Co-Branding Partnerships in Sports Marketing | Creatitive (2023)

Brand loyalty drives our everyday consumer purchase decisions from our preferred brand of shoes to our toothpaste and even our mobile phone. When considering specific products within these brands and their associated sports marketing campaigns, there’s a good chance many of these are a result of successful co-branding partnerships.

Co-branding happens when two or more companies jointly promote their brands, services, and products through cross-marketing efforts. This can include anything from social media posts, advertisements, and commercials to events and appearances by high-profile athletes and celebrities, such as Cristiano Ronaldo.

This success also applies to sports marketing. Nike and Jordan, McDonald’s and the NBA, Gatorade and Michael Jordan, Pepsi and LeBron James, Mastercard and the PGA Tour, Under Armour and Stephen Curry—each brand boasts a large, loyal fan base and also benefits from the other’s large, loyal fan base.

These branding campaigns can create immense value for all partners involved when successful. Let’s examine six examples of successful co-branding partnerships and why they create successful sports branding campaigns with millions of fans and awareness around the world.

Nike and Jordan

Again, co-branding partnerships in athletics involve two or more businesses entering a strategic alliance to combine market strength and increase brand exposure via business technology, online ad campaigns, live streaming fun sporting events, and more. Both brands combine their identities to create sports marketing campaigns with unique logos, color schemes, and other identifiers in co-branding partnerships. Co-branding partnerships generate an abundance of benefits when they leverage the value of a new product or service for their respective sports fans and customer bases.

Nike and Jordan are excellent examples of successful co-branding in the sports industry. Not only did they create one of the most iconic co-branding partnerships in sports history, but the collaboration of these lifestyle brands has lasted for over three decades!

The massive success of these successful co-branding partnerships comes from the fact that they are a perfect match in their consumers, demographics, and target market. In this case, both sports brands appeal to individuals interested in the sports industry, encourage fans to interact on social channels, and feature creative marketing campaigns.

Jordan is a household name brand in the sports world with loyal fans who love athletic apparel, shoes, and sports team gear—exactly what Nike provides. And Nike is a world-renowned sportswear company and sports brand with the resources and marketing expertise to take Jordan to new heights with an excellent marketing strategy.

McDonald’s and the NBA

McDonald’s and the NBA are another great co-branding example. The fast-food chain has been a proud sponsor of the NBA for over 25 years, dating back to when Michael Jordan was still playing! The fast-food chain has been a partner of the NBA for more than four decades and is currently the league’s longest-running corporate sponsor. As part of their sponsorship, McDonald’s has exclusive marketing rights in 23 countries and territories worldwide.

McDonald’s has used successful branding strategies like co-branded commercials, promotions, and campaigns to promote their products in the context of the NBA. This is a perfect example of successful sports marketing because it reaches out to an audience who loves ball and burgers! And the NBA has significantly benefited from this partnership, with millions in annual revenue.McDonald’s and the NBA have created some memorable co-branded sports marketing campaigns. Among those are:

  • McDonald’s became the first major corporation to sponsor Michael Jordan, which was handled by David Falk, who had previously worked on PepsiCo’s endorsement deals with Jordan and deals for Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing. Falk predicted in 1985 that “one day Jordan would be the most recognized athlete in the world,” and he was proven right when Nike signed Jordan to an endorsement deal with a $2.5 million per year salary.
  • In 1994, McDonald’s introduced basketball-themed commercials featuring Michael Jordan and Larry Bird portrayed as competitive friends.
  • Larry Bird and Michael Jordan also made appearances in other McDonald’s commercials. For example, one commercial featured Larry Bird delivering the line “Hey McPick 2—You can get a couple of mouth-watering selections for just $2.”

And their partnership continues to grow, with both brands benefiting from each other’s popularity!

Gatorade and Michael Jordan

Gatorade and Michael Jordan is another iconic co-branding example dating back to the early 1990s. At the time, Gatorade was looking for a spokesperson who could help them appeal to a younger generation of athletes, and they found their perfect match. The sports drink brand has been associated with MJ since he was a rookie in the NBA and is one of the most successful campaigns in sports marketing history—all without an endorsement contract.

The iconic “Be Like Mike” ad struck fans and is considered one of the best campaigns in history for many reasons:

  • The message and tone were on-point. Gatorade and Michael Jordan had a lot in common, and it showed in the messaging of the ads. It encapsulated young athletes while carrying a subtle yet powerful undertone about what might happen if they didn’t drink Gatorade.
  • It reached a massive audience at the right time. The first “Be Like Mike” spot aired online in real-time during a Chicago Bulls sporting event on April 18, 1991. Michael Jordan won his second straight NBA scoring title two days later and the first of five consecutive MVP awards. He went on to compete and lead the Bulls to the first of six championships and had a stretch of eight straight NBA finals.
  • It was entertaining. Even non-sports fans like me could get into the ads, which showed highlights from Jordan’s career while playing to his legend with an intense soundtrack and voiceover.

“Be Like Mike” is easily one of the most recognizable branding campaigns in history. It helped cement MJ’s iconic status and boosted Gatorade to the top of the sports drink market, where it remains today.

The campaign continued after Jordan retired and throughout his brief stint as a minor league baseball player, focusing on how many hours he spent training while drinking Gatorade. They also used footage of him playing minor league baseball to illustrate this point.

The campaign is still going strong today, with similar messaging for kids, parents, and coaches about the importance of staying hydrated both on and off the sports field.

Pepsi and LeBron James

Pepsi and LeBron James is another successful co-branding campaign that dates back to 2003 when Pepsi signed James to an endorsement deal worth millions. This successful sports marketing campaign was one of the largest endorsement deals in history at the time, and it’s still going strong today.

Starting out, the successful co-branding commercials with James alongside other favorite sports athletes and celebrities, like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce. Over time, this advertising evolved to include successful branding strategies like events, product launches, and advertising on social media platforms shared with fans around the world.

The success of these campaigns helped make James the top endorser in sports, over rival athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Phelps, and even sports teams like Real Madrid and Sport England.

Mastercard and the PGA Tour

Mastercard and the PGA Tour is another successful co-branding partnership. The credit card company signed a deal with the PGA Tour as their first-ever “official payment service.” It was an instant success.

Since then, Mastercard has been a proud sponsor of the tour and has used successful branding strategies like exclusive marketing rights, event sponsorship, and co-branded commercials to promote its products.

As part of their successful branding partnership, Mastercard has created several successful campaigns featuring the PGA Tour over the years. One example is their “Priceless Surprises” campaign which debuted during the 2017 Masters Tournament.

The successful co-branding campaign featured a series of successful branding strategies like commercials and social media campaigns that invited fans to play games for a chance to win prizes like tickets and merchandise from the tournament.

The successful co-branding partnership between Mastercard and the PGA Tour has been so successful that it’s lasted over 20 years, making them one of the longest-running partnerships in sports history!

Under Armour and Stephan Curry

Under Armour and Stephen Curry are another excellent example of a successful co-branding partnership between a brand and athlete. In 2009, superstar Stephen Curry signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour. At the time, it was the largest endorsement deal in history for an athlete who had just entered the NBA.

The American sports apparel company has since become the official sponsor and supplier of uniforms, footwear, and apparel for the Golden State Warriors athletes since 2013.

As part of their successful branding partnership, Under Armour has created several successful campaigns featuring Stephen Curry over the years. One example is their “Rule Yourself” campaign which debuted during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The successful co-branding campaign featured a series of successful branding strategies like commercials and social media campaigns that celebrated Curry’s successful career and journey to the Olympics.

As part of their successful sports events and marketing partnership, Under Armour has also sponsored several successful events with Curry over the years. One example is “The SC30 Select Camp,” which takes place each year in California and invites some of the top high school sport players in the country to attend.

How to Create a Successful Co-Branding Partnership

The most successful co-branded partnerships create immense value for all partners involved, raise awareness for the sports brands, and become a pop culture icon. They develop successful sports branding campaigns that continue to change the face of sports marketing. The best marketing campaign can achieve great results by leveraging each partner’s strengths and assets.

A partner’s ad campaigns should share similarities and they should support each other. The partners may be competing in the same market, but a successful advertising strategy is to have a unique message that ties the two brands together. One of the most important aspects of a successful partnership is to promote each other on social media through contests, special offers, and stories about both brands during events or milestones for either one or both partners.

History has shown us time and again that some of the most memorable sports marketing campaigns come from co-branding efforts between sports teams and their respective sponsors. Advertisers have a prime opportunity to galvanize fans and create an emotional bond between companies and their target markets.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating your own successful co-branding partnership and ad campaign:

  • Partners should have compatible values and missions.
  • Partners should have similar target demographics, fans, and customers.
  • Partners should have a team mindset and be willing to give and take for the benefit of both organizations, sharing content and the latest articles on social media.
  • Co-branding campaigns should include a mutual topic, theme, ad, a powerful message, website, article, video, or other sports marketing tool on social media and their personal website.

If you’re looking to create a successful co-branding partnership for your sports organization or business, be sure to keep these tips in mind for the future.

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