Athletes, teams or leagues - How to choose the right sponsorship avenue for your business

Any business’ decision to choose a new marketing avenue is never an easy choice and entering the world of sport is no exception. 

In this feature, we explore three of the most common forms of sponsorship for businesses looking to boost their brand in sport: Athletes, teams and leagues.

Sponsorships in sports - The gateway to meaningful engagement

Some of the world’s biggest organisations, from almost every industry, spend millions every year on sponsorships in sport. 

From business-to-consumer (B2C) giants such as ASOS and KitKat to business-to-business (B2B) and hybrid organisations such as Bank of America, the sporting world has worked collaboratively with sponsors of all different sizes for over a hundred years. 

Although sports won’t fit every business model, the overall quantity and variety of organisations choosing to invest in sport to help grow their business (along with their successes), should make the decision makers of any organisation want to explore its possibilities. 

As with any business decision, organisations need to find the right fit for them. But what options do businesses have, and what different advantages do they offer?

In this feature, we explore three of the most common forms of sponsorship for businesses looking to boost their brand in sport.

Leagues and competitions

A league or competition forms the boundaries in which sporting action can take place. To some, it is simply an ever-present entity in the background - a footnote to the main, on-field story. To others, it is a cherished entity which forms the historical foundations of the sport they love. 

Whether you find yourself leaning towards the former or the latter, most sports fans tend to see leagues and competitions as the stable structure which enables the sport they feel so passionately about.  

It’s this perceived stability which has formed the basis of some of the most well-known and respected brands' decisions to sponsor leagues and competitions all around the world. Barclays, BMW, Fortinet, Heineken, Mitsubishi, Santander and Vitality are just a few organisations who have placed their brand in conjunction with a sporting competition. 

One of the biggest driving forces behind an organisation wanting to pursue sponsorships in sport, is sport’s unique ability to universally engage its audience. 

By sponsoring a competition rather than a team or athlete, the organisation can tap into this engagement without running the risk of excluding part of its customer base, whilst using the competition’s longevity and trust as a platform for building meaningful connections.

Brands who have found different ways to partner with leagues or competitions

KitKat enters the Esports & Gaming space thanks to SPORTFIVE and build a rocket

Driving Fortinet’s Global Golf platform building brand, business, and CSR programming


Whilst sponsoring a league or competition can help some brands engage with fans while still being perceived as impartial to the sometimes territorial sports fans, some organisations have no interest in neutrality. 

By choosing to partner with a sports team, brands are able to harness the power of some of the most popular entities on the planet. These partnerships have been revered by brands for decades due to their ability to create unmatched loyalty, passion and engagement. 

The advancements made through digitalisation have elevated sports teams to even greater heights, with social and digital channels functioning as the ideal platform for partnerships to combine loyal engagement with strong visibility and reach. 

When it comes to brand sponsorship in sports, sponsoring a team is one of the most option-filled avenues that an organisation can go down. 

Whether wanting to connect with the community, reach a specific target audience, activate a campaign or boost awareness, the vastness of a sports team’s influence means that brands can activate partnerships in a manner which suits their brand and values.

How brands activate their partnerships in sport and what they achieve

Community projects

CSR & consumer trust

Perimeter advertising

Brand awareness

Campaign activation


Shirt sponsorship

Brand awareness


Customer experience and loyalty


The impact of digitalisation hasn’t just helped propel teams and competitions to billions of viewers all over the world. It has also facilitated the rise of athletes as a marketing platform in their own right. 

For some sports, such as tennis and golf, athletes have always generated more interest and following than their team or tournament. But the last two decades have seen athletes from traditional team sports such as football and basketball generate bigger and bigger followings. 

Nowhere is this growing following more evident than on social media. When it comes to followers and reach, very few global brands can compete with the scale that individuals can generate through their channels. Evidenced through 42 of the top 50 most followed accounts across Instagram being individual accounts, with 17% of these belonging to athletes.  

Athletes' power to reach vast audiences is coupled with their ability to influence, something which crucially sets them apart from leagues and teams.

By partnering with an athlete, organisations can harness this influence to share their message through a personal channel, removing the corporate barrier between consumer and brand.

Understand, implement and reap the rewards

Any business’ decision to choose a new marketing avenue is never an easy one, and entering the world of sport is no exception.  

Although most people are familiar with professional sport in some capacity and there are countless examples of organisations who use sport as a platform to build their brand, the amount of options in the space is enough to puzzle even the most experienced of marketing departments. 

The three overarching avenues of athletes, clubs and leagues that have been laid out in the article above provide a brief insight into the most common options within the space, but within each of these there are numerous ways in which brands can work to harness the power of sport. 

If you explore these and take the time to understand what each sporting entity can offer and how it aligns with your aim and values, your business will quickly follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest partnerships in sports

Beyond the Match
The SPORTFIVE Magazine

What are you looking for?

Read Insights and Success Stories for specific sports

Back to Home

loading spinner