Sports Industry Sees Opportunity in Recession

With the United States economy either in or nearing a recession depending on whom you ask, the sports industry looks primed to capitalize, according to a panel of sports and media executives speaking at an industry conference Wednesday.

“This is the time for sponsors to be turning toward sports,” Coca-Cola North America senior vice president of integrated marketing Beatriz Perez said.

Speaking at the IMG World Congress of Sports in Dana Point, Calif., Perez and a panel of executives spoke about sports’ relative inelasticity to digital-video-recorder penetration and ability to deliver big audiences as reasons why money should still be flowing into the industry.

IMG Golf global managing director Mark Steinberg said his sport, despite being heavily populated by financial-service companies, hasn’t been hit hard to this point. “We haven’t seen a true detrimental effect yet,” he added.

George Gillett, who owns Gillett Evernham Motorsports, said he thinks rising oil prices will affect sports such as the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing, which see a large amount of fans traveling long distances to attend their events.

But he also sees a sluggish economy as an opportunity for marketers to make an impact. “The only time market share can be truly shifted is when things are soft,” he said.

Also on the panel were Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and Anheuser-Busch VP of global media and sports marketing Tony Ponturo.

Other highlights from the panel:

• An instant electronic survey of industry sports executives attending the discussion revealed that 75% thought Congress is more worried about performance-enhancing drugs than fans are. “That disappoints me,” Garber responded. But Steinberg said he thinks society loves the sensationalism. “When was the last time you turned on SportsCenter and performance-enhancing drugs wasn’t in the top three segments?” he asked.

• Ponturo noted that increasing DVR penetration and ad skipping has made in-stadium signage more valuable, despite some leagues’ efforts to have television cameras not shoot the static signage. “We call it being part of the fabric of the game,” he said.

• Ponturo said his company got involved in Ultimate Fighting Championship because “we started to hear water-cooler talk, to be honest.” Perez said the sport is not right for her company’s current brands.