Sports has an everlasting, universal and fascinating appeal for consumers and marketers everywhere, says Harish Bhat

Sitting at the launch event of the Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018, I was delighted and amazed to see the huge amount of popular interest in this sporting event. As many as 44,000 people had already registered to run in this event. Media attention in this race had scaled a new peak this year, even as the iconic pole vaulter Sergei Bubka was announced as brand ambassador of the marathon. I know of more than 20 people in my apartment complex in Mumbai, who have been training hard over the past several months to run in this marathon. Here is an example of a sporting event that has built huge appeal within a relatively short period of time.

Harish Bhat is brand custodian, Tata Sons. He is a curious marketer and an avid writer.

As a marketer, I have been fascinated by the appeal that sports and sportspeople hold for consumers everywhere. Over the years, many famous sportspeople have appeared as ambassadors for Tata brands — including Formula 1 driver Narain Karthikeyan for Tata Motors, ace cricketers MS Dhoni for Sonata watches and Virat Kohli for Fastrack, boxing champion Mary Kom for Tata Salt and mountaineer Bachendri Pal for Tata Steel. In similar fashion, many reputed brands sponsor sporting events, such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Wimbledon, notwithstanding the significant investments that such sponsorships entail. Clearly, brands do this because marketers are convinced that their consumers love sports, therefore this is an excellent method to build a strong brand connect.

An interesting question that arises is, why do consumers love sports? Why do millions of people across the world passionately follow the sports that they love — cricket, tennis, football, kabbadi or athletics? If you follow one or more sports yourself, pause and ask yourself this question. Here are some reasons why I think sports holds such universal appeal.


We love excitement in our lives; it gets our adrenalin going and elevates us from our daily routines. Sports delivers us strong doses of excitement, packaged within brief stints of time that we can manage even in the midst of our hectic life schedules. In fact, because a sports tournament is so exciting, it is one of the few activities that holds our undivided attention, even in this age of digital distractions. The one hour that you spend watching a football or kabbadi match, or the half day you invest in a T-20 cricket match, pays you back many times over through the excitement that it injects into the routine of your life. Who will win? When will that all-important goal be scored, and who will score it? The match is on the edge; it is swinging back and forth; how will it all end? Sometimes the suspense is nerve-wracking, and because we long for such excitement, we will always love sports.


Tribal loyalties are a deep-rooted reality of human history and society. In modern times, sports teams help us express and experience a new type of tribal loyalty, to the team that we root for. This is why some of us are such passionate Manchester United fans, whereas others are sworn-for-life Real Madrid followers. Not only do we avidly follow the team that we support, and their games, but we also chant their anthems and wear and use their specially branded merchandise. Sports teams, like ancient tribes, cater to our need for belonging and sharing, and they also provide us outlets for our spontaneous feelings and emotions.


We greatly admire very successful sportspeople, including champion athletes, because they represent the epitome of human achievement. Being a champion in sports requires physical and mental prowess, stamina and dedication, and grit and determination. What is also inspiring is that many sports champions overcome incredible odds to reach these pinnacles. For millions of people across the world, these are very aspirational attributes — perhaps beyond our reach, but always worth paying tribute to. When we watch the well-toned bodies of champions, as they perform in their arena, we stand in awe of the human form at its best. When we watch champions break one record after another, we are amazed at their skills and ability to constantly exceed themselves. In short, we admire (and in some special cases, we virtually worship) our sports champions. No wonder marketers constantly turn to these sportspeople to endorse their brands.


Sports has also become very popular in modern days because of our quest for health and wellness. In the midst of our hectic work and life schedules, we are increasingly aware that being healthy and fit is essential. In fact, health and fitness now has the makings of a big lifestyle trend. Sports is perceived as an accessible method of pursuing our health and fitness goals, because we can always embark on simple pursuits such as running or swimming or cycling, provided of course we set our mind to it. Joining a neighbourhood cricket team or playing badminton in a local club are pursuits that are accessible to many of us. Some of these sports require specific apparel or gear, which has created a rapidly growing opportunity for marketers.


Last, but not the least, sports is also fun, and one of the best ways to relax after a hard day at work or at college. Modern tournaments, such as IPL cricket, have blended sport, glamour, music, food and drink to create an even more fun cocktail that all of us can enjoy any day, even if we do not have any expert knowledge of the game involved. And for some of us, the fun element also arises from interesting intellectual discussions around the strategies and tactics of the sport that we follow so passionately.

All these varied reasons explain our universal love of sports. This is also why marketers and brands the world over will use sports and sportspeople to connect with consumers like you and me. What is your favourite brand advertisement featuring sports or a sportsperson? Do write in ( and let me know.