How to Harness the Power of Sport in Marketing Year-Round

kids playing soccer

By Jacqueline Bourke, Head of Creative Insights for EMEA at iStock

Across all industries, sport is a powerful and emotive means for businesses to better connect with consumers. Over the next few weeks, fans around the world will be gathering in front of their TVs to watch the Olympic and Paralympic Winer Games Beijing 2022 to cheer on their countries and athletes.

There is a unique opportunity for marketers and businesses of all sizes to connect with their customers and drive greater engagement during this time and beyond, as sport is a topic that resonates with so many – whether you’re watching, participating or attending events.

According to Visual GPS, an iStock research initiative, consumers across the globe are interested in deeper visual representation when it comes to sports, with 79% of people agreeing that sports should be accessible to everyone. The research also reveals that the emotional well-being that sports offer is more compelling than the physical benefits, with 78% of people agreeing that engaging with sports is good for one’s mental health.

Using the insights from our iStock research, we’ve identified five tips to help businesses effectively capitalize on the power of sport to connect with customers on a deeper level. These tips are key to helping elevate conversations and stories around mental health, wellbeing and inclusion in sport within marketing year-round:

Focus on the Positives: Sports empower people to focus on physical pursuits that benefit their mental and physical health. iStock’s Visual GPS data reveals that 46% of people consider sports as a stress reliever, while 38% believe they help their mental wellbeing. Marketing campaigns centered around sport and fitness can improve effectiveness by capturing this sentiment.

When selecting visuals, consider showing athletes relishing time with teammates, the rewards and joy of training, and the gratification of completing a strenuous activity. Ultimately, these depictions will promote sports as a healthy outlet, both mentally and physically.

Don’t Shy Away From Mental Health: While elite sports traditionally depict physical triumphs, there’s room to showcase mental health victories, as well. 68% percent of people now agree that athletes and sports leagues should openly discuss mental health, while 61% agree that improved mental health is the biggest benefit of playing sports. By incorporating more authentic, accurate images that represent the nuances of mental health in sports, this will inspire these conversations more frequently. Businesses have the power to support and cultivate empathy among fans and athletes in their marketing strategies, so be sure to take a mindful and respectful approach when showcasing these moments to avoid overstepping personal boundaries.

Showcase Inclusion at All Levels: iStock research reveals that almost a third of people (31%) want to see everyday people like themselves represented in sports. Along with, people of different ages (36%), genders (33%), physical disabilities (28%), all body types (27%) and people from different backgrounds (26%), all as essential factors to visualizing inclusive sport. With visuals typically dominated by muscles and tone, consumers prefer to see a range of skill levels and body types included in sport and fitness visuals.

Focus on Accessibility to All: Another important factor inspiring inclusion in sport lies within visualizing where and how sport is accessible. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgency of sports and fitness accessibility for all. Throughout this time, finding opportunities to make the everyday world a gym has been key to appealing more broadly to consumers impacted by the pandemic in different ways – whether that’s been finding space in their living rooms, backyards, parks or community groups to work out. When choosing imagery, videos or illustrations for your marketing campaigns, consider taking a more thoughtful, proactive approach to better engage customers more authentically and effectively during these times.

Depict Female Athletes as Strong and Relatable: While we’ve seen strides around gender equality in sports, a significant gap still remains. 72% of people noted a desire to see female athletes portrayed in an authentic way that focuses on their skill and athleticism, rather than their beauty, glamour or sex appeal. There is a tremendous opportunity for businesses and marketers to feature women engaged and succeeding in team and individual sports. Sharing visuals of this nature will put forth an accurate portrayal of female athletes, showcasing their power, strength and vulnerability, while also inspiring current audience members and the next generation of female athletes.

To find more sport and wellness-related imagery and videos, visit

Photo by Johnny Greig

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