January 25, 2022


Sports Marketing 101: What we can learn from the upcoming Olympics and Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is happening right in the middle of the winter Olympic games. While the pandemic has helped change watching habits, sports are still one of the reasons we watch live TV. Andy Clark, the director of the Sports Business Program at DePaul, joins the podcast to discuss these events, what they tell us about the power of sports, and the lessons they hold for business students.



ANDY CLARK: When you are a partner with the Olympics, you don't get tickets, you don't get advertising, right? You don't get swag. You get access to the intellectual property, those five rings, and you get to use those, which very few people do.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host Linda Blakely. 

The second pandemic-era Olympics is approaching. The Tokyo Games garnered a global audience estimated at 3 billion people. And in February, athletes are set to compete in ice skating, skiing, hockey, and more winter sports in Beijing, even as the Coronavirus and political tensions loom large over the games. 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., sports fans are gearing up for the Super Bowl, which last year was watched by more than 96 million football fans. 

We're joined by Andy Clark, the director of the Sports Business Program at DePaul, to discuss these events, what they tell us about the power of sports and the lessons they hold for business students. Welcome, Andy.

ANDY CLARK: Hello, Linda. Great to be here on this cold January day.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Questions have persisted about whether the Winter Games this year should go on amid the pandemic. But many Olympics have faced challenges and controversies leading up to the opening ceremonies. What are some of the challenges in hosting the games?

ANDY CLARK: Well, Linda, challenges in hosting the games are many. This was accentuated by I bring a group of students to London each year and we meet with the CFO from the London 2012 games. And he does a terrific talk on what the impact is on the Olympics and the games. And he talks about how actually you're basically building a city for two weeks, and building a city and is always fraught with issues, right. So there's political issues, there's social issues. There's environmental issues, which are growing all the time, and certainly in terms of Beijing. 

Beijing is actually the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. So that's kind of unique. But when they went to Beijing in 2008, you know, the pollution, air quality was a huge component to it. Obviously, now, no one's really talked about that but with the pandemic, and issues involving environmental are a really big deal.

But ultimately, going back to London, 150,000 contractors, 9,000 paid employees, 100,000 volunteers, 10,000 athletes, putting those people all together in one spot for two weeks, and then moving on is always a challenge. So yeah, there's always something in a different city or different market. What's cool about the Olympics, and many things are, usually, once the opening ceremonies hit, it pretty much happens that the focus turns to the competition in the games. Most cities figured out and make it work. And people celebrate and connect. 

That happened certainly this summer in Tokyo, where there was stuff right up into the games about the pandemic. The game hit, it was things about the competition, right. And that's what makes it cool. And the stats you mentioned early on people watching it. That's why people continue to watch and enjoy it on a global scale in such a big way.

LINDA BLAKLEY: So one of the topics you teach is sports marketing. What opportunity does sponsoring the Olympics present for marketers? What makes this opportunity unique in the sports world?

ANDY CLARK: I teach a sports sponsorship marketing class right now, both undergraduate and graduate level in the winter quarter. And it's great that it happens right now and right in the middle of sort of the Olympic Games. And I have a number of speakers and things that talk about the power of the Olympics. And it's unique, right, because of the global scale. And those five Olympic rings are recognizable across any country, across any language. And they really stand out and you know what it means, you get an emotional connection when you see those rings. 

From a sponsor perspective or a marketing partner perspective, it's also a challenge, right? There's only so many companies that have a platform that can use those rings on a global scale. Right. And actually, just in class last week we had a speaker Gordon Kane, who was the first director of marketing for the US Olympic Committee, was one of the leaders of the Chicago 2016 ill-fated Olympic bid, which is a topic for a whole other podcast. But he talks about a company we talk about a lot in class, Procter and Gamble. Procter and Gamble has been a top Olympic sponsor, I believe since 2010. And really what they use this as a platform, not to you know not to sell more paper towels and toothpaste and diapers and soap and everything in the home that they have. They use it to communicate their values and what they stand for as a company and to align themselves with their probably lead purchaser, which is moms. And they've developed a highly successful campaign called "P&G, Proud Sponsor of Moms." Could P&G do that without being an Olympic sponsor? Sure. But what point what is that it's a tagline, right? Proud sponsor moms.

What the Olympic platform does is enable them to have a wherewithal and the credibility to say, we're here for you, right. And what they've done in their marketing and their advertising is link Olympic images, Olympic athletes, to moms, because every Olympic athlete has a mom, so they play have fun with that. But sports viewership, the Olympics are by far the most female audience, right? And their campaign this past year obviously focused on issues with a pandemic, and how athletes and things overcome that. So when you are a partner with the Olympics, you don't get tickets, you don't get advertising, right, you don't get swag. You get access to the intellectual property, those five rings. And you get to use those, which very few people do. Right. So that's what makes a difference for a company like Procter and Gamble.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I want to switch now to the Superbowl, another huge advertising event, which this year is happening right in the middle of the Olympic Games. The pandemic has helped change TV watching habits, but sports are still one of the reasons we watch live TV. What has that meant for the advertising potential of Superbowl Sunday?

ANDY CLARK: Superbowl Sunday, Linda is not just the biggest sporting event, you know, certainly United States, but it's the biggest marketing event, right? It's the biggest advertising event. People come together and like none other than watch the Superbowl and you're exactly right. Sports Business Journal publication, we use it all our classes, just published the top 100 most-watched telecast the U.S. in 2021. Of the top 100 telecasts of any sort, 95 of those were sports, okay, 95 out of 100. So in a world where viewing habits have changed to where you're not watching, you know, friends at 8 o'clock on Thursday night, right. You're watching what you want to watch when you want to watch it. Great for us, bad for advertisers. So live sports, where you need to sit down and consume that live stand out. In the biggest context of that is the Super Bowl. People whether it be the pandemic or not, people continue to view and consume live sports. The Super Bowl stands out in a way because the advertisers in the marketing or become almost as important as the game itself. 

I remember being at a Super Bowl party a few years ago, and we're watching the game and cheering and there's a wide range of folks there. And then you know, when the commercials come on, everybody goes, "Shh! Shh!" So you know, then when the game goes on, people are talking, eating and drinking. And so that's really captures that. So this Super Bowl 30-second spots, which I would think went for $5.5 to $5.8 million for 30 seconds last year, are selling for as much as $6.5 million this year. Eyeballs are focused for a three-hour period, unlike anything else happening now. And that's continued to grow. So that's why the Superbowl continues to be the event, not just in the sports world but in our social world as well.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I know that the ads themselves are such an important part of viewing and they even have next day rankings for favorite ads. But tell me a little bit more about what students learn about Super Bowl ads in your classes.

ANDY CLARK: Yeah, the way students learn about Superbowl ads. And again, it's a common theme, I guess, talking about what I've focused on in our chat here. They're learning about how it's not really a sports thing, right? If it's a sports thing would have a much narrower audience? It's reaching a core audience. And how do you use the power of eyeballs for 30 seconds to watch that? So for the past six or seven years, we've spent the Wednesday after the Super Bowl with FCB Chicago, one the leading ad market agencies in the world, kind of taking a real in-depth look into Superbowl advertising from one, the strategic direction. How does the strategy start? 

Last year, we started with the brief that Bud Light gave the agency to develop something. And the brief really wasn't that detailed; it was a couple paragraphs. How does that process work? We were able to hear from Bud Light's (vice president) of communications, showing us the spots, showing some of the earlier alliterations of them, showing what they did with them in and around the game itself. Because one of the power of that investment of that, $6.5 million for 30 seconds isn't just that, right? It's the power you get before the game, the power during the game, you're talking about the activation meter. So it's not just about that.

From a student perspective, we have the students do is each take a spot of their choosing, and basically do a case history on that. What are the goals behind it? What is the objectives from a company perspective? What are they doing in the game? What is the rationale behind that? What are they doing on social media? What are they doing on premise? What are they doing all kinds of things to do that. 

And then the cool part about this class that we do Super Bowl week is that the head of strategy, head of creative from the agency, and if we're lucky enough, the client like Bud Light enjoy hearing what the students say because they're a very key audience. Right? So what do they say? What do they like, what they don't like, why they think things work. And it's kind of cool in some ways, that some of the stuff they think worked, the other folks, they don't say, hey, you don't understand that from marketing perspective. They say, that's an interesting take, right? We hadn't thought about that. And you're the core audience. So it's a great way to blend kind of what the students see. And see beyond just watching a spot, right? It's not a big commitment on their part to watch a spot. You don’t watch the game, watch 30 seconds, right? You can find the commercials, and then get expert kind of feedback, which where they really want to hear because it helps them do their job better. So it's very symbiotic relationship. And it's really, it's one of my most enjoyable classes of the year that we do.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Sounds like a win-win to me. DePaul launched the Sports Business major, which you direct, just in the last couple of years. Chicago is consistently ranked as one of America's top sports cities. Is that what makes Chicago a great city for students to study sports business?

ANDY CLARK: How much time do we have? No, so, in short, Chicago is the best city to study sports business, and DePaul is uniquely positioned to leverage that. And that's not just for me. I had a leading person from an agency years ago, who was no longer in Chicago, who opened his talk, saying exactly what you just said, Chicago is the best city in the country to study sports, right. And in a short way to do that kind of a microcosm of how that fits together is a class we do in our December term. It's called behind the scenes with Chicago sports organizations. And what we do is over the course of a week, we visit Chicago sports organizations, not just having them come into the classroom. We go out and see where they work, where they play, how they function in a business setting.

So to give you a quick example from this past year. We visited or met with -- some came to DePaul -- 22 different organizations. So Chicago sports teams, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the White Sox, the Chicago Sky, who just won the WNBA championship. And their director of sponsorship, vice president of sponsorship actually, had been a student in this very class four years ago, and has done very well there. The Chicago fires, new officers are just up the block. And it's not just about the sports teams, right? It's about companies, right? We walk down the street to, I think it's 500 or 550 West Monroe, Gatorade. What stands for sports marketing more than Gatorade? Wilson Sporting Goods (is) 200 East Randolph. McDonald's Corporation in the West Loop. Different agencies, a lot of different Chicago sports agencies, Intersport, Revolution, Forefront, KemperLesnick (are) all within a walking distance. I tell people about this class and they say, "What do you do? Do you get a bus or whatever?" No, we walk or we take the El just like everywhere we go. The farthest north we go is Wrigley Field, the farther south is Guaranteed Rate Field and the furthest west we go is the United Center. And that is really played itself out.

As we talked about establishing and growing our program, we started this class eight years ago, in 2015. Many of the places we go -- as I mentioned, Alex, who worked for The Sky -- have our grads there, which says a lot about our program. I think this year we met with about 60 people overall, and 15 were DePaul grads. Chicago is just a great place from every perspective -- teams, agencies and companies -- to learn about the business of sports, not about being a fan, but learning how to leverage your business skills and business background in a sports business environment.

LINDA BLAKLEY: Andy, I'll be keeping in mind, the ability of sports businesses to shape our culture and strengthen my attachment to Chicago, my favorite brands. The next time I catch a Bulls or Cubs game, and what I've learned from our conversations, as I watch the Olympics and Super Bowl. Thank you so much for joining us today.

ANDY CLARK: Thank you, Linda. I really enjoyed talking and I'm looking forward to a big February as you are.

LINDA BLAKLEY: I'm your host, Linda Blakely. Thank you for listening to the DePaul Download presented by DePaul's Division of University Marketing and Communication.