Influence of Sports Stars in Advertising
Prominent sports figures are attractive endorsers for a business looking to increase brand awareness and boost sales. Being elite athletes makes them credible voices to pitch products designed to improve athletic performances, and their celebrity status means some fans will look to emulate them by buying what they endorse. Your business may benefit by that association, and it doesn't necessarily take the biggest name to have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Though the influence that sports stars have in advertising has been debated, a study conducted by a Harvard University professor and Barclays Capital concluded that celebrity athlete endorsements generally lead to increased sales, relative to both the company’s previous figures and to the competition. The study found that sales for products endorsed by athletes increase by an average of four percent, with greater increases resulting from a superior run of athletic achievements.
Growing companies may find that a celebrity endorsement can be instrumental in raising their profile. A classic case study involves how CNS, Inc. got its Breathe Right nasal strips so much exposure as it was entering the marketplace. CNS sent the nasal strips to every NFL team, and future Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice saw another player using one and decided to try it himself. Once he became an endorser, the company noticed a “tremendous” effect on sales.
It doesn't always take a big-name athlete to have endorsement potential. Though Under Armour now boasts superstars like Tom Brady among its endorsers, it initially targeted lower-profile athletes, younger players and athletes in less-popular sports that still participated in showcase events, such as a trio of endorsers on the 2011 Women's World Cup soccer team. A small business with a local distribution area may find that a popular local athlete pays bigger dividends at a lower cost than a national celebrity.
One challenge with using sports stars in advertising is that it doesn't take much for an asset to become a liability. Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods are two examples of prominent pitchmen who saw their status as endorsers plummet because of scandals that broke outside of an athletic event. It doesn't take that kind of media storm to make a difference, however. Any bad publicity by an athlete advertising your product can reflect poorly on your brand, whether it’s an on-field incident, an arrest, or even just suspicion of unethical behavior.
In addition, a poor athletic performance can also negate any positive effect on sales. A professional tennis player who suddenly embarks on a losing streak won’t be playing on television as often and thus won’t be seen drinking your beverage or wearing your logo. Similarly, golfers who perform poorly on the first two days of a tournament may miss the cut, and therefore wouldn't be around for the weekend when television viewership and exposure opportunities increase.