May 19, 2022

Are coffee & sports partnerships becoming more popular?


The benefits of drinking coffee before exercise have been well-documented over the years by many healthcare professionals. But what about the wider relationship between sports and coffee?

Around the world, sports teams have partner with a range of brands seeking promotion. It’s believed that the global sports sponsorship industry alone will be worth US $89.60 billion by 2027. Some of the more notable partnerships over the years include Microsoft and the US’ National Football League (NFL) and the Olympics and Coca-Cola.

As part of this, we’re now seeing more and more coffee companies partnering with sports teams and athletes. Some prominent examples include Formula One’s multi-year partnership with Drive Coffee, Segafredo Zanetti sponsoring football club AC Milan, and Nespresso’s historic Ryder Cup partnership several years ago.

So why are these partnerships seemingly becoming more popular? I spoke with three industry professionals to explore this growing market. Read on to find out what they said.

You may also like our article on why themed coffees are becoming popular.

connect roasters nitro cold brew

A brief history of coffee and sports partnerships

According to Deloitte’s 2019 Sponsoring sports in today’s digital age report, sports sponsorships date back to the ancient Greek and Roman times.

“The high-social class would sponsor events such as the Olympics, gladiator fights, and chariot races,” the report states. “The objective of sponsors at that time was mostly to showcase a city’s reputation and standing.”

In more modern times, it’s now commonplace for brands to sponsor or partner with sports teams and athletes. These sponsorships are usually promoted in marketing and advertising campaigns in print, TV, and social media, among other forms.

Caleb Benoit is the founder of Connect Roasters in Chicago. Connect partnered with the US Major League Baseball (MLB) player Ian Happ in 2020 after he invested in the company to raise money for local communities during the pandemic.

“Coffee brands have been partnering with athletes for decades,” Caleb says. “US baseball player Joe DiMaggio endorsed the Mr. Coffee filter machine around 50 years ago.”

In 1983, DiMaggio appeared in a Mr. Coffee TV advertisement, where he brewed coffee using the machine. It was at this time that coffee marketing shifted to be more consumer-focused, so celebrity endorsements – particularly sports personalities – soon became more common in coffee product advertisements.

“Social media has made celebrities and athletes more accessible than ever before, so it’s easier for brands (big or small) to communicate with them,” Caleb says.

Ian Happ agrees that social media has made it easier for sports personalities to promote the products that they like.

“Today, more than ever, athletes have their own platforms,” he says. “They can develop followings through Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and podcasts, which are separate to their professional careers in sports.

“These platforms allow athletes to show their different interests, which can lend itself to wider brand partnerships.”

Joonas Reinikainen is the owner of Kahiwa Coffee Roasters in Finland. The company is co-owned by Mercedes-AMG Formula One Driver Valtteri Bottas.

He explains why more and more athletes are promoting and aligning with brands that are separate to their sports careers.

“Athletes are their own personal brands, but they are also looking to partner with other companies and brands,” he says. “Not only do these partnerships bring money to the table, but it’s also about personal interests and brand compatibility.”

valtteri bottas' helmet with kahiwa coffee

There are a number of reasons as to why more professional athletes are investing and partnering in coffee brands. Joonas believes that health is one of the main drivers.

“In the health and fitness industry, there is a big market for consumers who are looking for higher-quality, healthier beverages,” he says. “As a result of this, the sports industry can be a successful marketplace for specialty coffee.”

Coffee has a number of nutritional benefits, which is why it is consumed as part of a healthy lifestyle by many people around the world. Many of these benefits are linked to coffee’s high levels of antioxidants, which help to mitigate cell oxidation and damage.

In addition, because coffee has high levels of caffeine, many people consume coffee as a preworkout beverage.

“Within the coffee industry, there is a market for health and fitness, but also for high performance beverages,” Ian tells me. “If the professional athlete promotes coffee as a functional beverage, they can spread this idea to a wider audience than just specialty coffee consumers.”

What’s more, according to Joonas, the growing demand for high-quality functional beverages could create a viable market for health-focused specialty coffee beverages in the sports industry.

“Amateur and professional athletes often see functional beverages as fuel for their bodies,” he explains. “Flavours might not be one of their biggest considerations when it comes to these beverages, but with the complex and delicate flavours in specialty coffee, it could become more of an option for some.”

making pour over at connect roasters

Which factors should coffee companies consider?

For some coffee brands, a partnership with an influential sports figure or team could be highly successful. But for many smaller roasters, it can be a difficult task to take on new sponsors or partners. 

It’s important that the decision to sponsor or partner with another brand or individual – especially those who are not a part of the coffee sector – is made carefully and in the interests of both parties.

“The worst partnership for a brand is one that is not authentic and is distant,” Caleb tells me. “As the founder of a coffee company, I would ask a number of questions before agreeing to a partnership or sponsorship with a brand.

“Does this person (or team) like our product? Do they believe in the company’s mission and vision? Are they willing to get involved with the brand when necessary?”

For Connect Roasters, Caleb says that the partnership with Ian was an easy decision to make.

“For us, a partnership with Ian checked a lot of boxes,” he explains. “He loves coffee, he’s based in Chicago, he’s business-focused and strives for success, and he cares about giving back to the community, which is also a pillar of our company.”

Joonas tells me that the story behind Kahiwa Coffee’s sponsorship was similar to Connect’s.

“We weren’t looking for a partner for our brand, but two years ago I met Valtteri in our roastery when he was visiting our hometown Lahti, Finland,” he says. “Valtteri loves specialty coffee.

“Our shared passion for specialty coffee was the main catalyst for our partnership,” he adds. “Kahiwa’s story might be a little different to other coffee companies because it was not about marketing or boosting sales, but more about sharing our passion for coffee.”

valtteri bottas cupping coffee

The benefits of partnering with sports brands

For many coffee companies who sponsor or partner with athletes and sports teams, one of the most obvious benefits is to enter new markets and reach a wider audience.

Joonas tells me that Kahiwa has been able to enter new global markets to establish its brand even further.

“Through partnering with Valtteri, we naturally found new international markets and introduced more people to our international online store.”

He adds that consumers looking for more high-end products are more likely to be interested in specialty coffee.

“I often compare specialty coffee to wine,” he says. “The same as people who like different wines, people who are interested in specialty coffee are also interested in exploring new coffees and roasters from across the world.

“It’s not necessarily about remaining loyal to only one coffee brand, but exploring new and unique coffees. From this perspective I see significant value in partnering with figures or organisations who can help your brand reach a wider consumer base.”

Caleb agrees that Connect has also seen positive growth from their partnership with Ian.

“It has opened doors for us,” he tells me. “Our coffee is now served in the players’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field in Chicago. 

“Ian also introduced our brand to his fans, which has been a positive thing for our business. We’ve been able to do some fun initiatives as a result, like our coffee-themed subscription called the Home Run Club.”

So, what does the future hold for these kinds of partnerships? As coffee and sports brands are becoming more aligned in terms of their values, it’s likely we’ll see more and more athletes and teams starting their own coffee brands, as well as a rise in the number of sponsorships.

In October 2021, National Basketball Association player Jimmy Butler launched his own coffee company in partnership with Shopify. 

During the pandemic, Butler started selling US $20 cups of coffee to his NBA teammates, which resulted in the BIGFACE coffee brand officially launching the following year. BIGFACE then purchased more than 1,000lbs of the highest scoring coffee from the 2021 Cup of Excellence El Salvador auction.

connected roasters nitro cold brew

As more and more coffee companies partner with athletes and sports teams, it’s likely that higher-quality coffee will end up reaching a wider range of consumers around the world.

“Through these partnerships, specialty coffee is gradually seen as a more valued product by bigger global audiences,” Joonas concludes.

Whatever is driving growth in this sector – whether it’s a focus on health and fitness or to promote coffee as a functional beverage – these partnerships are sure to have an impact.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on the relationship between coffee and cycling.

Photo credits: Kahiwa Coffee Roasters, Connect Roasters

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