Marketing the dream

Some of the greatest events in sporting history have only become so because of some very smart marketing. From the Melbourne race that stops a nation, to the infamous boxing tagline 'Rumble in the Jungle' - Vision takes a look at generating buzz around a sporting event

When it was announced in December 2012 that the 2014 Tour de France would begin in the English county of Yorkshire, many locals voiced concerns about the costs and potential risks of staging cycling’s greatest race.

They need not have worried. After a glorious weekend of cycling on 4-5 July, race director Christian Prudhomme hailed the opening two stages as “the grandest Grand Départ” in the event’s 111-year history. More than 2.5 million spectators, many of whom had camped out overnight, lined the streets and country lanes to catch a glimpse of the action, and hundreds of millions of pounds were poured into the county’s economy.

The successful staging of the event was a result of 18 months of promotion, preparation and planning during which organisers raised awareness in towns and villages, and local businesses and schools, using a number of different platforms including a big social media push. In recognition of the yellow jersey worn by the Tour de France’s leading rider, Yorkshire was transformed into yellow – through flowers, painted bikes and even knitted jumpers on statues.

Australians up and down the land stop what they’re doing to watch or listen to ‘The Cup’, even though it is held on a Tuesday afternoon

Yorkshire’s cycling celebration offered an eye-catching example of how marketing can create huge levels of enthusiasm for a sporting event. Attracting such vast crowds on a bumper British sporting weekend which also featured the British Grand Prix, Wimbledon finals and quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup was an extraordinary feat.

The marketing of sporting events has been going on since sport’s earliest days. Boxing promoter Ted Rickard, who oversaw the first ever title bout to be broadcast on radio, was one of the pioneers more than a century ago. The American coined the 1910 heavyweight showdown between Jim Jeffries and Jack Johnson as the ‘Fight of the Century’ – that tagline has been used more than a few times since.

In fact, boxing has provided some of sport’s most memorable promotional campaigns. The ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ and ‘Thrilla in Manila’ slogans for two of Muhammad Ali’s famed heavyweight title fights in the 1970s – both coined by the larger-than-life Don King – have become part of the sporting vernacular.

In Australia, meanwhile, the Melbourne Cup has become an unmissable event on the horse racing calendar. Billed as ‘The Race that Stops a Nation’, it is a fitting tagline given that Australians up and down the land stop what they’re doing to watch or listen to ‘The Cup’, even though it is held on a Tuesday afternoon. The 3.2km flat race is the highlight of Melbourne’s racing festival each November and always attracts a huge amount of publicity in the build-up – not to mention glitz, glamour and celebrity appearances on the day itself – with the host state of Victoria even holding a public holiday to mark the occasion.

melbourne cup
The Melbourne Cup has evolved beyond horseracing to become a hotspot for fashion and celebrity watching

Last month, Dubai enjoyed its own sporting highlight when the best men’s teams on the planet arrived for the FINA Water Polo World League Super Finals. Capitalising on the local interest, first sparked when the emirate hosted water polo during the 2012 Asian Championships, the organisers generated considerable excitement for the prestigious annual global competition, which was held at the Hamdan Sports Complex from 16-21 June.

The hosts used media coverage and a social media campaign on Facebook to ignite interest among locals, and put on workshops with referees and coaches who shared their experience and knowledge. Such was the demand for tickets that the organisers even created hotel/ticket packages for fans who had requested to accompany their teams.

Those lucky enough to have a seat at the final saw Serbia beat reigning world champions Hungary 10-6 in the final to land their eighth title in 13 years.