Sports marketing has evolved over the last few decades. It used to consist simply of a television commercial, a signboard at a televised event, or maybe a player endorsement with a chosen player wearing a company logo on a shirt. Today, sports marketing is far more innovative and sophisticated. Sponsors want returns for their investment and are getting savvier in that pursuit. Red Bull, by generating new and unconventional ideas, is one brand that has changed the sports marketing landscape.
The drink, created in 1987 and derived from Thai ingredients, is sold in those distinctive slim blue-silver cans we all know so well. Available in over 72 countries, Red Bull has become one of the most popular energy drinks in the world. Owned by the Austrian Red Bull Gmbh company, it is also one of the most recognizable brands.
Much of Red Bull’s success comes down to the company’s sports marketing strategy. The strategy is aggressive and transcends simple sponsorship – Red Bull wants to own teams and events. The company has a huge focus on brand management and ownership allows it to completely control how its brand is associated with that sport. The drink claims to improve some of the most important attributes of successful sports people – fast reactions, concentration and endurance. In that respect, the brand values of Red Bull are closely aligned with many sports.
In 2006, in an article appearing in the Washington Post, Red Bull CEO and founder Dietrich Mateschitz estimated spending $300M on sports sponsorships:
“or about a third of his company’s annual marketing expenditures”.
Referring to the Red Bull official website five years later, you’ll see that the company now owns an impressively long list of events.
Many of these events consist of a World Series in extreme sports. These sports have always offered great brand marketing opportunities to sponsors, but Red Bull is doing more than other sponsors. Red Bull has created new unique sports properties ostensibly to sell more of its product.
Firstly, there is the Red Bull Crushed Ice Series, which, according to the description on the home page, is “a combination of ice hockey, downhill skating and boardercross!”. There is also the Red Bull X-Fighters World Tour, which, in 2010, encompassed “three continents, six countries, nearly 200,000 spectators and more than 1,000 jumps”; the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series – “high diving at its most death-defying”; and the Red Bull Air Race. The latter event has been in existence for 8 years, debuted in New York in 2010 and last September it won an IBC Award for Broadcasting Excellence. The Air Race will take this year off, but if you go to the website you can still take part in a new virtual Red Bull Air Race.
Other Red Bull events range from an extreme sailing series to surf, motor sport and other sports tournaments.
Red Bull also owns an array of sports teams from Red Bull Brasil, a soccer team in Brazil, to EC Red Bull Salzburg, a member of the Austrian Hockey League in its home market. The ownerships most people associate with Red Bull would probably be Red Bull Racing – the Formula One (F1) Team that celebrated victories in the drivers and constructors’ championships in 2010, Scuderia Toro Rosso – an Italian team in F1, Team Red Bull – a team that competes in NASCAR and, lastly, the New York Red Bulls – a soccer team that competes in the Major Soccer League.
In 2009 Red Bull also stepped into player endorsement representing a new strategic direction by the company. A deal with Chicago Bears kick returner Kevin Hester was announced and Red Bull also signed the New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush. Hester fans can even watch a video of Hester going through a Red Bull high performance program on the website. Red Bull is now associated with a long list of athletes: bikers, skiers, riders and drivers. Featured athletes on its site include the French international soccer star, Thierry Henry, who plays for the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey, skateboarder Ryan Sheckler and Minnesotan skier Lindsey Vonn.
The company does have its critics – some are opposed to complete team ownership. For them, sponsors and large corporate brands should only provide funds to sports or endorse a few players. Other critics would go further by claiming that Red Bull has upset stakeholders, such as fans, by not being cognizant or sensitive to certain issues. For instance, when Red Bull purchased the SV Salzburg soccer team in Austria, Red Bull changed the team’s violet and white colors to the colors of the energy drink (red, yellow, and blue).
Red Bull, with its reputation for innovation and creativity is, however, widely considered to be one of the smarter sports sponsors around. Its sports marketing strategy has achieved so much more than just creating widespread global exposure for its brand. The company’s success to date and its global sales (according to the official website “In 2009 some 3.906 billion cans of Red Bull Energy Drink were consumed world-wide”) would suggest that the strategy has actually transformed the brand. If this strategy continues, I expect Red Bull, like its slogan, will continue to ‘give wings’ to a successful future.
(Photo by Nick Laham – Getty Images –)