You’re sitting in Madison Square Garden, palms sweating, only a few minutes left before the game ends. Thousands of people are gripping their seats, holding their breath and following the ball’s hypnotic dance. The ball lands in LeBron’s hands and ten seconds before the buzzer goes off, the ball successfully makes its way inside the hoop. He shoots, he scores! The entire stadium is standing on its feet roaring with excitement. The sensation felt inside the stadium is contagious like no other.

LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are just a few examples of larger than life individuals who have become common household names, forever changing the face of sports. Children and adults alike look up to them in admiration and wonder, hoping for the day to see their role model in action. Professional athletes have transformed the way sports are marketed and distributed by personifying the sport and the game. Going to a game is no longer only about the sport itself, but supporting your favorite team and players through the good and the bad.

It goes without saying that the sports industry is one of the fastest growing and largest industries in the United States estimated to reach revenue of $67.7 billion by 2017. Millions of people across the country actively follow, engage or play a sport. Today there is an infinite number of sports widely accessible for all to play; long gone are the days of playing baseball with a homemade bat or ball. From a young age kids are brought into the world of sports through activities played either in school or at home, successfully introducing them to life long commitment and fandom. Never underestimate a fan, regardless of their age.

Considering that the Sports industry is the mega giant that it is, it comes then as no surprise that marketers have been scratching their heads trying to come up with new and engaging ways to connect with fans. This is where experiential marketing comes into play; after all, this is the essence of experiential marketing – to connect with consumers and create immersive experiences.

So, how do sports teams incorporate this strategy into their overall game? Easy, you put fans in the court. Take basketball; at most games one lucky fan is selected for the opportunity at the half-court shot and a grand prize. Many fans, young and old, enter the contest with big dreams of landing the million dollar shot. This may not be Space Jam but fans are definitely in for a treat.

Experiences are both memorable and enjoyable for the consumer, often resulting in positive associations that endure extended periods of time. What better way then to combine America’s love affair with sports than with experiential marketing? Sports are meant to be lived and experienced, there’s no better feeling than cheering for your favorite team live. And what better way than to incorporate fans into your experiential strategy? Live games means live interaction. From meet-and-greets with your favorite team to fan contests, sports and experiential marketing have formed an unbreakable bond that take fandom to the next level.

Today, sports have evolved and are profiting from star players, stadiums and active wear brands. Iconic stadiums have eclipsed teams and games, symbolizing fan mecca and historical landmarks for many. Athletic brands have taken over the sports landscape and set standards for the game. These brands complete the fan experience by providing active wear and equipment required to take on the game. Brands such as Nike and Under Armour remain on top by incorporating experiential aspects to their marketing strategies. During Super Bowl week you can participate in the fan challenge at your local Niketown store where consumers take part in special training and obstacle courses. Additionally, Nike has successfully introduced the Run Club, which gathers running aficionados across the country and organizes runs for all levels with the assistance of expert coaches. New Balance has taken note and hosts a Girls Night Out, a new kind of “night on the town” to help active, social women connect with each other and achieve their personal fitness goals.

There’s no doubting that when consumers experience these types of events they develop a stronger connection with the brand and in return, create positive associations. Long lasting relationships are born from fan interaction and personal experience. It’s tough out there – more and more brands are trying to make way for themselves and into fans hearts – but only the fittest survive.

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