Working in youth sports marketing is one of the most motivating professions, yet it has some of the most uninspiring advertising. Most of us are non-profit organizations with limited budgets, so advertising may not even exist at all.
I genuinely love the feeling of seeing something creative and disruptive. I want to share it. Unfortunately, in the youth sports space, I don’t have that many great examples to share.
The sports world has iconic campaigns like Coke’s Mean Joe Greene, Nike’s “Be Like Mike” or “Bo Knows,” and Reebok’s “Dan vs. Dave” and many others. But those are to sell product, not specifically aimed to get kids involved in sports.
USA Swimming research* shows the #1 competitor to youth swimming is inactivity itself. In anecdotal conversations with other sport leaders they see the same thing. It’s time for our industry to be more disruptive with advertising. It’s an all-too slowing moving category, but here is some great work so far:
U.S. Tennis Association – Storytime
This ad is a youth sports game changer. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf take a light jab at their own sport, but make a profound point about keeping the game fun. This commercial was the centerpiece of how tennis is looking at the rules of game and make it more accommodating to kids starting the sport.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife – Hug an Angler
This looks like the typical sappy commercial about preserving nature, but it kicks, well, hugs you at the end. It appeals to adults primarily, but I can see young people enjoying this one too.
NFL – Play 60
As a lifelong Razorback, I personally have a nervous twitch when I hear Cam Newton’s name from his days at Auburn. However, when I begrudgingly separate that from my professional life, this spot from the NFL is a great one.
Bonus: GoldieBlox – Girls
Ok, this isn’t sports, I will admit. But this commercial for engineering toys for girls was so stop-in-your-tracks addictive I had to include it. It completely flipped the “pink aisle” on its head and makes us think about girls’ activities in a different way. Brilliant. (Note: The Beastie Boys also think it’s cute, but they aren’t as crazy about them using their song. Watch that one unfold at places like Advertising Age magazine.)
Youth sports in general are extremely conservative in promotions. Olympic sports are even more conservative. It’s time for youth sports to be more disruptive.
UPDATED (April 4, 2014)
There are three new additions to the sports landscape of properties making efforts to grow participation;
PGA of America
This new TV spot tries to encourage less-than-perfect golfers to try the game. One of the intimidation factors of golf is that we don’t feel we are good enough. This commercial shows it’s OK not to be great but rather to just enjoy the game.
U.S. Tennis Association
The USTA is one of the most aggressive organizations when it comes promoting participation in the sport. This new set of quirky ads shows how the sport can be a fit for anyone.
Women’s College Basketball
This effort seems to be early in its development as an AP story just was posted during the 2014 Final Four, but it’s another example of how a sport is looking at itself differently in order to increase participation. This is one to watch. The NCAA and major programs hosted a Summit recently in Nashville.
* = 2013-14 Sports & Fitness Industry Association study from Sports Marketing Surveys and USA Swimming. (Note: USA Swimming will publish this in more detail in 2014).