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Sports & Marketing - Interview with Dr. Fabian Nindl


Interview with Dr. Fabian Nindl (WU Magazin 2/2021)

Sports as lifestyle: which role does sport play for the people?

After my competitive basketball career, I jumped into the research of sports marketing. The role sport plays for people differs frequently among age groups. Whereas older target groups state health and movement as primary reasons why they do sports, younger target groups focus on aesthetics, beauty, and body culture. This partially explains the boom of fitness centers. Another big topic is self-presentation and portrayal on social media. Furthermore, there is the trend of athleisure: nowadays people wear sports gear in their leisure time, sports have become a part of our identity.

From a psychological perspective, connection with your sports product (e.g., your favorite basketball) is highly important. In team sports, community and a sense of belonging is another reason I’d like to add. Philosopher Martin Buber once said: “All actual life is encounter.” Especially community, companionship, and belongingness form the foundation of our love for sports. In addition, we perceive sports as part of our free time, you can escape your daily routine, it has meditative elements and delivers strong on experiential values – just think of skiing or running a marathon.

How are sports and the 4Ps connected?

If you look at Product, Price, Place, and Promotion then 80% accounts for promotion. In regards to sports manufacturers or retailers, obviously the product itself plays a major role. However, I love to add a fifth P: Purpose. Purpose shows that sports can provide meaning and context, it is dynamic and competitive, promotes teamwork, and pushes you with blood, sweat, and tears to your limits. Sports embodies energy and power and also serves as a greater cause if you take fairness and great sportsmanship into account. Basically and fundamentally it is extremely positively connoted, that’s what companies love and so they jump on the sports bandwagon and combine it with performance and profits.

Branding via sports: which industries use the opportunity of image transfers in sports sponsorships?

First, you have the classics such as Nike, Adidas, Head, etc. followed by sports retailers such as Hervis, Intersport or regional sports companies such as Sport Hauser Kaibling in Ennstal. Beverage companies like Red Bull bet on extreme- and mass sports. Likewise, Powerade (Coca Cola) and Gatorade (Pepsi) follow suit. Technological companies such as Bose, Microsoft, IBM frequently sponsor tennis events and when it comes to football (soccer) airlines such as Emirates or Qatar but also fastfood chains (McDonald’s) or financial service corporations (Visa) are very active. Skiing events are often sponsored by Audi or Raiffeisen, which signed Austria’s former top skiing athletes Hermann Maier and Marcel Hirscher. Bank Austria sponsors tennis superstar Dominic Thiem. All these companies strive to be perceived more dynamic. Additionally, E-sports is worth highlighting. The players’ amazing cognitive capabilities attract a huge audience and therefore great sponsorship.

How did sponsorship activities change during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Mass sports such as football, formula 1 or skiing were hit by a significant drop in revenues, however, sponsorship was less affected than expected by Covid-19. Nevertheless, regional and smaller clubs experienced severe problems. You can expect dire consequences if a small ping-pong club or tennis club loses a regional company as its sponsor – which used to support them with 3-5k a year. In addition, if they lose 50 of their 500 members, their financial and budgetary woes deepen. Ball sports members are typically very loyal, however, clubs are missing new members, which might lead to less sponsorship. Companies stop their sponsorship efforts for a year and calculate their ROI. The longer we are in this mess, the more complicated it gets. Initiatives such as “Bewegung für mehr Bewegung” of Red Bull & Servus TV which funded small clubs with 15 million Euros are a strong indicator that small sports clubs struggle and are on the edge.

Financing of pro-sports: how do you persuade sponsors if top sport events are only streamed on Pay-TV and not on public channels anymore?  

That is very tough to do, if for instance football games are only broadcasted on Sky or DAZN, although Servus TV and Puls 4 entered the game, too with broadcasting rights for football and ice hockey games. Additionally, Amazon wants to acquire many NFL fans with its NFL media rights deal. Sky and DAZN, which saw a strong increase in memberships over the last years, follow a holistic approach in making a case for more detailed customer data compared to public broadcasters. The only thing they can provide is late night summaries of the games. A negative side effect of that is that you lose the kids who tend to sleep at this time. Kids already spend too much time with technology: if this continues, we might lose football as a mass sport at one point in the future. Additionally, you lose many 50+ consumers who have the biggest spending power. When you compare the reach of public broadcasters with Pay TV you get a ratio of approximately 1:10. This means that a top game between Red Bull Salzburg vs. Rapid Wien, which used to be watched by 500k people, has now only 50k viewers. Trust me, I know that from basketball: When I was a kid, NBA games were broadcasted on DSF and Sport1. After the games went to Pay TV, interest of the public in watching full games fell dramatically.

The European Super League is the perfect metaphor for turbo-capitalism!

This is highlighted by the dilemma top football clubs are in: they have an astonishing high market value, however, they are heavily in debt. But why did the Super League fail for now? This was a marketing problem: nobody talked to the fans. In sports and especially in football the most important part are the fans, who rightfully protested and showed their anger. One question remains: what will these clubs do to continue and push their agenda? In the long-run, I perceive these developments as very dangerous.  

The interview was conducted by Gerald Pohl from the newspaper “Die Presse”.

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