They are unregulated by the FDA, claim to be safer than the regular brands, are environmentally friendly, have started to sign u celebrity endorsers and have the large budgets for marketing that could all be part of a new category on the rise, especially amongst a younger demo. So will E-cigarettes find their way into the sports sponsorship mix?
With endorsement deals that include Jenny McCarthy and Courtney Love, photos with Leonardo DiCaprio and Charlie Sheen and flavors like chocolate and “cherry crush,” and a wide ranging radio campaign and print and digital to match, e-cigs are definitely becoming a tempting play for media salespeople starved for new revenue sources. Online gambling is still in the distance, some hard liquor is still questionable, condoms have not yet taken ahold in the sports and action space, so e-cigs could fill the massive void of vices that are not yet regulated. Smokeless tobacco still has its spot in some fight sports and other places, so the e-cig route could be a natural.
Now for sure the top American sports leagues, and probably circuits like golf and tennis, are going to take a long hard look at e-cigs before taking the money that is growing in the sponsorship pool. Recent reports have also shown E-cigarette use has doubled among middle- and high-school kids — and experts fear the devices are creating a new generation of smokers rather than helping people kick the habit. Factor in that ten percent of US high-schoolers admitted having tried e-cigs last year, up from 4.7 percent in 2011, according to a survey by the National Youth Tobacco Survey, and the number of middle-school students who tried them also doubled, rising from 1.4 percent in 2011 to 2.7 percent last year.
Even with the team market probably off limits for now, fight sports, maybe even auto racing could embrace the big dollars of the e-cigarette market, one which appeals to a less traditional and sometimes a bit edgier marketplace. While the UFC or Bellator might not let e-cigs in the cage, there is room for on-site offers and other promotions that could be tied to athletes, much like they are now tied to a rising list of celebrities. And while athletes have shunned, or been forced to shun, direct endorsements of tobacco products for years, that has not stopped athletes and celebs from cigar ads and promotions, and e-cigs could fall into that slightly less addictive area where cigars reside to this day. There also remains a huge global event audience, which could draw eyeballs in the plethora of broadcast offerings now out there, where e-cig promotions could also pop up. Formula 1 could also be a natural for the new devices which are growing in popularity.
So while we won’t suddenly see e-cig promotions in the manner of Joe Camel or The Marlboro man tied to game promotions or signage for the foreseeable future, the lucrative e-cig market will test the waters to see what the response will be from sports business partners always looking for acceptable marketing dollars. Those producers’ pockets are deep and creative, and with some celebs now on board, the push to ask athletes will not be very far behind.