Expert Editorial: Using Sport to Promote Your Wine Brand
The role of “influencer” has and continues to disrupt sponsorship and marketing for almost every industry. Wine is no different.
By Ishveen Jolly
Alcohol and sport have always been closely associated. At their most basic level, all different types of alcoholic beverages are enjoyed while watching all kinds of different sports. As a result, alcohol brands have long been associated with sports culture. Sponsoring an athlete or team can help strengthen this bond and make alcohol brands more appealing to consumers.
This is true at all levels of the game. Liquor categories are one of the first sponsorships teams and sporting events try to fulfill, as the products are genuine to the partnership. Sponsored beverages and brands may be served in hospitality suites, concession stands and spectator bars. Interesting activations can be planned for the fans (for example, entering to win a bottle of wine if the captain scores a hat trick). For many teams in the B and C leagues, which depend on local fans attending local matches, this is a great opportunity for local brands to be associated with these competitions and celebrations.
Additionally, athletes are among the most popular and often respected people in society, so their endorsements can go a long way in helping alcohol brands improve their public image. In today’s world, the role of social media simply cannot be ignored, and with athletes often having some of the biggest followings in the world, alcohol brands can leverage their influence to reach an audience wider. For brands, producers, wineries, commentators, and anyone looking to increase their sales or eyeballs, working with athletes can help target specific demographics.
For their part, professional athletes seek sponsorships from brands that they believe align with their personal values and lifestyle. For many, wine brands fit these criteria.
And so to wine
Wine is sociable, classy and fun; it can also be elite. By endorsing the right brand, an athlete or team will be able to connect with their fans on a deeper level. In an increasingly competitive market, athletes realize the importance of endorsing products that their fans can identify with. In the world of professional sports sponsorship, wine is gaining popularity with sportspeople looking for the right brand.
Sponsorships can involve a one-time interaction or an ongoing relationship involving multiple deliverables. For the athlete, this can mean anything from a one-time event social media post or one public appearance (online or in person) to the continued promotion of the brand. Conversely, some alcohol brands have been known to sponsor birthday parties or other celebrations, associating themselves with the sporting lifestyle of celebrities. The same principles can also be applied on a smaller scale.
One of the most interesting sports to have demonstrated a strong relationship with the industry is the National Basketball Association. NBA star Josh Hart, for example, is a big wine lover (he even has a instagram dedicated to sharing their favorite bottles). And the NBA has a thriving (albeit official) wine club – as evidenced by the hundreds of bottles that were shipped to the league’s “bubble” (the sports complex in Orlando, Florida, which housed the teams safely for the 2020 season).
Stars like three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade have been at the forefront of the NBA’s wine obsession for years. But players aren’t just drinking wine with each other anymore; they channel their personal passions to make the industry more inclusive. Hart founded a Diversity in Wine Scholarship Program to stimulate educational and professional opportunities, including WSET certification, for people from different backgrounds to enter the industry. This can only be a good thing for wine as a whole, and it wouldn’t have happened without the influence of athletes.
Three-time NBA champion and Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem has partnered with Wine Access. In a podcast, he discusses the tendencies and interests of NBA stars for their different varietals or regions. This simply wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, but underscores the broader profile of wine as an in-demand industry.
Subscriptions and amendments
Another indicator of the role that athletes as influencers can play for wine brands is the campaign run by Winc in the United States. Winc is the premier wine club in America, offering a wide range of different wines to try through its subscription service. Subscription services are popular among craft beer enthusiasts and are starting to explode around the world for wines, spirits and other beverages. For Winc, athlete endorsements via social media were its most powerful marketing tool. Athletes were hired to support the business and sales simply skyrocketed.
The role of “influencer” has and continues to disrupt sponsorship and marketing for almost every industry. Wine is no different. The challenge will be to see how the high end responds or engages. Exclusivity has always been vital for some wine brands, but that hasn’t stopped them from sponsoring or advertising in the past. They have always been incredibly selective about the type of event they sponsor or the type of publicity they produce. This selectivity will no doubt apply to the path of influence they take, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see athletes at the top of the list.
Ishveen Jolly is a pioneer in the sports marketing industry who built OpenSponsorship.com in the world’s largest marketplace connecting brands to athletes for digital marketing campaigns. Her accolades include being named to the Forbes 30U30 sports list, Inc.’s Top 100 Women Founders list, and raising more than $5 million for the company, including from NBA team owners, athletes, notable VCs and his Alma Mater University in Oxford.