12 Iconic Sports Moments
That Made Their Sponsoring Brands Millions

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12 Iconic Sports Moments
That Made Their Sponsoring Brands Millions

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In most ways, the pro sports of 100 years ago are almost unrecognizable in the way they’re played by the athletes and watched by the fans. In 1916, the NFL, NBA, and NHL didn’t even exist, and Cubs and Red Sox fans had no idea how long their teams would go between World Series titles. But if you went to a baseball game in Chicago or Boston back in those days, you’d still witness something that’s become ubiquitous in stadiums and arenas today—highly visible advertisements. And many of those advertisements and brand appearances are still getting a lot of exposure today.

Today’s brands are likely to get exposure across a multitude of platforms, over and over.

Of course, few people could foresee the rise of photography, TV, cable sports, the Internet, smartphones, messaging, and social media, and that has drastically changed the game in terms of how many places a brand or brand logo is exposed. Today’s brands are likely to get exposure across a multitude of platforms, over and over.

One thing is clear, there’s a lot of brand exposure to be won when logo or signage is paired with a historic sports moment. Here are some of history’s more iconic sports moments, and the brands that benefited from them.

Hank Aaron Breaks Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record

The Moment: One of the greatest hitters of all time, 40-year-old Hank Aaron, broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs with a blast on April 8, 1974. Hammerin’ Hank’s career total of 755 would stand until August 2007, when Barry Bonds hit his 756th in San Francisco.

The Branding: The video of the moment, with a classic call by Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, has numerous shots of four ads, most notably the First National Bank display in left field, where Aaron hit the homer. The others that are visible are Longines, Budweiser, and Coca-Cola, still among today’s most prominent brands. Compared to today’s parks, the signage is much larger in the broadcast and photos. The official MLB YouTube video of the moment is a good indication of how popular it continues to be. Published in November 2014, it has nearly 280,000 views, and will always be shared among sentimental baseball fans who view him as the true home run king, given he never used steroids.

The Gatorade Showers

The Moment: There’s still a lingering debate as to which team was the first to douse its coach with a tub of Gatorade: the Chicago Bears or the New York Giants. Both NFL squads pulled off the prank in 1984, but the Giants took it to another level in their championship season of 1986, when they drenched head coach Bill Parcells after all 17 victories, including Super Bowl XXI, which was viewed by more than 87 million people.

The Branding: Gatorade had been the official sports drink of the NFL since 1967, but the Giants’ decision to popularize the dunking tradition was greeted as a huge blessing. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Gatorade’s head of sports marketing Bill Schmidt had heard about the ritual throughout the 1986 season, but didn’t witness it on TV until the playoffs.

Given that CBS had around 167 million total viewers, making an app filter may well be significantly more cost-effective than paying $5 million for a 30-second ad.

“John Madden was circling the Gatorade coolers showing how they do this thing,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘What the hell? I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.'” Rather than push more advertising or come up with some gimmicks to promote the practice, Schmidt decided it was best to keep it as an organic tradition. Instead, he sent Parcells and linebacker Harry Carson, the prank’s ringleader, $1,000 Brooks Brothers gift certificates (they’d later get endorsement deals from the company). The dunk is a staple at sports events of every stripe, getting repeated thousands upon thousands of times, and being viewed by billions of fans at home and online. Some Vegas sports books even take bets on which color or flavor NFL teams will have on the sidelines during the Super Bowl. For 2016’s NFL championship, Gatorade created a bath filter on Snapchat, so that users could pretend they were getting virtually doused with the drink. According to Gatorade’s head of consumer engagement, the filter resulted in 160 million impressions over the mobile photo-and-video-sharing network. Given that CBS had around 167 million total viewers, making an app filter may well be significantly more cost-effective than paying $5 million for a 30-second ad.

Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins at the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest

The Moment: Two of the greatest dunkers in NBA history, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, faced off in the 1988 dunk contest in Chicago, which Jordan won in the last round by taking off from the free-throw line and scoring a perfect 50 from the judges.

The Branding: Gatorade sponsored the event, having official signage on the court, on the jumbotron, on the trophy, and on the scoring placards given out to fans in Chicago Stadium. While there are a number of other brands visible throughout the arena, Winston cigarettes and Coca-Cola benefitted the most, with huge placement under the Gatorade logo on the jumbotron, which can be seen in many angles of Jordan’s massive leap. This unofficial recap video alone has 630,000 views, while another documenting the rivalry has over 28 million, with plenty of shots of the scoreboard and its branding.

Tiger Woods Wins the Masters

The Moment: At the age of 21, Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters tournament in Augusta, becoming the youngest and first non-white player to capture that major.

Seeing [Tiger] celebrate on the final hole and then don the green jacket will endure as one of the greatest moments in golf history. Even today, several highlight videos of the event on YouTube have garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

The Branding: Even the geniuses at Nike, who signed Tiger to a five-year, $40 million sponsorship deal, must have been shocked when he won. CBS estimated that 44 million people watched his final round, seeing the youngster decked out in an understated Nike swoosh-emblazoned combo of a red shirt and black hat. That same year, before Woods even endorsed any of Nike’s golf clubs or other equipment, the company estimated his use of its apparel would boost sales by 60 percent.

Barring some sort of miracle, Tiger will likely never best Jack Nicklaus’s career total of 18 major victories, but seeing him celebrate on the final hole and then don the green jacket will endure as one of the greatest moments in golf history. Even today, several highlight videos of the event on YouTube have garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

Brandi Chastain’s World Cup Win (and Sports Bra Celebration)

The Moment: With the last shootout kick of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, defender Brandi Chastain scored to win it for the Americans, and in a moment of pure joy, ripped off her jersey in celebration. The photo of her on her knees, screaming in ecstasy while wearing only her sports bra, caused some minor controversy among moralists while becoming one of the most iconic images in sports history.

The Branding: Depending on the angle of the photo, one can easily see ads for McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, and MasterCard. A partial view of the McDonald’s banner can even be seen on the cover of Newsweek that commemorated the moment. Videos of the moment also feature shots of Bud Light, Adidas, Fujifilm, and JVC. More than 15 years later, Chastain is still making appearances to discuss it the issue, and serving as a role model to athletes and fans of all genders.

Travis Pastrana’s Double Motocross Backflip

The Moment: At the X Games in 2006, Travis Pastrana decided to go for broke in the MotoX Best Trick event. The action sports pioneer proceeded to perform the first-ever double backflip in competition, earning a 98.60 score, the highest in X Games history.

The Branding: One of the all-time great moments in action sports, the double backflip, has been viewed millions of times on YouTube (two unofficial clips have over 4.5 million views between them), and an amazing photo by Red Bull, his official sponsor, illustrates the stunt from beginning to end—capturing Pastrana in nine different positions from takeoff to touchdown. In the background, there are clearly visible ads for the Navy, New Balance, Right Guard, Edge, Schick, Maxell, PlayStation and, of course, Mountain Dew. While the X Games have waned in popularity, all of those businesses must be considering themselves lucky that they invested in time for this enduring moment.

Usain Bolt’s First Gold Medal

The Moment: At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt established himself as one of the greatest sprinters ever with a world record 9.69-second finish in the men’s 100-meter final, winning his first of eight career gold medals. He likely could’ve finished with an even better time had he not slowed to pound his chest in celebration, which earned him a reputation as a bit of a showboat, for better or worse.

The Branding: Puma likely didn’t know what it was going to get with the mercurial star when they signed the then 17-year-old, but the benefits of Bolt becoming the fastest man alive while using the company’s racing kits, warm-up gear, and cleats supposedly garnered it an estimated €250 million in publicity value (roughly $376 million in 2008 U.S. dollars) while paying the runner just $1.5 million a year. Paying that little for untold years of people replaying this highlight is a huge bargain.

Roger Federer Sets the All-Time Grand Slam Wins Record

The Moment: Argue all you want about who’s the greatest tennis player ever, but for the foreseeable future, Roger Federer will hold the all-time Grand Slam titles record. In 2009, he passed Pete Sampras’ career record of 14 with an epic match versus Andy Roddick at Wimbledon, playing 77 games over five sets.

The Branding: Rolex, the official timekeeper of the famed tournament since 1978, got plenty of visibility with its in-stadium signage, notably during Federer’s victory ceremony, but the logos on the equipment and apparel used by both men—Nike and Wilson for Federer; Lacoste, SAP and Babolat for Roddick—were onscreen for most of the four-hour, 17-minute battle. In the U.K. the broadcast averaged over 7 million viewers, and over 5 million tuned in from the U.S. for a match that became an instant classic both for its length and Federer’s record-setting victory. Even now, YouTube highlights that are not owned nor operated by Wimbledon or Rolex have garnered millions of views, such as these two with nearly 500,000 views apiece. But Rolex still comes out on top—the watchmaker was smart enough to ink Federer to a 10-year, $15-million endorsement deal starting in 2006, covering the part of his career where he won most of his Grand Slam titles and was ranked number one in the world.

Derek Jeter Hits a Walk-Off Single in His Final Yankee Stadium Game

The Moment: After 20 seasons putting together one of the best careers in MLB history, Derek Jeter was set to play his final home game at Yankee Stadium in front of more than 48,000 fans and millions watching at home on YES, MASN, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. Always one to find himself as the centerpiece of a huge moment, it looked like Jeter’s last at-bat would be a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning. But then closer David Robertson gave up three runs, letting Baltimore tie the game in the ninth—Jeter was due up third in the bottom of the inning. With pinch runner Antoan Richardson on second, he slapped a game-winning single into right field for a 6-5 victory, adding to his legendary legacy.

The Branding: AT&T’s signage behind home plate and W.B. Mason’s wall ad in right field, which can be seen when the clips show where Jeter’s hit landed, are the most visible during his at-bat, but throughout the highlights and celebration, there are recognizable branding spots for Budweiser, Kikkoman Foods, New Era, AT&T, U.S. Trust, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Toyota, DKNY, Pepsi, Modell’s, State Farm, Casio, Hess, Met Life, Delta, Ford, Gatorade, and Nathan’s. The brands undoubtedly knew they were going to get a lot of airtime in 2014, thanks to Jeter announcing his retirement before the season, but surely none of them could have dreamed that he’d finish his career in pinstripes in such a dramatic fashion.

LeBron’s Block

The Moment: More than 31 million people tuned into Game 7 of the 2016 NBA championship to see if LeBron James and the Cavs could actually pull off a three games to one deficit and bring a title back to Cleveland for the first time in 52 years.

During the broadcast, which was viewed by 31 million fans, the logo was visible for 48 minutes…

Facing the Golden State Warriors, who had just put up the best regular season in NBA history with 73 wins, James made what’s currently the best play in his career—The Block. Tied up at 89 with under two minutes to play, he sprinted the length of the court, seemingly coming out of nowhere, to block Warriors guard Andre Iguodala’s layup attempt.

The Branding: The Warriors didn’t score again and every time the block is replayed, the State Farm logo will be seen in all its eye-catching, bright red glory right behind the basket. During the broadcast, which was viewed by 31 million fans, the logo was visible for 48 minutes, while YouTube clips and images featuring the branding on social media number in the tens of millions.

Nneka Oqwumike’s Buzzer-Beater Championship

The Moment: With the 2016 WNBA finals in the deciding fifth game, L.A. Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike muscled her way in for a huge rebound, recovered a block shot, and hit the game-winning bucket with 3.1 seconds left to beat the Minnesota Lynx by a point. The live broadcast drew 828,000 viewers, the best for the league since 2007.

The Branding: Unlike its male counterpart, the WNBA features significant branding on some team jerseys. Verizon’s logo was featured on the Adidas-made outfits of both teams and on the hoops’ stanchions, while Kia’s logo was seen on the baseboard of the scoring table. Each team also had its own jersey sponsor—the Mayo Clinic for Minnesota, and EquiTrust Life Insurance for Los Angeles. The size of those logos is comparable to the city names and mascots of NBA jerseys, making it a wise investment for any brand, given that the league is gaining in viewership and cultural relevance. Viewership was up by 11% on ESPN and ESPN2, with a 224,000 average, and social media led to over 50 million video views of WNBA highlights and content. On a related note, the WNBA announced that Breanna Stewart’s Seattle Storm jersey, which features prominent placement for Swedish Medical Center and Verizon, was the year’s top seller, though it declined to release the actual sales figures.

Conor McGregor Makes UFC History

The Moment: Brash Irishman Conor McGregor already owned UFC’s Featherweight Championship belt when he decided to move up weight classes and fight Eddie Alvarez for the the Lightweight title. Already the most-watched man in the sport, McGregor’s quest to be the first fighter to hold two titles at once became one of the most hyped in UFC history. And what better stage to do it than Madison Square Garden, holding it’s first UFC fight in 20 years. McGregor won in the second round by KO.

The Branding: The undercard alone, airing on FS1, drew 1.8 million viewers, while the pay-per-view was estimated at more than 1.5 million. But the big number comes via Forbes, which reported that the fight generated 14 billion social impressions. An analysis of 14 different video and picture posts confirmed the posts have since accounted for more than 14 million social impressions, with McGregor’s profane post-fight interview amassing more than 5 million. Knowing how valuable visible branding would be, UFC wisely covered the octagon. At the center of the mat, and most visible throughout, was the symbol for Monster Energy, which paid $7 million for a multi-year sponsorship deal in early 2015—just around the time McGregor was on his way to his first title shot. He’ll be a draw for years to come as the sport sees more and more mainstream coverage and gathers more fans, who’ll undoubtedly watch plenty of McGregor’s highlights over and over.