Branding and sport has made significant strides since Nike’s revolutionary endorsement of Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan sneaker first range appearing in stores in 1985.

UAE industry experts say it is evident that brands who link up with high profile athletes are more likely to see a return on their investment than using unknown actors.

Anwar Shaikh, Head of Business Development Mena at KHP Consulting in Abu Dhabi, said research shows that athletes had a positive effect on brand consumption.

“The day an endorsement is announced there tends to be an increase in sales and in company stocks,” Shaikh said.

KHP Consulting is a sports marketing and sponsorship agency headquartered in London with a Middle East office in Abu Dhabi.

Shaikh estimated a regional brand endorsement by an athlete to be worth as much as $2 million.

But there were a lot of variables to consider, he said, including the profile of the individual and length of endorsement.

Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo is the face of KFC Arabia featuring on several online platforms and outdoor advertisements.

Ronaldo’s endorsement of KFC Arabia has raised some eyebrows.

“The KFC endorsement is a weird deal because he’s promoting fast food,” said Max Roures, Area Manager Middle East of Spanish sports management firm Media Base Digital (MBD).

Fellow La Liga player Lionel Messi previously endorsed the brand.

But fast food brands offering healthier alternatives provide credibility to events or athletes who endorsed their products, Davis said.

KFC Arabia could not be reached for comment.

Mike Davis, Director of Fast Track Middle East, a sports and entertainment marketing agency based in Abu Dhabi, said it was all about how many products the company wanted to sell.

“From a brand’s point of view, you have to look at it in the context of the overall business and marketing objectives,” he said.

Davis said a campaign with an athlete was ultimately judged on sales.

“If you run a campaign over six months and you notice a spike in sales you can attribute the sales to the campaign,” Davis added.

Shaikh and Davis said that a successful promotion was largely judged on sales over the period of the campaign, but other indicators could be used.

Roures agreed and said that it wasn’t just the financial return but also how consumers were engaged throughout the campaign.

The consumer trust in a product or brand can increase by as much as 75 per cent, he said.

“Athletes are role models to millions around the world and can influence a consumer propensity to purchase in a positive way,” Davis said.

In 1998, Tiger Woods put his name to Electronic Arts video game Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the first time. With the 16th edition of the series hitting the shelves earlier this year, Forbes said the video game franchise had delivered $754 million in revenue in the US since the title was first released.

Social media has also given brands more platforms to engage with consumers and are easier to track, Roures said.

Media Base Digital previously launched a local giveaway promotion through social media that had 8,000 participants but reached a million consumers, Roures said.

Shaikh said sports marketing was still in its infancy in the region but was rapidly growing.

Colin Beaton, Managing Director of Dubai-based retail strategy and design firm Limelight Creative Services, said that overall sports marketing was a relatively new phenomenon.

Davis said that brands were becoming savvier on how they used athletes in regional promotional campaigns.

A lot of these campaigns use global superstars, Davis said. There isn’t a huge amount of local talent that can cut through multiple markets and demographics.

“Not a lot of brands see the benefit of promoting through local high profile individuals,” Davis said,

When asked about the propensity of athletes and sporting events to advertise fast food products, Shaikh said fast food brands were globally the highest spenders of sponsorship.

Shaikh said that sports need sponsorship and for the moment governments are unable to regulate the involvement of fast food brands.

Perhaps more pressure will come on these types of sponsorship and it will be more tightly regulated but they will always be an attraction, Davis said.

“Ultimately, fast food is here to stay. So why not allow a super brand to be there … they bring a lot to sport,” Davis said.