In extreme sports today the most visible sponsor, a sponsor nearly synonymous with the sport itself, is Red Bull.
Red Bull is an energy drink and its association with extreme sports has given it a very "cool" image in the eyes of young people. The brand's influence in extreme sports includes windsurfing, cliff diving, rock-climbing, Formula One, and even its own Air Racing series which has taken the world by storm.
Obviously, association with sports is not a new phenomenon. Coca Cola started sports sponsorships in 1928 by being the first ever sponsor of that year's Olympic Games in Amsterdam.
Coca Cola then went onto sponsor FIFA events like the World Cup, and other sporting leagues like the MLB, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, individual NASCAR races, and a whole host of other sporting-related events.
Coca Cola's sponsorship in sports, as well as its unique advertising campaigns around the world in which the ad that is shown in America is shown ubiquitously, has made it a brand found virtually everywhere.
So what has made Red Bull gain more influence in the sporting scene?
From what I've seen, the fact that they've stuck to a certain niche—extreme sports—has given the Red Bull brand a greater association with the interesting and exciting side of things. And this is something that young people tend to gravitate toward.
Furthermore, young people are shown doing things that usually aren’t covered by sports programs. Those people, the extreme athletes, are not well known, and thus the average person can relate to them more so than a big sports star.
One drink democratizes a niche that isn’t known, and by talking and acting youthfully, it accesses a huge market—both for nostalgic means for the elderly, and for the market that is Red Bull's target: the 18 to 34-year-old crowd.
Many will argue that they are the main sponsors of soccer and hockey teams in both the US and Austria, but these appear to be smaller and rather isolated.
Another aspect is the culture from which Red Bull originates. Red Bull is Austrian, and that country is known for great skiing as well as extreme sports that are being sponsored by the drinks company today like hang-gliding.
Finally, they make their presence known. When at the Red Bull Air Race in Detroit, Red Bull went out of their way by having their brand absolutely everywhere. If you look at the other sponsors that were present, the main ones that I could see were Audi and Breitling.
Everything else was overshadowed by Red Bull. Models were handing out free cans of the drink, and wherever there was something about the Air Race, Red Bull ensured that their name and brand were out there.
When a sporting event over which Red Bull has influence takes place, they make themselves known.
Of course, this couldn't have been done by small sponsorships at the beginning, which evolved into much larger sponsorships and eventually starting up their own sports series. It is a different method of advertising and it shows in sales and the acquisition of a very huge market.