Why Red Bull Treats Gamers Like Athletes

This is Gerhard Berger, the first athlete

that was sponsored by Red Bull in 1989.

Many more athletes, teams and events would

follow and helped to build one of the strongest

sports brands in the world that sells billions

of cans each year.

Red Bull has almost become synonymous with

extreme sports and is expanding rapidly in

traditional sports like football.

Everyone knows how they make money, at least

since some guys made a viral video about it.

But Red Bull’s sports marketing goes way

beyond Formula 1 and extreme sports:

This is David Walsh – the first eSports athlete

that Red Bull took under contract back in


While everyone is talking about the rise of

esports nowadays, Red Bull was once more ahead

of its time and placed a bet on eSports when

other brands were still figuring out how to

build a website.

And here’s how they did it.

Our first video about Red Bull’s business

model explained that almost all of their revenue

is still generated by selling the energy drink.

Although they invest heavily in professional

sport teams and athletes, most of that is

marketing spend and not creating any profits

in itself.

To understand the full scope of their eSports

strategy, let’s break down Red Bull’s marketing

approach with traditional sports.

Red Bull is famous for its unorthodox sporting


If a normal running event is too boring, how

about running up a ski-jump hill?

Or if you prefer going downhill, you could

join the crashed ice challenge and skate down

an ice track, vertical drops included.

Red Bull is very inventive when it comes to

creating new sporting events.

But they all have one thing in common: they

fit the brand image of taking things to the


Not less important for that brand image are

Red Bull’s sponsored athletes.

The company has over 800 athletes across over

90 sports under contract.

Famous examples: Blake Griffin, Max Verstappen

or Neymar.

Besides individual athletes, Red Bull has

increased its investment in sport teams in

recent years.

Most prominent in Formula 1, but they also

run Ice Hockey and Football teams.

Running professional sport teams also enables

Red Bull to offer substantial infrastructure

to their individual athletes, like massage

therapy or performance diagnostics.

To fully leverage their athletes, teams and

events, Red Bull creates high quality media

content in various formats.

And in contrast to other beverage brands,

Red Bull produces most of their content themselves.

They even run their own production called

the Red Bull Media House.

It is actually not only a production, but

a multi-platform media company.

That means they also own and manage the channels

to distribute their content.

For example the TV channel ServusTV and several

print magazines.

Not mentioning all the social media accounts

of Red Bull with millions of followers.

That marketing machinery of events, athletes,

teams, high quality content and media outlets

builds the foundation for Red Bull’s success.

And the company applies the same winning recipe

in Esports.

By signing David Walsh in 2006, Red Bull extended

their athlete portfolio to professional video

game players, which was an unprecedented step

for a major brand at that time.

They are now very well established in the

world of esports and have more than 30 athletes

across 10 disciplines on contract.

Pro gamers are now fully integrated into Red

Bull’s athlete programme and benefit from

best practices and insights that Red Bull

collected in other sports.

For example, the pro gamers train side by

side with professional athletes at the Red

Bull Athlete Performance Center near Salzburg,

where they get access to nutritionists, psychologists,

trainers and everything else they need to

professionalize their sport.

“The way Red Bull works with us is pretty

much the same as how they work with their

traditional athletes,” says Ryan Pessoa,

a professional Fifa player that signed with

Red Bull in 2018.

“Gaming professionally can be stressful

so it’s great to be able to focus on lifestyle

improvements that can help in and outside

of the game.”

Of course these benefits are not only enjoyed

by individual eSports pros, but also by clubs.

Red Bull used to be hesitant to officially

sponsor eSports teams, but changed their approach

when they signed Team SoloMid and Cloud9 in


The sponsorships were eventually discontinued

because Red Bull rather focused on their in

house eSports teams.

And of course in 2017 they officially signed

OG, the only team to ever be crowned World

Dota 2 Champions twice.

The team even has the red bull as part of

their logo, similar to the football clubs

RB Leipzig or New York Red Bulls.

But instead of competing in the Bundesliga

or Champions League, Red Bull’s eSports teams

can compete at Red Bull’s own eSports tournaments!

Also with events, the company stays true to

its approach from other sports and creates

extreme events that tend to be different.

For example Red Bull Kumite, a Street Fighter

tournament in a steel cage.

Or Red Bull Player One and Red Bull Guardians,

both creating new modes for League of Legends

and Dota 2 respectively.

Besides experimenting and creating new event

modes, Red Bull also hosts many grassroots

and amateur tournaments with heavy investments

and production values that are usually only

seen at major competitions.

Because eSports is still in its infancy, Red

Bull is able to have an even greater impact

than with traditional sports and shape the

leagues and events according to its sponsorship


All these investments over a long period show

that Red Bull is serious about their eSports


And it gives the brand a lot of authenticity

that is vital for successful sports marketing

in any sport.

“One of the reasons (…) Red Bull has had

so much success in eSports is that they came

into the scene before it was massive and they’ve

stayed,” says Pessoa.

“They’re invested in gaming in the same

way they’re invested in sport and I think

that’s great for eSports as a whole.”

A good example of how Red Bull pushes eSports

is when they bring together stars from other

sports to meet with their pro gamers, like

Pessoa playing Fifa 20 against Trent Alexander


This collaboration between gaming and sports

also merges the audiences and creates visibility

for esports among new demographics.

Although considering the rapid growth, Pro

Gaming might not even need that kind of support.

While the eSports boom is smashing viewership

records, the number of households with cable

TV has fallen.

With television and other traditional media

consumption at all time lows, gaming has been

steadily growing and reaching more and more


There aren’t just more people playing games,

but tons of people consuming the digital content

surrounding it on platforms like YouTube and


Brands taking a traditional approach to marketing

to millennials face additional complexities,

drawn from the fact that mobile devices have

put a limitless number of distractions into

the pockets of nearly everyone in the modern


Brand messages compete with the noise of push

notifications, live streams, and subreddits

that consumers engage with every day.

Meanwhile, gaming viewership has grown to

reach over 600 million viewers.

It is no wonder that brands like Red Bull

are investing in eSports to reach their core

target groups.

It could be argued that the Energy drink as

a product is actually a much better fit for

a Gamer than for athletes from traditional

sports, where physical fitness plays a more

important role.

The consumption of Red Bull doesn’t make

a lot of sense for endurance athletes for

instance, but for Gamers it might work in

some cases.

Again, authenticity is key in marketing.

And Red Bull managed to build a very authentic

positioning in the world of eSports by early

investments in grassroots events and consistency

in their partnerships.

They established themselves as a major player

with the same strategy they used in traditional

and extreme sports.

The company owns the whole content value chain

Pause and is therefore able to create and

control their brand image – and make us believe

that it gives us wings.

Whether while parachuting, skiing, or playing

video games.

But in the end, they still just sell cans.

We on the other hand don’t sell anything,

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