Sports Marketing: Does it even work?

FIFA Women's World Cup - Better than Curling

Guest Article by Efe Sevin

Yesterday afternoon, thanks to a random visit to a pub, I realized that 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup is underway in Germany. This event, again, made me think about the place of ‘sports marketing’ in place branding projects. Can there a ‘branding’ aspect of hosting such events? I argue that economic gains or media exposure cannot be seen as main motivators. Rather, countries host/participate in these events to associate themselves with the ideals and brands of these events.

Let me start with my initial reaction to the game I saw on TV. Why would Germany, a very strong brand, host Women’s World Cup – an event as popular as your local curling league? It is known that international/global sports events (and good performances in these events) are more beneficial to less-known nations in terms of external perception, so why Germany?

The easiest answer is ‘media exposure’. Countries, specifically the hosts, get exceptional media attention during the (Summer) Olympics, and the (FIFA Men’s) World Cup but what about the (Winter) Olympics and the (FIFA Women’s) World Cup? We are talking about a football tournament where US national team is considered a good team… I don’t think these games (or the countries) will get much media exposure. There must be another reason!

Maybe Germany just liked the movie?

Maybe Germany just liked the movie?

The second easiest answer is ‘generating income’ through visitors. Well, it is true that a soccer game at the end of the day attracts more people than a curling game. But, the attendance is a little bit over 200,000 people… Given the fact that Germany attracts more than 100 million foreign visitors a year, I don’t think tourism is the answer. Does it make financial sense to organize such an event for .2% increase? Also, with the lack of media exposure, it is difficult to argue that the event will have additional economic benefits (i.e. increase in FDI, export etc)

Jamaican bobsleigh team, 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Jamaica being part of the Olympic Spirit, 1988 Winter Games in Canada

My answer is a little bit different. Every international/global event has its own brand, and set of ideals associated with it. The most obvious one is ‘the Olympic Spirit‘. Nations, by participating, hosting, or bidding to host the games, show the rest of the world that they are a part of these ideals. Is it possible that Germany supports Women’s football to affiliate the nation with this brand? Football is a sport traditionally dominated by men. FIFA Women’s World Cup is only 20 years old. I claim that Germany proves its commitment to, for instance, gender equality by supporting this relatively new initiative.

I am not claiming that the brand affiliation is the sole reason for Germany. I am sure the Chamber of Commerce in Sinsheim was happy to welcome more people. However, if we define place brand in terms of image, reputation, and/or perception rather than of promotion; affiliation with the brands and ideals of the events outweighs the economic gains or media exposure.

About Efe

I read and write about political communication stuff and I play with data to see what they have to say. I also love to cook.
This entry was posted in miscellaneous, opinions. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Sports Marketing: Does it even work?

  1. Thanks for a very interesting comment.
    My opinion is that the hosting nation will for sure benefit from the “olympic spirit”, feeling united and proud is one of the most important issues of such an event. I remember the spirit during the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany, You could easily feel an enormous power which obiously has influenced all areas of social and business life. Also during the World Cup in South Africa I felt that this event has manifested strength and hope in the south african nation. Economic gains – as a report about the World Cup in South Africa has shown recently – were only recorded with a very few institutions such as FIFA. The districts and people over there have more debt than every before.
    Economically speaking, the winners are only a very few and not the community.
    I agree that less known nations do benefit more than f.e. Germany.
    On the other hand I appreciate that women´s football is supported and image will improve.
    I guess that for place branding such an event will not be a sustainably benefit.
    Best regards

  2. splacing says:

    The topic is well chosen and a really current issue, but I disagree with your mainly derogative comments:

    >>”host Women’s World Cup – an event as popular as your local curling league?” Though I am a big fan of curling, I would derive from the international media coverage that women’s soccer is one of the most famous women sports and plays an important role in most of the participating countries – with respect to leisure activities, professional sports, economics, (youth) culture, politics (what one might link to gender equality; or the participation of North Korea (political system) and Nigeria (role of women in society)).

    >>”Well, it is true that a soccer game at the end of the day attracts more people than a curling game. But, the attendance is a little bit over 200,000 people… “ Every entrepreneur could explain why 200,000 more visitors are 200,000 more relevant visitors in terms of “generating income” and since the infrastructure for Women’s World Cup already existed in Germany, the event is even relatively affordable for the organizing committee.

    >>”We are talking about a football tournament where US national team is considered a good team…” I am really sorry, but this comment reveals how little you know about women’s soccer. Besides Germany, the United States has one of the most highly developed soccer systems in the world. Several thousand male/female/coed teams are participating in leagues and tournaments for kids/teens/adults. Women’s soccer teams are often the most respected and coolest female sports teams in US colleges. For sure, the women’s professional league is not as professional as the men’s one, but to conclude from this delayed development that one should pity women’s soccer or the World Cup is an unfortunate judgment.

    Nevertheless, I think you make a valuable point with regard to the place branding idea.

    • Efe says:

      Thanks for the comment and let me try to respond. First of all, I did not mean to be offensive. I am sorry that some of my statements sounded derogatory.
      – As I tried to point out in my other metaphors, Women’s World Cup seems to be similar to Winter Olympics in terms of popularity. They are both popular, but their popularity is not even close to the ‘other’ (Men’s World Cup & Summer Olympics). I definitely agree with your point about participating countries, but I don’t think soccer is the most famous women’s sport – given the ratings, volleyball seems to be doing better for instance.

      – Yes, you are right but can it be the reason for Germany to host the event? I do not disagree with the economic gains, but I don’t think it can be seen as a main motivator for a country with a strong brand and economy. There was a very interesting research, for instance, that found out bidding to host the Olympics had similar impacts on exports as hosting the games ( So, is the host the ‘unlucky’ one that got stuck with the organizations in Olympic bids? Long story short, yes economic income is important. I’m sure 200,000 visitors indeed contributed to the German economy in short-term, and maybe even in long-term. But, this cannot be the main motivator to host an event, definitely not for Germany.

      – That statement is to underline the lack of public support to soccer in general in the US, where the popular reaction to this sport is “Am I supposed to watch a 90-minute game to see a couple of goals?”. Indeed, there is some new and upcoming interest to soccer. What I was trying to say, there is a lack of interest to women’s soccer in some of the countries where soccer is a popular sport (such as Turkey, Greece, France). Therefore, US -a country where they even don’t know how to properly call this sport- has the opportunity to rise as a good team.

      Once again, I do apologize if my statements sounded offensive. I practically tried to underline the lack of general interest to Women’s Football, and to explain why Germany wanted to host this event given its limited economic and media exposure benefits.

      • splacing says:

        Thank you! I think that you hit the right point with respect to the question why/why not Germany is hosting the event.
        The Study you mentioned (The Olympic Effect) is really interesting!

  3. I believe you have observed some very interesting points , appreciate it for the post.

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