One of the first things I noticed when I moved from sports writing to marketing is, well, I’m still around sports.
At Wheelhouse Creative, we have many with serious sports loyalties.
Yet that’s not what I mean.
Sports, I’ve found, are a centerpiece of marketing for both large and small business accounts.
And it may be THE centerpiece. Just ask Wheelhouse vice-president Rob Vandine, our media buying guru and research junkie.
“Basically, in the age of tablets, watching Hulu, all the options, live sports is the only venue that still attracts big audiences,” Vandine said. “Look at the numbers of the NFL or of English soccer overseas. Live sports is the only thing left that delivers massive audiences. Heck, look at the numbers they are talking about for the Big Ten’s new college deal.”
Indeed, Sports Business Journal reported that both CBS and NBC are set to pay $350 million for Big Ten packages. And the networks wouldn’t pay the money if they didn’t believe they could make more.
That’s where businesses in West Virginia and the surrounding states can – and should — get involved. It’s smart to jump on the sports bandwagon, especially with the help of professional marketers well-versed in the field. (Exactly like Wheelhouse.)
“It’s all that’s left for TV to get big audience programming,” he said. “You either tie in through in-stadium signage or buy spots to local or network television, etc. Or you do auxiliary things, like tying in by, say, identifying as Coke being the official soft drink of the NFL. You try to identify. We serve Bordas & Bordas, which is the official legal partner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Pittsburgh Pirates. You tie in. You identify with the fan base that is so passionate. Then, when you need an attorney, folks will look at Bordas & Bordas.”
It’s a proven winner. I still remember Bob Prince touting Iron City beer. Those near Wheeling and Pittsburgh might remember the Kennywood Park “Raging Rapids” commercial featuring Jack Lambert and Myron Cope.
And few consumers – even nationally – will ever forget Mean Joe Greene’s commercial when a little kid gives him a Coke. At the end, Greene yells back, “Hey kid!” — before tossing him the game jersey.
Steelers and Pirate fans identified with those commercials – and products. Bordas & Bordas, Kennywood, Iron City… all good guys to the fanbase.
It’s just smart to pair businesses with sports. Folks feel a kinship and a strong sense of loyalty toward the brands that align with their team.
Vandine said that applies whether the team is in the NFL, college or, yes, high school.
“In the Ohio Valley, most definitely,” he said. “There is a strong local community tie-in with the teams, especially in areas where there hasn’t been a recent consolidation. Here you look at Martins Ferry, Shadyside, Steubenville.”
He points to local TV station WTOV’s “Game of the Week,” which is sponsored by Bordas & Bordas.
“It still draws very, very good ratings – and that’s a high school game,” Vandine said.
It’s woven into the area’s cloth.
“Several years ago, USA Today did a survey and the Wheeling-Steubenville market was No. 1 in America for sports viewing in terms of percentage of population,” Vandine said. “A higher percentage watched sports in the Ohio Valley than anywhere.”
If a business wants to kick it up a notch, though, Vandine said it’s more affordable than many would think – especially with an agency like Wheelhouse that negotiates rates.
“For a small business, a local business, you can reasonably afford to tie-in to the NFL or WVU or Ohio State games through local TV or, say, Comcast and reach large audiences.”
Like teams, you just need a game plan. You need to know your target territory.
“In the Valley you have WVU, which is strong in the northern panhandle,” he said. “You cross over into Ohio and it’s Ohio State; over in Washington County, Pa., it’s Pitt, Penn State, some West Virginia because it’s close to Morgantown.
“At the pro level, based on history, it’s probably 70 percent Steelers fans, 20 percent Cleveland Browns fans and five percent Dallas Cowboys and everyone else. But the Cleveland fans are starting to make a push and be more visible.”
In sum, sports in marketing is a powerful tool.
“Look at what the Denver Broncos just sold for,” Vandine said of the $4.65 billion sale. “People might look at that and say, ‘That’s insane!’ But no, it’s not. The NFL is a printing press. Jerry Jones could probably sell the Dallas Cowboys for $20 billion.”
There’s sponsorship of teams. There’s sponsorship of events. And I haven’t even touched on sponsorship of athletes. (Hello NIL!)
Whatever is chosen, I’ve learned at Wheelhouse that sports are consumed voraciously.
And taking advantage is a good business decision.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.