OOH and Sports Marketing Make A Great Team

Sports fans everywhere were utterly devastated when the beloved sports world unexpectedly shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. For months, fans have been craving entertainment and competition from their favourite teams — especially during April and May, when the NHL and NBA playoff seasons should’ve been in full swing. Despite the frustrations, a Nielsen survey found that COVID-19 hasn’t dampened fans’ passion and intrigue for sports. In more recent news, the NHL, NBA, PGA, NFL, and NBA have returned (or are scheduled to return) with plenty of viewing pleasure for the sports-starved viewer. All of this comes with a huge opportunity for advertisers to rebuild brand equity and awareness, as fans are hungrier than ever for sports content. And the best way to do that is with out-of-home (OOH) advertising.

A little background info

An image of two billboards side by side. It is an advertisement for royals.com and shows a baseball player on one billboard throwing a baseball to the catcher on the other billboard.

Although some sports have returned, they have done so in a very different way than what we’ve ever seen before and some have not returned at all. The stands are empty, the stadiums are quiet, and sports are being played at a distance from their fans. According to a recent Neilsen article, brands put almost $20 billion towards sports-related programming last year, with about $17 billion of that given to sporting events. Additionally, brands last year also put close to $1.2 billion toward digital advertising around sites related to sports, such as official league pages and fan sites. Although these numbers will be significantly lower this year due to the pandemic, sports businesses should still be thinking about how to stay connected to consumers during this time. Reminding potential consumers and fans that sports are still prevalent and important not only reassures people, but also makes them want to buy into your product. The best way to get the word out there and grab consumers’ attention is through big, bold OOH ads. 

Rallying cities behind a sport or a team

Let’s take a look at what has worked in the past. Below are two examples of stellar OOH ad campaigns that created enormous buzz around the 2019 NHL and NBA playoffs. By capitalizing on sports fans’ love for the Leafs and Raptors, these brands were able to increase their relevance, which ultimately drove up their sales.

Tim Hortons 2019 NHL Playoff Ad Campaign

Tim Hortons core values include being a proud Canadian brand, loving the sport of hockey, and selling good coffee and doughnuts. The franchise has always had deep connections to the hockey world — as it was founded by Toronto Maple Leaf all-star, Tim Horton in the 1960s. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that they created an ad campaign surrounding the rivalry between the Leafs and Bruins during the 2019 playoffs. Across the GTA, Tim Hortons billboards were blazoned with pictures of a Boston cream donut next to bold lettering that said, “Cream Boston”. The ad served as a rallying cry for the Leafs and, in turn, united fans with the franchise.

An image of a billboard advertisement for Tim Hortons. The ad says "Cream Boston" and has a picture of a Boston cream doughnut.

New Balance 2019 NBA Finals Ad Campaign

By placing contextually relevant OOH ads in prominent locations, New Balance created an outstanding and successful ad campaign right before the 2019 NBA Finals. New Balance partnered with NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard to promote the Toronto Raptors’ final series against the Golden State Warriors in 2019. By placing massive digital OOH units both in Toronto and in San Francisco, New Balance generated massive engagement and excitement. The billboards displayed headlines that highlighted the four-time NBA All-Star’s playoff personality, such as “Fun Guy” and “Board Man Gets Titles”. The billboards also displayed warning signs for Golden State with statements like, “the King of the North is Coming”, coupled with the names of the teams Toronto already beat crossed off in big bold X’s. The results were impressive. According to the Outdoor Association of America (OAAA), the campaign generated 344,948,165 impressions, 836 Instagram stories, and became a trending topic on Twitter!

An image of a large billboard of Kawhi Leanord that says "Fun Guy.". It is an advertisement for New Balance.

An image of an advertisement for New Balance. It has Kawhi Leonard pointing to a basketball and big, bold letters that say "Board man gets titles".

Through these two examples, it becomes apparent that the best way to get people excited about sports and at the same time, engage with your brand, is through large, bold, simple, and relevant OOH advertising.

Athletes making statements using OOH

One major way that OOH can be used to elevate your brand through sports is by using bold, pertinent, and impactful messaging. This past April, Nike partnered with Mindshare China for International Women’s Day to tell the stories of professional female athletes — stories that are often overlooked and underrepresented in the sports world. In order to create more visibility and relevance for these women, Nike used OOH media to place the athletes’ success stories in their hometowns. For example, in Hong Kong, Nike created a massive OOH ad on a building next to the Wan Chai Sports Ground where Cecilia Yang broke the high jump record. The campaign drove more than 90 million comments online across various social media channels and was covered by major news outlets across China. 

The ability of OOH to connect to consumers through contextual activation across China allowed each athlete to share a personal and significant story – that also created buzz around Nike as a brand. Furthermore, being able to execute these stories in the hometown of these women couldn’t be done through any other medium, making it the perfect form of advertising for this campaign. 

An image of a book shelf in a library where the books are colour-coordinated to demonstrate a Nike ad of Shao Ting holding a basketball.

An image of a large building-sized ad for Nike with Cecilia Yang on it.


By combining place-based and contextualized media with big, bold graphics there’s no doubt that your brand will capture the hearts and attention of sports fans around the world. Not to mention that during these trying times, people are looking for a sense of community — or even just something to rally behind. Sports can be a great way for people (fans or not) to come together, and what better way of displaying and inspiring that, than by using OOH for your brand?

Talk to a Mobile Billboard specialist today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *