The role of the “influencer” has and continues to disrupt the sponsorship and marketing of nearly every industry. Wine is no different.
By Ishveen Jolly
Alcohol and sport have always had a close association. At its most basic level, all different types of alcoholic beverages are enjoyed while watching all manner of different sports. As a result, alcohol brands have long been associated with sports culture. Sponsoring an athlete or team can help to solidify this connection and make alcohol brands more appealing to consumers.
This is true at every level of the game. Alcohol categories are one of the first sponsorships that teams and sporting events try to fill, because the products are authentic to the partnership. Sponsoring beverages and brands can be served in hospitality suites, concession stands and at spectator bars. Interesting activations can be planned for fans (for example, enter to win a bottle of wine if the captain scores a hat trick). For many B and C league teams, which rely on local fans attending local games, it’s a great opportunity for local brands to be associated with those competitions and celebrations.
Additionally, athletes are some of the most popular and, often, respected people in society, so their endorsements can go a long way in helping alcohol brands improve their public image. In today’s world, the role of social media simply cannot be ignored and, with athletes often having some of the largest followings in the world, alcohol brands can leverage their influence to reach a wider audience. For brands, producers, vineyards, commentators and anyone looking to grow their sales or eyes-on, working with athletes can help target specific demographics.
For their part, professional athletes are looking for sponsorships from brands that they believe align with their personal values and lifestyle. For many, wine brands fit this criteria.
And so to wine
Wine is social, classy and fun; it can also be elite. By endorsing the right brand, an athlete or team will be able to connect with their fans on a deeper level. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, athletes are realizing the importance of endorsing products that their fans can relate to. In the world of professional sports sponsorship, wine is growing in popularity among athletes looking for the right brand.
Sponsorships can entail a single interaction or an ongoing relationship involving multiple deliverables. For the athlete, this can mean anything from a one-off social media posts or to public appearance (either online or in person) to ongoing brand promotion. Conversely, some alcohol brands have been known to sponsor birthday parties or other celebrations, thereby associating themselves with the celebrity sports lifestyle. The same principles can also be applied to a smaller scale.
One of the most interesting sports to have demonstrated a strong relationship with the industry is the National Basketball Association. NBA all-star player Josh Hart, for example, is very much a wine lover (he even has an Instagram dedicated to sharing his favorite bottles). And the NBA has a thriving (if unofficial) wine club — as demonstrated by the hundreds of bottles that were shipped to the league’s “bubble” (the sports complex in Orlando, Fla. that safely housed teams for the 2020 season).
Stars like three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade have been at the forefront of the NBA’s wine obsession for years. But players aren’t just drinking wine among themselves anymore; they’re channeling their personal passions into making the industry more inclusive. Hart founded a Diversity in Wine Scholarship Program to boost educational and professional opportunities, including WSET certification, for people from different backgrounds to enter the industry. This can only be a good thing for the wine as a whole, and it wouldn’t have happened without the influence that athletes have.
Three-time NBA Champion and Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem has partnered with Wine Access. In a podcast, he discusses the trends and interests amongst NBA stars for their different grapes or regions. This simply wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, but it does point to the broadening profile of wine as an industry in-demand.
Subscriptions and endorsements
Another indicator of the role that athletes as influencers can play for wine brands is the campaign Winning in the United States. Winc is the premier wine club in America, delivering a wide array of different wines to try via its subscription service. Subscription services are popular among craft beer aficionados and are starting to boom all over the world for wine, spirits and other beverages. For Winc, athlete endorsements via social media was its most powerful marketing tool. Athletes were hired to support the business and sales simply rocketed.
The role of the “influencer” has and continues to disrupt the sponsorship and marketing of nearly every industry. Wine is no different. The challenge will be to see how the premium-end responds or engages. Exclusivity has always been vital to certain wine brands, but that hasn’t stopped them sponsoring or advertising in the past. They have always been incredibly selective about the type of event they sponsor, or advert they produce. This selectivity will no doubt be applied to whatever influencer route they commit to, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see athletes at the top of that list.
Ishveen Jolly is a trailblazer in the sports marketing industry having built OpenSponsorship.com into the world’s largest marketplace connecting brands to athletes for digital marketing campaigns. Her accolades from her include getting on the Forbes 30U30 sports list, Inc’s top 100 female Founders list and raising over $5M for the company including from NBA team owners, athletes, notable VCs and her from her Alma Mater Oxford University.