Marketing in American business is essential to the ultimate success of any product or service (Archambeau, 2007). The field of marketing is relatively new having emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War and the rapid economic growth that occurred at that time. Sports' marketing as a separate discipline has emerged in the last few decades but it is expanding rapidly (Fox, 1997).
There are no clearly defined parameters as to what constitutes sports' marketing due to the relative newness of the field and the fact that marketers are continuously pushing the envelope as to new ways to market their product. Marketers utilize corporate sponsorships, television and radio exposure, participation by local businesses, and a variety of other methods to promote and there appears to be no limit as to what sports' marketers are willing to do to establish a competitive edge.
The use of athletes to promote products in the United States began long before the escalation of marketing that began after the Second World War. As far back as the 1870's tobacco companies used baseball players to promote their product as they placed baseball cards in their packages in order to develop brand loyalty (Library of Congress, 2011). This relationship signaled the beginning of the business relationship between the tobacco industry and professional sports that continues to this day in spite of the health considerations (Beach, 2010). Eventually, the concept of including baseball cards in packaging spread to the bubble gum industry and spawned the popularity of baseball card collecting.
Sports' marketing, like all marketing, increased during and following the Second World War. Both Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson were used as symbols by different business interests during their periods in the limelight. Owens was provided shoes to use during the 1936 Olympics by the Adidas shoe company (Smit, 2009) and Jackie Robinson, being the first black to play in the major leagues, was featured in advertising by various companies during the late 1950's.
The birth of television provided a huge boost to the field of sports' marketing. Radio had contributed to this growth earlier but not to the extent that television would. Through these mediums athletes began to come alive for the general public and the advertising industry used this development as a way to promote clothing, cigarettes, soda drinks, automobiles, and a plethora of other products. Indentifying with ones' favorite athlete became the American rage.
As the general public began to idolize their sports heroes and more and more sports began to appear on television the connection between sports and the marketing field continued to expand. In fact, in the mid-1970's an entire television network was created that was totally dedicated to the coverage of sports and the field of advertising and marketing were largely responsible for the success of the network (Rasmussen, 2010).
Coincidentally at the same time as ESPN was born, the great shoe wars between Nike, Adidas, Reebok, and Puma also broke out. Initially the companies would solicit athletes at all levels to wear their products while eventually the athletes themselves would offer their services following an eventual performance or achievement. Combined, ESPN and the shoe industry, brought sports' marketing to the forefront by the end of the 1970's but it was only the beginning.
The decade of the 80's created a host of new sports heroes that successfully used marketing to increase their public popularity. Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Bo Jackson, and Jack Nicklaus and many others became household names and became identified with products and services like never before (Encyclopedia.com). The popularity of these athletes opened the field for all athletes to be used as marketing symbols as more and more companies, even those totally unrelated to any aspect of sports, began to jump on board.
The growth in sports' marketing did not slow as the twentieth century ended and the twenty-first century began (Schwartz, 2007). As the competition for the consumer dollar began to increase, colleges and high schools found themselves facing the reality that they must begin to start marketing their product.
The marketing of college products was only a minor step down from the professional level (Reynolds, 2006). In some markets college programs actually enjoy more popularity than the local professional teams so the marketing in those areas was natural. As the new century moved on rapidly so did the growth of marketing departments within college athletic administrations throughout the United States. Whether characterized as marketing directors, sports information managers, or simply as assistance athletic directors those responsible for marketing the athletic programs on college campuses became important figures.
These new men on campus, so to speak, quickly became an integral part of every college's athletic department (Sutton, 2007). To them fell the responsibility of promoting the various programs, athletes, and games that the college had to offer. Keeping the university's name on the tip of every potential ticket buyer in the community became the responsibility of these young men and women. Doing so meant the difference between the university's athletic department making a profit in any given year or being burdened with debt and having to struggle for existence. Next to the athletic director this individual became the most powerful and influential person in many athletic departments.
The role of marketing on college campuses has not diminished over time. In fact, in today's poor economic conditions, the role of marketing and the persons responsible for executing the programs is likely even more important. Mitigating the cost of maintaining expensive athletic programs is essential if many programs are to continue. In this scenario, marketing personnel are the vital ingredient.
Moving down the sports hierarchy to the high school level marketing takes on a new perspective. It is unreasonable to expect that high schools can successfully market their athletic programs for purposes of increasing ticket sales or branded product. Unlike professional and college programs who have theoretically unlimited markets, high school have an extremely limited markets and having the availability of personnel whose responsibility is generating revenue for the school is financially unrealistic. Most high schools, whether public or private, have limited budgets and these budgets do not include the money to afford full-time marketing personnel.
Although marketing in the sense that it has been applied on the professional and college levels may be impractical for high school athletic programs the time for high schools to begin marketing another product -- their students- may be now. As marketing has become more important for colleges and universities the competition for talented athletes to join the rosters of these college and university teams has increased as well. The marketing of successful teams is much easier than marketing a losing program so attracting the best athletes is important. Unfortunately, few colleges and universities have the budget to allow them to maintain recruiting staffs that can scout talent across the full spectrum of sports that most colleges field teams. Even in the major revenue producing teams such as football and basketball talented players are often overlooked while in the minor sports such as soccer or field hockey even the best players must seek out the schools instead of the schools approaching them.
The fact that colleges and universities are not positioned financially to properly recruit athletes to their institutions presents an interesting problem for our nation's high schools (Pennington, 2008). Getting noticed is the first step that any young athlete coming out of high school must accomplish. In certain individual sports such as golf or tennis this is easier than in team sports such as football or soccer. In the individual sports the results tend to indicate to recruiters who the better talents are. If a young man or woman is defeating all competitors in tennis or finishing first in all tournaments in golf they will get noticed. In sports such as football or soccer, however, the situation is much different. If one is a running back or quarterback, the local newspaper may be touting your talents but suppose you are a defensive or offensive lineman? In such case, there is little likelihood that your name is being held up in lights. You may have outstanding talent but find that the recruiters are not beating a path to your door. Similarly, in soccer the talents required to be an outstanding player are often overlooked. The nature of the sport is such that even the most prolific of scorers are not provided widespread publicity so that for those members of the team whose responsibilities do not involve scoring getting noticed by recruiters is even more difficult. Historically, unfortunately, the responsibility for getting noticed by recruiters has fallen on the young shoulders of the athletes themselves. This is a responsibility that may be overwhelming for many young athletes and, therefore, these athletes are losing out on the opportunity to display their talents on the collegiate level and, more importantly, losing the opportunity to attend college.
Given these circumstances, it may be time that high schools begin considering the possibility of hiring…