How Nike became the Undisputed Champ of Sports Sponsorship

SponsorPulse Staff
  • July 6, 2022
  • SponsorPulse Staff
When asked which brands lead sport marketing creativity, Nike rose to the top. Find out how the brand became the undisputed champ of sports sponsorship.
When it comes to sports apparel marketing, Nike leads the pack – by a long shot. Synonymous with powerful athletes across all sports, Nike has demonstrated just how lucrative strategic sponsorship marketing can be.

Throughout the development of our State of Sponsorship 2022 report, we learned that both industry insiders and consumers alike consider Nike to be the top brand paving the way in the creative marketing and sponsorship space. So how exactly did Nike become the undisputed champion of sports sponsorship? Let’s dive in:

Nike Athletes

It’s no secret to anyone that’s paying attention that Nike has a long history of positioning itself alongside top talent. From powerhouse athletes across the globe (see: Lebron James, Rory McIlroy, Serena Williams, to name a few), to emerging athletes still at the rookie-level, Nike can sniff out potential from a mile away, cultivating long-lasting relationships with athletes long before they become mega stars. 

Take Serena Williams. In 2003, when she was only 22 years old, Nike signed her to a deal estimated to be worth $55M. In the years since their partnership began, Serena has gone on to win multiple Grand Slam titles, as well as be named the Singles World No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association. Today, the largest building at Nike World HQ is known as the Serena Williams building. Not bad for a nineteen-year partnership!

With many of the world’s top athletes signed to Nike, it’s only natural that rookies aspire to secure a relationship with the company themselves. Fortunately for them, Nike encourages it. Becoming a Nike athlete is positioned as an attainable goal for young athletes to strive towards, in fact, Nike provides rookies with everything they need to know about achieving their goal right on their website, nurturing a culture of inclusivity and dream-making in the process.

Through its sponsorships, Nike has manufactured the aspirational athletic culture that surrounds it. Among our consumers interviewed for our report, 32% stated that they want to see more investment in athlete partnerships. It’s clear that Nike, in its focus on developing these long-standing relationships with athletes, has helped shape the sports sponsorship space into what it is today. 

Property Partnerships

Beyond athlete sponsorships, Nike has additionally made a name for itself in the realm of property sponsorships. From its NFL partnership, which sees the brand producing all jerseys worn by American football players, to being named the first official sponsor of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic games, wherein Nike will be the outfitter of volunteer uniforms and have access to manufacturing, branding and promotional rights for the sporting event, Nike has weaved itself into the fabric of sport as a whole. The results? NFL engagement is higher among Nike brand users, as 72% of Nike consumers engage with the NFL vs. 57% non-Nike consumers. 

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The Marriage of Sport & Cause

While conducting research for our report, consumers echoed a desire for brands to be more active in community and charitable partnerships. In fact, they claimed that these partnerships are one of the most impactful ways to foster a connection with them. 

Nike? They’ve been operating with this ethos from the start. While athlete and property partnerships make up a significant portion of the brand’s sponsorship initiatives, Nike’s commitment to marrying sport & cause may just be its defining legacy. Throughout its history as a brand, Nike has never failed to go against the grain in its mission to empower the disenfranchised through sport. A prime example? The Colin Kaepernick “Dream Crazy” ad campaign, that saw the brand signal-boosting the athlete's protests against racism in the NFL when few sponsors were willing to do the same.

On another note, many female athletes have been vocal about experiences of sexism in sports. As we illustrated in our report, Women’s Sports and the Future of Sponsorship, consumers want to see more investment in women’s sports, and Nike has never failed to do just that. In a recent partnership with 13 leading female athletes, Nike pledged to support the equality of women in sports through the creation of its new Athlete Think Tank and donation program. As part of the program, and in partnership with Serena Williams, Nike has pledged to donate to Brown Girls Dream, an organization that helps women of color navigate their careers. 

In terms of everyday empowerment, the Nike Women Instagram account is a fantastic source of good vibes and motivation for women of all athletic abilities. Through harnessing the power of user-generated content, while additionally sponsoring athletes and artists to produce content for the channel (see: When Megan Thee Stallion was announced as the new Nike Training Club instructor) Nike has provided women with an inclusive space to find inspiration on social media. 

Sharpen your Competitive Edge with SponsorPulse

When it comes to sports apparel, Nike reigns supreme – for good reason. By supporting athletes early in their careers, partnering with major athletic properties, and marrying the categories of cause and sports sponsorships through innovative marketing strategies, Nike has solidified its reputation as an industry trailblazer. 

At SponsorPulse, we take the guesswork out of sponsorship by providing you with detailed analytics that help you make informed decisions about how to optimize your sponsorship initiatives. 

Book your demo today! Dare we say, just do it? 

Access more insights by reading our State of Sponsorship 2022 report.