SBJ/January 19 - 25, 2004/SBJ In Depth

Sponsorship Report Card: Experts sound off on music marketing

Jim Millman
Founder, chairman


Mixing sports and music is a marketing idea whose time is just beginning. The crossover is a natural one — from entertainers being admired with the same consumer intensity as sports stars, to popular music being used extensively to enhance the fan experience across all elements of sports.

The recent heavy bowl/NFL playoff schedule was a classic case in point. While Snoop Dogg starred in Nokia's BCS championship game television spots, Gatorade used LL Cool J to effectively reach the youth market. And, all the while, the NFL kept the channel surfers at bay with an on-air rock "concert" schedule of promotions starring Steven Tyler.

The Super Bowl halftime show is another strong example, as the NFL's use of music talent has been an effective way to hold its viewers during the hot-to-surf halftime break. From MC Hammer to Britney Spears to Shania Twain to U2, the NFL's halftime extravaganza has successfully bridged hard hits with smash hits.

It's a wave that's only beginning to crest. Reebok's success with 50 Cent will pace the way for crossover brand lines throughout the apparel/equipment/shoe categories, and it won't be long before youth-coveting sports leagues turn up the volume not just at big-event halftimes like the Super Bowl, but at regular-season games as well.

Catch a Washington Wizards home NBA game and you'll find up-tempo rap not during the time-outs, but during live game action.

Star athletes are among popular music's most avid fans. It's only natural that the smartest brands extend that link to the sports fans they're desperate to reach.

Grade: B+

Kathleen Davis
Executive director
Sports Management Research Institute


Music, coupled appropriately with the human spirit, can effectively change the outcome of a sporting event, add sizably to the satisfaction levels of spectators, and increase the perceived value consumers receive from their investment and sport, thereby impacting the revenue generation an event can realize.

Where sport marketers and promoters have "missed" the mark with the "music mix" is when they fail to understand the demographic/socio-graphic/cultural nuances that construct an audience. Too frequently at a number of sporting events we assess on an annual basis, the "selection" of music is mismatched with the target audience; the "volume" drowns out conversation and takes away from the game-day enjoyment; or the clarity/acoustics of the sound system is antiquated. Finally, a delicate balance of too much or too little musical support could potentially detract from the marketing vehicle entirely.

Some properties that have activated the music mix extremely effectively, adding to the perceived value of the event and, hence, positively impacting the loyalty/retention of their spectator base, include:

Super Bowl XXXVII: Tailors the selection of live performances to the broad target market(s), including Celine Dion, Carlos Santana, Beyonce Knowles, Michelle Branch, Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain.

Extreme sports: Created a product that markets and sells music CDs and event tickets to the X Games and Gravity Games. Music is integrated into live skateboard/dirt bike competitions.

What do these music-enhanced marketing acts have in common? Performers that feel passionately about the event, which translates into greater fan excitement, increased perceived value and more successful marketing activation.

Grade: C+

Chris Smith
Chief strategy officer
The Marketing Arm


Sports bring people of disparate backgrounds together in the pursuit of a common passion. Music has the incredible ability to stir emotions and transform the mundane into mesmerizing entertainment. When linked in the right way, the sports-music combination has the power to affect the behavior of large consumer groups.

The key to a successful sports-music "partnership" is a realization that music, although universally popular, appeals to a multitude of niche audiences and is not always relevant to the mass sporting audience. Although Bon Jovi can sell out Giants Stadium for a concert, he sang to an emptying stadium after last year's Super Bowl. The crowd simply wasn't made up of Bon Jovi fans.

There are real success stories. Shoe companies are turning more to rap and hip-hop stars to endorse their products than the customary QB or point guard. Why does it work? Because the urban consumer that listens to Jay-Z and 50 Cent not only buys the product, but also helps set the suburban fashion trend. The hip-hop niche matches the products' target market.

Coors Light has spent millions establishing equity in a unique party song featured in high-energy commercials that target 21-to-25-year-old males. By customizing the lyrics for each Sunday's NFL action, Coors Light hit this same 21-25 demo by using the song as a backdrop for game highlights shown on ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Sunday nights. This effectively extended the reach of their marketing message past traditional commercial time and into the broadcast. Great stuff.

Coors Light has set the bar for a brand combining music and sports to maximize marketing and sales efforts. I can't wait to see who raises it in 2004.

Grade: B+

Peter Land
Executive vice president and general manager, sports and entertainment marketing


Each of the properties and brands that associate with musicians are doing so for primarily the same reason — to borrow interest and to engage youth.

While sports can be polarizing for some (because if you don't play sports, often you don't like to watch it on TV or attend events), music is the only true universal language of teenagers.

Many of the leagues have done a nice job of merging sports and music for many years. NBA historians will hearken back to the 1983 All-Star Game in Los Angeles when Marvin Gaye brought the house down with his rendition of the national anthem as a seminal moment in the marriage of music and sports.

It's hard to grade the entire industry on this effort, but I applaud the Arena Football League's new advertising campaign with John Elway and Jon Bon Jovi. I saw the ad at the movies recently and people around me said the ad made them want to check out the AFL.

Grade: B+

Bob Heussner
Senior vice president, sponsorship
Momentum NA


Let's not forget it wasn't that long ago that outside of the national anthem, the only musical notes heard in sports arenas were from organs at NHL games. In my view, in a relatively short time the industry has done an admirable job of weaving music into competition in a way that enhances the overall event experience.

Examples are everywhere and they range from the most traditional to the most experimental. Certainly Tony Hawk's BoomBoom Huck Jam, Vans Warped Tour, Gravity Games, X Games, etc., have made music an integral part of their offering.

But look at all the major U.S. leagues and in some way or fashion music is part of the show. In place of the old organs, NHL games play contemporary music nearly every second that play is stopped. In my town, music videos introduce the Pistons at every home game.

The leagues, teams, networks and event entrepreneurs have recognized the importance of music in their fans' lives, but at the same time realize they come to see the games and the athletes that play them first.

Grade: A

Jeff Bliss
The Javelin Group


Marketing successfully to youth through music must be a strategic decision that tactically creates an emotional connection and communicates the product message in a relevant way.

Reaching this target via their "passion points" (e.g., music, sports, fashion) is more effective than mass marketing, but the strategic fit and brand message must be relevant and real. These 75 million music-loving youths are free spenders ($200 billion per year), trendsetters and not yet brand loyal, making them a desirable but difficult-to-reach target. Examples include:

Reebok: Successfully sponsored tours and launched shoe/apparel lines from hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z and 50 Cent that enhanced the brand's lifestyle image, drove sales and enabled Reebok to pass through rights to Foot Locker, which supported the tours in-store. Sales/stock are up.

Foot Locker: Retailer successfully replaced promo ads with a mix of athletes and hop-hop artists in music video-style ads. Blending sports with youth lifestyle and integrating Foot Locker's messages with co-op partners' messages (e.g., Mary J. Blige/Reebok) should keep the chain relevant and the business growing.

NFL: Their "Kickoff 2003" was a failed attempt to link music with the NFL brand. The overblown event on the Mall [in Washington] was broadly panned as an over-commercialized, undignified failure for the NFL, regardless of ratings.

Grade: A-

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