more personalised.

Digital can learn from bricks and mortar by developing a much more human experience. New technologies such as AR and chatbots make this a broadly accessible and viable option for most.

Heritage or new and relevant?

This is a challenge that we get presented with on a pretty regular basis and it’s one that older brands obviously struggle with a lot more. If you are a new brand or an old brand moving into a new category, then heritage in that category isn’t really a viable option. The immediate challenge is always going to be attaining permissibility and ‘right to be’ in the new category.

We’ve worked with marine brands moving into Formula One and motorbike brands moving into surfing. There is always an initial push back from endemic consumers who rightly view the brand as having no relevant heritage or associated credibility in the new market.

Often brands are accused of trying to ‘make a quick buck’ in a market that is booming. That said, what these brands can bring is ‘new and relevant’. When brands like ROXY and Red Bull moved into sailing, they were seen very much to be making a sport that was perceived as conservative and traditional, more sexy. They were bringing ‘cool’ and as a result, attracting much younger audiences.

Many brands in the outdoor space are over 100 years old. They have been around for generations and are generally perceived as trusted and experienced. Unfortunately, the leadership teams often end-up viewing this as an albatross around their necks. Their rich heritage and history preventing them from competing and winning against younger, newer brands who have built up their equity in other more mainstream markets.

Personally, I believe that a brand with heritage can leverage this while also being young and relevant. It’s all about getting the balance right and not confusing ‘brands with heritage’ as ‘heritage brands’. That is to say, you should be proud of your history but it doesn’t have to define you.

The brands who get this part right can articulate that they have a unique rich heritage and that they are actively using that trust and experience to build a bright future full of innovation, evolution, and ambition.

Brandwave work on creative and strategic consultancy for many of the sports industry’s most iconic brands including The North Face, Adidas, INEOS, and Salomon. For more information on Daniel and Brandwave, email: or go to:

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