As many people know, marketing requires multiple components to effectively work and succeed. One of these essential components is promotions. Promotions are crucial to capturing customers, and this is no different in sports, specifically professional sports.

Promotions can have a wide range of objectives including: sales increases, new product acceptance, creation of brand equity, positioning, competitive retaliations, or creation of a corporate image. Some of these objectives are desired when planning promotions in sports, but often times they are to improve the fan experience or relationship.

Sports tend to run promotions through Internet advertisements, special events, endorsed gift giveaways and events, discounts, or contests. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the NBA, MLB, and the NFL, and the forms of promotions that they run—some conventional, and some out of left field. (No pun intended!) 

Promotions in NBA

Some promotions being used by the NBA include “swag bags” (items that game attendees receive when certain conditions are met) and these often include team towels, shirts with sayings, noise makers, and even basketballs. Most of these items are donated by companies, local and national, who sponsor these promotions.

Jack and the box Lakers; promotions in sports

Some teams base promotions on the performance of the home team. One such example comes from the Los Angeles Lakers, who, if they hold an opposing team under 100 points, will provide vouchers for 2 free tacos from Jack in the Box. Additionally for Hispanic Heritage month, teams such as the Miami Heat wear El Heat jerseys, embracing their Hispanic fan base.

NBA Latino Heritage; promotions in sports

Promotions in MLB

In MLB, promotions range from theme nights, events and coupons on items within the park, and game day giveaways. An example of a theme night is at Dodger Stadium, where they have UCLA night. Not only do they encourage UCLA Alumni to attend the game; they give attendees of the game, UCLA-themed Dodgers items.

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Both local and national companies will sponsor game day giveaways. These giveaways include hats, beach towels, posters, bags, and the most iconic of them all: the bobble head. says that the upcoming major league season is expected to have 121 days where a bobble head is given away. Bobble heads continue to be the cream of the crop when it comes to promotions in MLB.

Promotions in NFL

For the NFL, promotions consist of half time contest where a fan can win money and deals for food within the stadium, but there are also game day giveaways that include items such as miniature helmets, folding chairs, gift cards, and free admission to the game.

There is one game day giveaway that stands out the most, and those are the towels. The most iconic of these towels are the ones that are given away at Heinz Field for the Steelers, called “Terrible Towels. These items are not only given to fans as keep sake, but are use to pump up the team.

Sports Promotion Fails

Not all sports promotions are gems; in fact, some are lumps of coal. Three of the worst ideas worst promotions run by sports teams include the NBA Developmental League’s Michael Jordan Look-Alike Night. Another was the Newark Bears’ Britney Spears Baby Safety Awareness Night. Both inevitably flopped.

Tinder, promotions in sports

The last of these promotional fails was unveiled by the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks Swipe Right Night, which promoted the dating/hookup site Tinder. They encouraged fan to engage in the app while they enjoyed the game. Sports promotions sometimes miss the mark, and when the dust settles people are left confused.

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Originally published February 26, 2015, updated February 13, 2017
Tags: Marketing Sales Social Media Marketing content marketing Sports Marketing marketing trends