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
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
Besides individual athletes, Red Bull has
increased its investment in sport teams in
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
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
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
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
The consumption of Red Bull doesn’t make
a lot of sense for endurance athletes for
instance, but for Gamers it might work in
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
But in the end, they still just sell cans.
We on the other hand don’t sell anything,
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