How It Works: Sports Marketing Chicago Style

Chicago is one of the biggest sports markets in the country — only Los Angeles and New York are bigger. So it comes as no surprise that sports marketing has become a large part of the business world in Chicago.

As sports becomes more and more popular and more and more ingrained in our culture — just look at the latest NFL Playoff television ratings, for example — teams and brands will continue to put more emphasis on finding ways to connect with this gigantic demographic known as sports fans.
Sports Marketing Chicago Style

What is sports marketing? How Does it work?

We asked three sports marketing and branding experts to find out.

One digital pioneer, Geoff De Weaver explains, “The winning strategy in Sports Marketing today is combining, Big Data and Analytics with a huge creative idea.” It’s clear that teams and leagues and brands are trying to stay ahead-of-the-curve in marketing strategies through data and analytics.

The Chicago Cubs are a great example of this. They hired FCB to create the “Cubs: It’s a Way of Life” campaign that effectively communicated what the Cubs brand meant to the city and its fans. It was a great campaign because the message was clear, and it hit all the right channels in marketing using video, content, data and paid promotion.

Visit the Chicago City Activation Hub and search Chicago’s top marketing agencies and design firms on our marketplace.

As Matt Mansfield, president of Matt About Business and editor of Small Business Trends at NewCo Shift, points out that video is an incredibly valuable tool for marketers in 2017 — especially livestream. This really gives sports marketers an edge because of the appeal in live sporting events along with fans’ appetite to view more sports-related video clips. Sports teams are brands and they, like every other brand, have to communicate an effective and memorable message to their desired audience.

Example of Chicago Sports Marketing

What are some unexpected challenges for sports marketers in a city as huge as Chicago?

“We obviously market to women, and one of the biggest challenges we face is the perception of inferiority with women’s leagues. Chicago has a thriving adult recreational sports industry, most organizations of which cater primarily to men and secondly to women, and yet women prefer coed sports because the idea that women’s sports are less competitive or legitimate is pervasive.”

– Linda Edmondson, Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at Women’s Sports Chicago


Challenges: Competing for share of voice with the events we own or manage, in a very vibrant, active and busy sports environment. The Chicago area has 6 professional teams, multiple minor league baseball teams, a handful of college sports teams and a number of annual and one-time special events that come to Chicago, such as the Ninja Turtles 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway, the Frozen Four, America’s Cup, NFL Draft… In addition to sports, residents and visitors have a plethora of entertainment options vying for their time and discretionary spending. We have to be smart marketers and bring the right events to the city and promote them at the right time through the right channels to break through the clutter.

Advantages: The challenges are also part of the advantage—meaning there are a lot of sports fans in Chicago at all levels that are avid sports fans that we can reach through marketing of our events. In addition, Chicago has a number of world class sports venues and parks for hosting sporting events. The options are many.”

– Tom Valdiserri, Executive Vice President at KemperLesnik


“Although we are headquartered in Chicago, we work in cities across the country (and around the world). The key is knowing each market and understanding the fan base.

Chicago is obviously crowded with sports teams and advertisers. But because the city is so passionate about their sports, it’s a good problem to have as a sports marketer. With all of the competition – regardless of the platform – a unique yet completely integrated campaign is extremely valuable in order to break through. And it’s not only what you do via media, signage or with branding, you have to extend and amplify your campaign.

How can you expand on the messaging and creative via content? What are you doing on the ground? What social aspects are you using to engage consumers and generate interaction? Sponsors/brands also have to understand how Chicagoans communicate and what makes them tick. There is a very tight sense of community in Chicago and using the proper messaging, demonstrating that you “get them” is a must for it to resonate with the consumer.”

-Evan Vladem, Supervisor, Public Relations & Brand Development at rEvolution


Chicago Sports Teams

How is sports marketing different in Chicago than in other places?

“In some ways, marketing sports in our specific niche of the industry is more difficult in Chicago because of the availability of substitutes, primarily coed organizations, but also expensive gym memberships, etc.”

– Linda Edmondson at Women’s Sports Chicago


“The basic tenets of marketing and branding are the same everywhere. You do have to know who your audience is and what their passion points are, then develop a plan that utilizes the right channels to reach and engage with them effectively. Every city has a different composition of sports, fans and sports culture. Understanding that culture and how to tap into it is critical to creating successful events and sports programs.”

– Tom Valdiserri at KemperLesnik


“The passion of the fans plus the number of franchises and events in Chicago makes it a perfect sports town. Just looking at baseball, for example, you have two professional teams and the city is split between the North and South Side. Both tribes of fans are extremely critical about each other, especially as it relates to business. But that can also bring a lot of awareness and engagement.

Look at the recent stadium deal for the White Sox with Guaranteed Rate. The naming rights announcement turned into a trending topic across the country – and that was largely a part to the conversations that started with fans in Chicago. If the deal was to create awareness for the brand, it certainly worked.”

– Evan Vladem at rEvolution


Is data as big of a decision-driver in sports marketing as it is in other areas of marketing? Why or why not?

“I don’t have much to comment on big data. We are not set up to utilize it effectively right now, and rely primarily on customer feedback, etc.”

-Linda Edmondson at Women’s Sports Chicago


“Yes. Data has become more and more important in marketing in general, because you can no longer afford to market without knowing what’s working and what’s not. In the sports event world, leveraging multiple sources of data such as ticketing, CRM, campaign results, merchandise sales and social media data, teams and sports organizations can segment their fans and create personalized communications, offers and experiences to drive new revenue.

In addition, in order to compete with at-home viewing and creating a more compelling experience, more teams are developing second screen apps that provide services such as instant replays, views of the game from the TV camera viewpoint only available at home, seat upgrades on the spot, special merchandise and concession offers and an opportunity for fans to comment on / share the action.

Fans want more control than ever before. Social media sites can empower fans more than ever, giving them unique access to players, coaches, owners and administrators. As John Abbamondi, vice president of the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations division said: ‘Sports is a people business, so we’re looking for ways to use technology to further engage with people.’ ‘Each arena is like a lab,’ he said, trying out new programs to find what’s successful in deepening engagement and building new revenue.”

– Tom Valdiserri at KemperLesnik


“rEvolution is rooted in research and you have to use that to authentically connect with fans, and in turn, prove that it’s working. Just like other areas of marketing, it’s important to evaluate data and measure the success of a campaign. What are consumers reacting to and engaging with? You always want to push for improvement, experiment, etc. – that’s all part of the fun.”

– Evan Vladem at rEvolution


How will you use Sports Marketing now?

This is just a quick dive into the deep end of sports marketing in Chicago. From CRM to data, campaigns to fans, it is a complex but exciting part of the marketing industry mix in the Windy City.

Continue the journey by checking out some of Chicago’s top marketing agencies on the Agency Spotter platform ( and discovering the brands and projects they are doing locally and with brands around the world.


Like what you see? Visit the Chicago City Activation Hub and search Chicago’s top marketing agencies and design firms on our marketplace.

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Chase Thomas
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