These Award-Winning Brands Win at Sports Marketing

By Morgan Strawn

On the U.S. media landscape, sports looms with outsized prominence among the nation's sources of entertainment, as a 2020 study by VAB suggests. According to that report, in 2019, the last year before the pandemic began distorting data, the average U.S. viewer watched 4,364 minutes of national live TV sports broadcasts a year.

This pool of viewers has long been known to marketers as a rich target for its ads, whom they've appealed to with significant success. Indeed, according to the same study, 30 percent of U.S. consumers report that they have talked with friends and/or family about an advertisement they saw while watching sports on TV, and 23 percent report having bought a product they saw featured on one of these broadcasts.

The ANA's 2022 In-House Excellence Awards highlight some of the inspiring uses to which brands have put their sports sponsorships and the dollars that they devote to ad buys on sports programming. Below, marketers can read a few summaries of such work or click on the embedded link to read the full case study of the campaigns.


In the U.S., the most highly visible sporting event is the Super Bowl, attracting millions of eyeballs to the gridiron and the ads broadcast in the lead-up to and during the big game. In 2021, Frito-Lay took advantage of this concentration of attention with an ad broadcast during the pre-game show that was filled with former greats of the NFL.

The ad featured Peyton, Eli, and Archie Manning, along with Terry Bradshaw, Jerome Bettis, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Troy Aikman. The players practiced and relived moments of on-the-field triumph while former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch provided narration that mimicked Clement Clarke Moore's popular poem, "The Night Before Christmas," thereby evoking the sense of wonder and anticipation that the lead-up to the Super Bowl shares with Christmas Eve.

The ad was so successful that it drove a sales lift of over 16 percent and topped out as one of the highest ROI-driving campaigns in Frito-Lay's history.

Keystone Light

While the hundred yards between the goalposts may attract the most consumer attention to its broadcasts, the NASCAR's oval garners a healthy share of attention itself — a fact that informed beer brand Keystone Light's late 2020 decision to partner with the sport and specifically with the Penske NASCAR team to relaunch the beloved Blue Deuce No. 2 car, last seen in 2010.

A series of brand acts throughout the 2021 season solidified the partnership with Keystone Light, but the biggest race for the team was the Coke 600, which took place on Memorial Day. Unfortunately, a competitor (Busch) had the naming rights, so the brand decided to meet its fans where they truly were: tailgating. To chime with this beloved pre-race ritual, Keystone Light created a grill made from racecar parts, coming complete with a stereo, cooler, and umbrella.

The brand promoted a sweepstakes through which the grill would be given away through social channels, email, and OOH displays, resulting in 19 media placements, 72 million impressions, and 12,000 entries.

AHN Orthopaedic Institute

America's pastime may have lost popularity to other sports in the past handful of decades, but it still commands a devoted following, as AHN Orthopaedic Institute knew when it leveraged its status as the official medical provider of the Pittsburgh Pirates to quell the fears of its target audience of candidates for joint replacements.

To evoke its commitment to minimally invasive procedures, the Institute advertised itself on OOH displays with the tagline "Fewer Stitches" alongside a baseball that had a mere eight of the iconic red stitches that normally stretch across the object's full circumference.

The campaign help to drive up orthopedic surgery volumes by 15 percent in 2021.

Sports marketing isn't the only topic that the ANA's In-House Excellence Awards shine a spotlight on; they recognize marketing efforts that demonstrate ingenuity in a wide variety of marketing techniques, including influencer, social media, and purpose-driven marketing, as well as innovative uses of gaming, to name but a few. To browse the full library of In-House Excellence Awards case studies case studies, just click here.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Morgan Strawn is a senior manager of editorial and content development at ANA.