The Dynamic World of Sponsoships:

Team VS Player

by Yashi GERA

In sports, sponsorship plays a crucial role by connecting businesses and competitions for mutual benefit. It creates a partnership where brands and sports organizations work together, using the wide appeal of sports to reach marketing goals. The sports sponsorship market was estimated at 97.35 billion U.S. dollars in 2023. The industry was projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8.68 percent until 2030, reaching a value of almost 190 billion U.S. dollars.[1] And the top 10 most valuable sports sponsorships delivered more than $259 million in media value for brands in 2023.[2]

To maximize brand exposure and mitigate risks, big brands usually create diversified sponsorship portfolios where they engage with various sports entities, including teams, leagues, tournaments, players, and community initiatives. Brand sponsorships drive fan engagement. They increase the appeal of the sport or player and help connect with fans personally. 

Team Sponsorship vs. Player Sponsorship: A Tale of Two Realms

In today's world of sports sponsorship, there are two main types: team sponsorships, which link brands to the identity of entire teams, and player sponsorships, which highlight individual athletes. Both aim to use sports to boost branding and marketing, but they do this in different ways and have different effects.

Team sponsorship is a partnership between a sports team and a company, where the company provides money, resources, or services in exchange for marketing opportunities and brand exposure. This support helps the team cover expenses such as player salaries, facilities maintenance, operational costs etc. In return, the sponsoring company gains visibility and promotional benefits, such as having its logo displayed on team jerseys, signage at the team's venue, or mentions in marketing materials. Team sponsorship agreements can vary in scope and duration, ranging from short-term partnerships for specific events to long-term, multi-year arrangements. 

For example, the partnership between Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, and the English football club Arsenal FC, exemplifies the global reach of team sponsorships. With Emirates Stadium serving as the home ground for the club and the airline's logo prominently displayed on the club’s jerseys, the collaboration extends beyond mere branding. Most recently, Emirates Arsenal launched the ‘Global Gooners’ campaign bringing friends and families together from all over the world at the Emirates Stadium. They also announced last year that the partnership would be extended till 2028, making it the longest-running front-of-shirt sponsorship in Premier League history. [6]

Player sponsorship involves an arrangement where an individual athlete is sponsored by a company or organization. These sponsorship deals extend beyond financial gain, becoming a platform for personal expression and brand building. From profitable endorsements to joint partnerships, players use their influence to shape their stories both on and off the field. The sponsored player may wear the sponsor's logo on their clothing or equipment during competitions, appear in advertising campaigns or promotional materials, and endorse the sponsor's products or services through social media or other platforms. These sponsorship agreements can vary widely in terms of duration, scope, and financial terms, depending on the athlete's profile, achievements, and marketability.

For example, the partnership between Nike and basketball legend Michael Jordan stands as one of the most iconic and enduring examples of player sponsorship. The creation of the Air Jordan brand revolutionized the athletic footwear industry, making sport a cultural phenomenon. Nike's association with Jordan elevated the brand to new heights and cemented its status as a leader in the industry. Nike earned $50.6 billion in revenue in 2023, with the Jordan Brand bringing in $6.59 billion in revenue, or about 13% of Nike's total FY2023 sales. [7] And in October 2023, Michael Jordan was recognised as the first ever athlete to crack Forbes’ annual list of the 400 richest people in America with his net worth soaring to $3 billion. [8] 


Partnerships can also be a means to advocate for social causes, like the Nike and Kaepernick’s Dream Crazy campaign. 


So, while Emirates' partnership with Arsenal FC celebrates the legacy and heritage of the football club, Nike's collaboration with Michael Jordan highlights the individual brilliance and global appeal of the basketball superstar.

As evidenced in the case of Rolex's partnership with Roger Federer, where the luxury watchmaker leverages the Federer’s success and popularity to reinforce its brand values of elegance and precision.


The interdependence of team and player sponsorships is in how they both boost brand exposure and marketability. Let’s unpack this with examples from Formula One. 

A Formula One driver whose personal brand was significantly enhanced by their association with a popular team is Ayrton Senna. Senna's tenure with McLaren during the late 1980s and early 1990s catapulted him to legendary status both on and off the track. McLaren, a dominant force in Formula One with a rich history of success, provided Senna with a platform to showcase his exceptional driving skills and competitive spirit. His fierce rivalry with Alain Prost, another iconic driver of the era, captivated fans around the world and elevated Formula One to new heights of popularity. Senna's success with McLaren, including three World Championships, solidified his reputation as one of the greatest drivers in the sport's history. His association with McLaren also attracted numerous sponsorship deals and endorsements, turning him into a global sporting icon and cultural phenomenon. Senna's tragic death in 1994 immortalized his legacy, ensuring his personal brand would endure for generations.

Now taking an example of how a driver helped a team become a powerhouse in motorsports.

Lewis Hamilton's personal brand has been a catalyst for Mercedes' sponsorship and commercial success in recent years. As a seven-time Formula One World Champion and a global icon, Hamilton's charisma, success, and advocacy have elevated Mercedes' visibility and appeal to fans and consumers worldwide. His partnership with the team has attracted sponsors eager to align themselves with his success and values, while his market reach has facilitated Mercedes' expansion into new demographics and regions. Additionally, Hamilton's personal brand values, including his commitment to diversity and sustainability, resonate with Mercedes' corporate ethos, strengthening the brand's association with social responsibility and innovation. 

Image Rights: The Intersection of Collective and Individual Branding

In the world of sports sponsorship, image rights are a key battleground where teams and players negotiate the limits of collective and individual branding.

Team Sponsorship Image Rights: 

Teams usually keep collective image rights, letting them use players' likenesses for promotional purposes. However, individual players, especially high-profile ones, may negotiate their own image rights agreements. Balancing the interests of teams, players, and sponsors is crucial to maintain cohesion in the sponsorship portfolio and uphold the integrity of team branding.

Player Sponsorship Image Rights: 

In player sponsorships, athletes have significant control over their image rights, allowing them to negotiate favorable terms and endorsements that align with their values and interests. Take LeBron James, for example. His careful management of his image rights has turned him into a global icon beyond the court. While sponsors want to benefit from athletes' public appeal, conflicts can occur when athletes take control of their personal branding. Clear communication and mutual understanding are crucial to navigate the complexities of image rights in player sponsorship agreements.

Conclusion: Navigating the Ever-Evolving Landscape of Sports Sponsorship

In the dynamic realm of sports sponsorship, team and player sponsorships showcase the enduring appeal of sports as a platform for branding and marketing. Each sponsorship model brings distinct perspectives and opportunities, yet they converge in fostering connections among brands, sports entities, and fans. As brands and athletes navigate the complexities of image rights and partnership dynamics, they discover new avenues of opportunity, shaping the future of sports sponsorship and leaving a lasting impact on sporting history.