Sports Sponsorship: 10 Ways Brands are Tackling the Tailgating Scene

When football fans on-site at college and pro games aren’t watching players block, tackle and blitz each other, they’re looking for other ways to be entertained. This season, sponsors stepped up to the challenge (as did Taylor Swift, but that’s another story). From the brands you’d expect to find on the field, like Bud Light and FanDuel, to the ones that might make you look twice, like e.l.f. Cosmetics, sponsors hailed from a range of categories and delivered a range of experiential moments. Check out 10 campaigns that scored with fans this year.

coca-cola-mls-all-star-week-2023-overall-footprint_teaserMore on Sports Sponsorships:


Bath & Body Works and football might seem like an unlikely duo, but with momentum building for The Men’s Shop, its line of men’s personal care and grooming products, the brand is leaning into the sport. Its mobile tour is rolling into sporting events in nine markets, with 14 “tentpole stops” and surprise mid-week jaunts also on the agenda. Giveaways, fragrance and grooming product sampling, MVP-inspired photo ops and meet-and-greets with local celebrity athletes are all part of the event program, which runs through mid-December. (Agency: MELT)


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Bud Light has been the NFL’s official beer partner for 27 years, but this season’s “Bud Light Backyard Tour: College Edition” was aimed at the college crowd. The program encompassed sponsorships of more than 50 college football teams, and on-site activations that spanned performances by top djs, photo moments, interactive games and a whole lot of cold ones. Bud also forged partnerships with NBC, Big10 Network and Peacock, which offered viewers a live look at Bud Light Backyard tailgates during gameday broadcasts. Adding to the campaign were limited-edition Bud Light College Team Cans packaged in team colors, each bearing a QR code and a chance to win a flyover in a private jet at any game of the winner’s choosing, along with exclusive team merch.

Another Bud Light sponsorship that made headlines was the “World’s Largest Tailgate” hosted in partnership with the Kansas City Chiefs. Oh, and it was a hybrid tailgate. Thanks to a first-of-its-kind digital NFL stadium, fans came together both virtually and IRL as the Chiefs took on the Detroit Lions. The event was hosted by the Merrell Twins, featured a performance by dj duo Two Friends, included segments with “Saturday Night Live’s” Heidi Gardner and TikTok creator Tabitha Swatosh, and appearances by Donna Kelce and former Chiefs stars. (Partners: LCDigital; Broadcast Management Group)



E.l.f. Cosmetics, in partnership with “Chicks in The Office” (a Barstool Sports podcast), invited college football fans to get a “Glow up for Game Day” with a shimmery activation at Syracuse University. The focal point was a sequined, millennial pink glow-up bar where attendees could check out products and snag freebies. There was also a full locker room buildout, with custom jerseys, helmets, cleats and other accessories featuring e.l.f. and “Chicks in The Office” branding, along with mini product displays. Signature cocktails and a giant, glittering mirror that inspired plenty of fan (s)e.l.f.ies were also on tap. (Agency: Coleture Group)



Sports betting platform FanDuel brought its annual FanDuel FanFest experience to Philadelphia this year, and the one-day fan event offered a little something for everyone. But this is a gambling organization we’re talking about, so entry into the “free” event required opting in to promotions and making a $25-plus wager to score tickets, which were open to the first 10,000 people.

Music was a big part of the strategy, with performances by surprise headliner Fall Out Boy, as well as Rae Sremmurd. There were also appearances by Philly football legends like Brian Dawkins, “superstar showdowns” during which pro athletes competed in sports challenges and games (fans could predict who would win through FanDuel’s Free-2-Play game to score prizes), and a moderated Q&A with athletes and celebrities. A range of local food vendors, a pop-up FanDuel Sports Bar and Lounge, trophy photo ops and skills-based games were also in the mix. (Agency: Activent Marketing)



Hugo Boss and the NFL teamed up to host a pre-season launch event promoting the expansion of their co-branded merchandise collection in New York City. The VIP experience for press and influencers included football-inspired hors d’oeuvres, a helmet-themed photo booth, a lounge showcasing the latest Boss campaign and game footage on large screens, and the opportunity to customize a Boss x NFL t-shirt or sweatshirt. (Agency: CNC Agency)



Jersey Mike’s College Tailgate Tour returned this year, parking at high-traffic areas like fan zones and tailgate events at games across the U.S. from August to November. Fans could stop by the mobile pop-up for swag, lawn games, an interactive photo op, free samples, a place to lounge and the chance to win free subs for a year via Jersey Mike’s mobile app. (Partners: Van Wagner; Aardvark Mobile Tours)


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To celebrate Black creativity “on the yard,” during the “Spelhouse” Homecoming Tailgate on Oct. 28, Max (formerly HBO Max) and Nike Yardrunners partnered on a storytelling-based activation at Morehouse College, a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) institution. For the unacquainted, since 2020, Nike has been boosting HBCU communities and culture by selecting past and present student-athletes to highlight as their “class” of Yardrunners for the year.

The Morehouse activation included The Story Wall, which showcased the stories of past and present Yardrunner creators, SpelHouse alumni and other influential creatives; a portrait studio manned by a Morehouse alum (images were sent out immediately to encourage real-time social sharing); a live dj; F&B; and exclusive merchandise, like Nike’s Morehouse and Spelman t-shirts and Max x Nike Yardrunners bags.

Meanwhile, HBCU Buzz and Max Scene in Black were on the ground, getting up close and personal with the college community and sharing social coverage of student interviews and touchpoints that showcased the core HBCU experience.

Photo credit: Sergio Martínez, courtesy of Six Degrees



Event technology got an upgrade at the Jets vs. Bills game on Sept. 11, when fans were equipped with sustainable, wireless LED wristbands that could be controlled in real time, and had the power to transform tens of thousands of attendees into a living canvas. Ahead of the singing of the National Anthem, all 78,000 wristbands were illuminated in unison, flashing the Jets’ signature green hue and hyping up fans as the Jets took the field. Then, during the anthem, the crowd was united once more as the lights on their wristbands intermittently flashed red, white and blue in a synchronized sequence. (Partner: PixMob)

pix mob LED bracelets_Jets game 2023



As part of a broader campus marketing push, Shipt partnered with Visa on an interactive Ultimate Tailgate Lounge series that popped up at select college football games across the South. Football fans could enjoy branded activities, like a burger-grilling challenge, and photo booths. They could also get a taste of exclusive gameday recipes whipped up by chef Jeff Mauro, host of Food Network’s “Sandwich King,” who was on-site at the lounge tour’s first stop, cooking, providing tailgating tips and playing games with fans. (Agency: MKG)

Photo credit: Shipt x Visa/Getty Images



At the start of the NFL season, Smirnoff raised a glass to the launch of the “Smirnoff Heads or Cocktails: The Ultimate Coin Toss,” a digital campaign that took place throughout week one of the season’s gameplay. Fans were encouraged to enter the contest for an opportunity to win cocktails on game day if the pre-game coin toss landed on cock“TAILS,” with winners scoring $500 to “upgrade their game days” for the entire 2023-24 NFL season.

To bring the program to life IRL, Smirnoff tapped actor and comedian Anthony Anderson and former NFL tight end Vernon Davis, who hosted an interactive, 21-story digital coin toss in New York’s Times Square on Sept. 6. Consumers in the area could pose for a branded photo op and interact with the brand’s “No. 21” coin for a shot at landing on cock“tails” and winning prizes. (Agencies: NVE Experience Agency, event agency; Taylor Strategy, p.r.)

Photo credit: Smirnoff/Getty Images

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
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