By virtue of the fact that sports such as baseball and football in the United States had begun to prove themselves enormously popular and profitable, the intrusion of sponsorship and advertisement as a regular element of the game had begun a century ago. However, the paired evolution of the sports market to the coverage of an enormous breadth of market contexts and categories and of the media channels through which sports are sold and broadcast have resulted in a clear opportunity for integration of the sports and marketing sectors. As Wenner indicates, "the production and staging of sport as commercial entertainment led to the emergence of entrepreneurial structures and practices that would slowly transform the relationships between sporting teams and the communities they ostensibly 'represent.'" (Wenner, 58)
Thus, the idea of associated stars of professional sports with products, or indeed commoditization the players themselves would become an early and important part of the evolution and proliferation of the major leagues and international leagues that constitute the highest level of athletic competition today. The premise of paying those figures of the greatest skill level or highest draw of public interest would become an intuitive aspect of marketing the games themselves. The appeal of individually stellar athletes would be directly tied to the expansion of mass media capable of reaching new levels of audience captivity, with respect both to the sports and to the advertising blocks that sponsored their broadcast. Wenner elaborates this point, indicating that in the early evolution of professional sports in America, "for those players who acquired reputations for producing the goods in decisive situations -- whether home runs, goals, or touchdowns -- their feats became legendary, and the men themselves were constructed as larger than life characters. Such attention has turned figures from Babe Ruth to Wayne Gretzky into household names, and along with similar 'star-marking' publicity in the film and music industries, it has helped create the phenomenon of the celebrity entertainer." (Wenner, 62)
This is a key point which becomes increasingly more important to the discussion here, offering the concept that individual players of note and of the capacity to be viewed as stars transcending the games in which they have excelled. In addition to the symbolic appeal of a figure such as Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Tiger Woods, Babe Ruth, or indeed many members of the storied Yankees lineups of the 20th century, many of these individual have commanded a powerful brand image with its own inbuilt market capability. With respect to the growth of their various sports and their capacity to influence buying behaviors, Wenner would argue that "famous names were shown to promote interest in the sports events or films they were part of, and also to help sell the products they endorsed. Thus it was not long before the media and entertainment industries recognized their common stake in the manufacture of 'names' for a public demonstrably fascinated by stardom." (Wenner, 62)
This would produce the increasingly complex, demonstrably reliably and occasionally regrettable affiliation between professional athletes and commercial endorsement of products and companies. As a result, sports marketing is today its own field within the broader subject of marketing. The concept of sports marketing is principally expansive and multifaceted. The surface notion of marketing logos, symbols and products in merchandising association with teams, leagues, organizations or individuals is supplemented by countless other branches of retail, public relations and advertising that must be assessed under the umbrella concept of sports marketing. This discipline stretches across countries, athletic traditions, seasonal variations and a diverse, multi-stratified range of targets, with contexts and media also varying widely. Examples persist in everyday life; Michael Jordon's well-known associations with such products external to the sporting industry such as Hanes Underwear and Nike Sneakers; the banking industries wholesale dominance in the contest to name today's modern sport stadium complex; the specific tailoring of Budweiser commercials to appeal directly to audiences of NFL broadcasts and even the direct sponsorship of performing athletes such as in individual-competitive sports such as NASCAR racing or Xtreme tournaments. This sweeping view of sports marketing is intended to demonstrate the vast array of branches contributing to an understanding of this as a rapidly growing industry with increasingly greater implications in mainstream contexts such as entertainment, health, consumer markets and personal value systems. Wenner's text places the beginning of this phenomenon in the early 20th century, observing that "by the late 1930s, it was possible to see in outline what would become the ubiquitous place of professional sport in North American popular culture. It is important to recognize that it was the development of newspaper chains and radio networks that became, in effect, national information systems that facilitated the development of common knowledge and interests among geographically dispersed regions." (Wenner, 62)
This points to the clear association between media innovations and the spread of interest in the sporting tradition which persists even today. The massive potential suggested early by sports stardom for commercial appeal is only further magnified in the age of 24/7 information and entertainment. Sports-specific cable packages, webcasts of athletic competitions, mobile cellular technology programmed to provide score updates and game highlights all are innovations which have carried with them significant commercial opportunities relating to the innovation of popular sports and technological progress. Referring once again to Wenner's retrospection on the subject, it is clear that this pattern is in many ways culturally driven and associated with the consumerist impulses that are distinctly American. Wenner argues "that the emergence of national media in America was driven by the interests of advertisers in reaching national audiences also meant that the lines between news, entertainment, and advertising would be constantly blurred. This would help to make the place of both professional sport and its sponsors in the fun-oriented consumer culture that was part of the promise of 'America' in the interwar period, and would become even more so after the war." (Wenner, 62)
This theme of a cultural proclivity toward consumerism and the permeation of sports into various aspects of everyday life emerges as an important one in the present discussion. Indeed, the American professional sporting tradition commands great power and presence in many aspects of American life. Personal attachments to leagues, teams and individuals make sporting events a major part of our cultural and recreational experience. There is additionally the propensity for individuals to form personal athletic habits according to these attachments. And certain events, such as the National Football League's Superbowl, baseball's October Classic or the National Basketball Association's All-Star Slam Dunk Competition, constitute important moments in our collective memory and shared consciousness.
As a reciprocal reality to this condition, the best of our professional athletes are also amongst the most highly visible and highly paid members of society. For some individuals who have otherwise been raised in settings running the gamut from comfortable to impoverished, professional sporting has represented not just a leap into the top fraction of the top percent of America's earners, but also a pass into high-society, television and film appearances opportunities where desired and, of course, a limitless category of opportunities for endorsement and marketing work. This equation has produced a sports marketing industry that constitutes at least as broad a market as the professional sporting industry itself. Indeed, with the most recent estimates evaluating the total sports marketing industry as accounting for $250 billion a year in the U.S. alone, it is clear that the sporting business is comprised of far more than ticket and concession sales. (Wikipedia, 1) Thus, as we consider the present investigation concerning consumer behaviors, we do so with an understanding that the affiliation with professional athletes and sports icons offers the opportunity to engage marketing targets in a vast array of contexts through highly visible individuals. Embodied in many such individuals will be an array of physical and personal traits that tend to resonate with the personal ambitions of consumers, the experiential affection of fans and the competitive inherency of our capitalist rearing.
Our research identifies consistently that television is the most important medium in sports marketing. This is underscored by Mullin et al. (2007), who identify television's rise in popular penetration with the growth of the global sports entertainment market. Accordingly, Mullin et al. indicate that "television has helped to build fan bases ever since the 1950s. As much as anything else, the spread of television images has spurred global markets for certain sport products such as the NBA, Nike, and Michael Jordan." (Mullin et al., 9) Even today, with the increasing intercession of advancements in internet technology and innovations in the manner in which sports organizations attempt to reach their audience, it remains the case that television's unique audio/visual real-time feed is often seen as the best way to access one's sports teams and organizations. This, in turn, makes the medium particularly useful both for establishing sports stars…