Athletic Advertisement: A Fashionable Business Statement

In the world of professional sports, a constant has always been using the uniform as a means to advertise a sponsor. Some sports understate this more than others, like hockey, basketball, and football. In these sports the athletic advertisement usually stops at the brand of the uniform, such as a noticeable Reebok symbol in the corner of the jersey, or the Nike insignia displayed on the side of a shoe or cleat. Not all sports approach this kind of advertising with such subtly; in fact some sports approach this in a rather brazen and shameless method.

Sports like NASCAR racing and mixed martial arts leagues like the UFC, have taken a liking to using the fashion of their uniforms as potential billboards. The fashions for these sports are much different in comparison to other athletic advertisement, as every nook and cranny of the athlete’s apparel is lambasted in sponsors. Does this type of sponsor-heavy athletic advertisement have a lasting impact on athletes and companies, or is it merely a cosmetic change meant for advertising purposes?

Cosmetic Comparison

GORDONA major difference between sponsor-heavy athletic advertisement and other professional sports fashion is mostly cosmetic. The fashions for these sports are meant to draw the eye to the clothing, not the athlete. Think Jeff Gordon circa 1999; his jumpsuit completely smothered in bright, lavish, neon colors that are reminiscent of a rainbow. There’s a reason they called him the “Rainbow Warrior” and he can thank DuPont for that moniker.


ChuckLiddell-mainOr think of Chuck Liddell who wore bright blue trunks with a snowy white glacier design. These trunks, combined with the metaphorical ice that is constantly pumping through his veins, helped earn him the nickname “Iceman.” The fashion of this kind of athletic advertisement reinforces a focus on the clothing, not the athlete by using the bright and flashy colors.

Process of Assimilation

From a sponsor’s point of view, this kind of athletic advertisement could be called “phase one.” The purpose of “phase one” is to catch the eye of the spectator so that they focus on the athlete’s attire, which leads directly into “phase two.” “Phase two” builds off of “phase one” in that now that the clothing has caught the spectator’s attention, the spectator then begins to view the clothing in detail. And what are in the details of this kind of athletic apparel? Why advertising sponsors of course.

The spectator begins to notice that a particular company sponsors their favorite athlete. The effect of this is that the spectator is now more open to give this company their business because of the relation to the athlete. It is similar to the marketing process of celebrity advertisements, which relies on a person’s reputation and fame to endorse a product. The main difference is that spectators are assimilated as customers through the media of fashion (via athletic advertisement) rather than the use of commercials or billboards.

Lasting Effects

Now that the fashion of these sports has been established as a means for sponsors and companies to advertise their businesses, we can finally start answering the underlying questions of athletic advertisement:

How much control do sponsors have on the fashion of these sports?

There are many more factors that go into sponsor-heavy athletic advertisement than you might think, but the three main factors to be considered are the sport as a whole, the athlete, and the sponsor. The image a sponsor wants to convey, fashion wise, must first be approved by the league governing the sport, after that, it falls onto whether the athlete wants to convey that image or not. Using Gordon and his sponsor, DuPont, as an example, there were a lot sexual oriented connotations that came with driving a rainbow clad racecar and Gordon being dubbed the “Rainbow Warrior.” In light of the sensitivity of the issue of sexual preference that has been raised in the past decade and more recently the sexual preference of specifically professional athletes, there were some noticeable changes to Gordon’s attire and car.


As most people know, the gay community has adopted the colors of the rainbow as their official colors to represent their lifestyle and sexual orientation. Gordon and DuPont changed the look of the uniform to include a black base, in lieu of the brighter red and blue base, with a more macho Du Pont logo. This change may have come from both parties, Gordon and DuPont, not wanting to convey an image that could be misconstrued because of what the colors of the rainbow represent in modern day culture. On the other side of the coin, some businesses could threaten to pull out of sponsoring an athlete if they do not cooperate with the advertisement and fashion suggestions for their uniform. So while sponsors may not control the fashion of a uniform in totality they still have a major and important say in the matter of athletic advertisement.

Does the athlete affect the sponsor’s business?

In a word, yes. Earlier in the article I mentioned a pseudo “phase system” that is dependent on an athlete’s reputation and meant to draw in potential customers, which is the ground work for athletic advertisement. What really has an effect on a sponsor’s business is the athlete’s performance in the sport as well as their behavior outside of the sport. In this aspect, if an athlete is doing well in their respective sport, then this gains publicity and interest in the companies of their sponsors.

The drawback of athletic advertisement, is that if an athlete’s performance is poor and their popularity is declining, then sponsors may become weary of wanting their business to be associated with a failing athlete. Companies also care about how their sponsored athletes behave while not performing. If the company is known for having a wholesome image, they may not want to associate themselves with an athlete that frequents gentlemen’s clubs or has constant run-ins with the law.

The impact fashion has on athletic advertisement is that the athletes are essentially a personification of their sponsored company. These athletes understand that their faces and bodies have become literal billboards for companies to advertise on. The importance of this is that the fashion of athletic advertisement for these sports comes from a marketing perspective rather than from a popular trendy perspective in their apparel. The process of athletic advertisement is rooted in companies relying on fashion to attract business and then the athlete that is advertising the sponsor to sell their business through popularity and a good reputation.

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