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The Top 25 Sports Advertising Campaigns of All-Time

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The Top 25 Sports Advertising Campaigns of All-Time

25. Converse: Larry "Grandmama" Johnson

Few things are TV gold. Animals doing people things, bad dancing or singing and old people doing crazy things are a few. Well, Converse capitalized on Larry Johnson’s famous nickname by dressing him up as an old lady and allowing him to dominate on the basketball court.

24. Aflac: Yogi Berra

Aflac Insurance combined two of the great characters of all-time when the great Yoggi Berra and the Aflac duck got together to make commercials. In his traditional Yogi style, the old-timer delivers one-liner after one-liner while the duck quacks away. Berra's simple delivery and style make him one of the all-time great pitch-men. Pun intended.

23. Dick's Sporting Goods: Nike Baseball

Dick's Sporting Goods partnered with Nike to sell performance cleats and apparel for baseball players. Ken Griffey Jr. — aka, Swingman — David Wright and others joined the party. However, Jimmy Rollins' commercial was the best of the bunch. He takes fastballs off the chest at close range and appears to love it. Rollins did a pretty good acting job in this one and it make the commercial.

22. Campbell's Chunky Soup

The campaign started back in 1997 when Reggie White’s mom (played by an actress) snuck onto the field dressed as a cheerleader to make sure her boy had eaten a good pregame meal. The campaign helped Chunky double their revenue from 1997 to 2002 and featured NFL players like Jerome Bettis, Donovan McNabb, LaDanian Tomlinson and Demarcus Ware. and now Victor Cruz. It even spawned a Saturday Night Live parody (Chunky Soup Curse). After being suspended from 2008, the campaign returned this fall with Giants wide receiver as the new frontman. 

21. Budweiser: True Leon

Whether it’s Leon blaming his team for his four fumbles or telling Joe Buck he should stick with radio, Budweiser hit a home run with its “Leon” campaign. Talking in third person, telling Joe Buck he should stick with radio, complaining about a $30 million salary or coming out of the game because of a bruised psyche, Leon reminds us of what the consummate teammate looks like. My personal favorite? “It may even be your fault, Chuck.”

Budweiser True • Leon Fault 2003 - Celebrity bloopers here

20. ESPN: Gameday

The writers for ESPN have long been some of the best in the business and the internal promotion for signature shows like College Gameday are amongst the best campaigns in the business. They incorporate mascots, coaches, historic traditions and more to get fans excited about their marquee Saturday morning preview show. Generally, they have centered around Lee Corso’s corkiness — e.g., eating a bowl of grass, trying to earn helmet stickers from Jimbo Fisher or belly-flopping off the high dive. What makes these great is the writing. Puddles the Duck wearing a Corso head, for example, or Nick Saban and Mack Brown playing jenga is downright hilarious (especially, when Saban throws the blocks at Chris Fowler).

19. ESPN: NBA Road Trip RV

Much like College Gameday or This is Sportscenter campaigns, this is more of an internal market device than true ad campaign. But brilliant writing, big names stars and a road trip motif took the creativity of the Sportscenter campaign to specifically promote the NBA coverage on the four-letter network. The most recent of which (shown here) is one of the funniest.

18. NIKE: Most Valuable Puppets

In a spin off of Lil Penny, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant saw their likenesses portrayed by trouble-making and often hilarious puppets. The two M.V. Puppets play a friendly game of one-on-one, LeBron goes nuts with some chalk or Kobe teaches LeBron about his unstoppable-ness. They also babysit the neighbor Lil Dez. “Hey, Lebron, you got over 20 triple-doubles, can I have one?” With more than a dozen hilarious puppets commercials, the MVPs lands on the top ten easily. And if it weren’t for Lil Penny being first, this campaign might be higher.

17. MLB The Show


There have been years of excellent MLB The Show advertisements. Albert Pujols hitting anything back in 2006 comes to mind (even a hotdog). Every year, the video game makers take it to another level. But Playstation outdid even themselves when they showed what can happen to one city when you win a championship (even if it is just online).

16. MLB 2K



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Much like The Show, MLB 2K has been brilliant in its ability to use players in great ad campaigns. Years of Joe Mauer, Brian Wilson and Nelson Cruz have made this yearly campaign one of the best on television. The 2010 reel featured a "Pitchers vs. Hitters" theme with Andrew Bailey and Nelson Cruz delivering one of the best.

15. Mastercard: Peyton Manning

Mastercard’s Priceless campaign was more than a sports idea when it began, but it launched into advertising immortality when Peyton Manning signed on as lead pitchman. “Cut that Meat” is one of the great lines in sports commercial history. The campaign was so successful that it morphed into Peyton’s Priceless Pep Talks, in which he, for example, urges minivan owners to “take that baby out and paint some flames on it.”

14. Nike: Lil' Penny

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“You guys remind me of my closet. I got one Penny and a bunch of loafers.” Chris Rock was brilliant as the voice of Lil’ Penny, a puppet lookalike of NIKE hoops star Penny Hardaway. In the locker room before games, on the couch with his boys, floating in the pool, dreaming about Tyra Banks or hosting his celebrity golf tournament (The Lil’ Penny Classic) with Michael Jordan are just a few situations L.P. finds himself.  

13. McDonald's: H.O.R.S.E.

Larry Bird is standing on an empty court in an empty gym dribbling a basketball when Michael Jordan walks in with a bag of McDonald’s. The two super stars then proceed to play horse — in dozens of ads and locations — for the Big Mac. The campaign debuted in 1993 and the original was remade in 2010. 

12. Powerade: Very Real Power

Unbelievable acts of human athletic accomplishment is what Powerade was going for when it combined all of its favorite sports into this entertaining campaign. Michael Vick throwing a football hundreds of yards or Lebron James dropping in 90-footers like lay-ups are just two examples of ingenious videography. It also involved tennies, surfing and other sports as well.

11. Reebok: Dan vs. Dave

Heading into the 1992 Olympics, Reebok tried to keep up with brand competitor Nike by hyping Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson as a "Clash of the Titans." Reebok had the world convinced that these two athletes were battling for "the title of world's greatest athlete." The $25 million campaign was one of the most memorable in the history of sports despite the monumental letdown in Barcelona that summer.

10. Go Daddy: Danica Patrick

This campaign is an all-encompassing, free for all with arguably the most high profile race car driver of this era. Dale Earnhardt Jr is the sports most popular but Danica Patrick has turned into a marketing behemoth. She isn't powerful because of her driving talent, however, as she has yet to accomplish anything but one Indy Car win in 2008. But she is a pioneer for women in a man's sport and also happens to be incredibly sexy in a bikini. Years of commercials have been produced taking advantage her sex appeal.

9. Under Armour: We Must Protect This House

The apparel business is saturated to the brim. Nike, adidas, Champion, Russell, Reebok, New Balance and more inundate fans with advertisements of all sizes, shapes and colors. As a football player at Maryland, Kevin Plank was frustrated with his options of “under garments” while on the field. He eventually fine-tuned the technology of Under Armour and broke through when an ad in ESPN The Magazine led to big sales figures. In 2003, the company’s first TV ad featured its signature “We Must Protect This House” tagline that has permeated locker rooms, football fields and ad campaigns for the better part of the last decade. Under Armour has not only been a massive success at the cash register, but it actually changed the athletes’ experience on the field.

8. NIKE: Stanley the NFL Ref

In the mid-'90s, Nike hired Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Hoosiers) as its pitchman for its new football cleats. As a crazy referee named Stanley who is addicted to football, or as he calls it, “the ballet of bulldozers,” he proceeds to break into locker rooms, press boxes and practice fields to show the fans just how insane the game of football can be. He opines for Junior Seau’s footprint, a Christmas present from Deion Sanders, Hardy Nickerson’s nickname (which was El Dragon), Troy Aikman’s connection with Michael Irvin and warns us of “bad things, man” from Bruce Smith. The roles Hopper played in the mid-90s (Waterworld, Speed) likely helped him land the role of the whacky, strung-out referee.

7. Reebok: Terry Tate, Office Linebacker

Watching everyday people get pummeled by extraordinary athletes will always be advertising gold. But Reebok took it to another level when it debuted Terry Tate, Office Linebacker in Super Bowl XXXVII back in 2003. Bone-crushing form tackles have no business in the work place, but neither do empty coffee pots, long lunch breaks, incorrect cover sheets and ignoring recycling bins. Watching “the pain train” increase productivity by 47% at Felcher and Sons will never get old. Hiring an office linebacker was a highly unorthodox practice, but so was the ad campaign. Despite being wildly successful as entertainment, many believe Tate did little to raise awareness for the Reebok brand.

6. Gatorade: Be Like Mike

Right after the Bulls and Michael Jordan won the 1991 NBA title, Gatorade launched an ad campaign with one of the most famous taglines in ad history. “Be Like Mike” became household and playground lingo instantly and has lasted well after the specific campaign expired.

5. NIKE: Freestyle Hoops

One the coolest concepts in sports advertising history, the artistic, creative, street-savvy campaign featured upbeat music mixed with trick ball-handling skills and big name hoops stars. This collection of dance-basketball-hip-hop ads is one of the best all-around ideas Nike has ever had. How many kids on the playground tried bouncing a ball into their shirt and around their backs after this video? (I know I did.)

4. NFL Playoffs: Don Cheadle

From 2002 to 2005, actor Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Ocean’s Eleven) starred in some of the most eloquent and dramatic advertisements to ever grace a television screen. His mastery of the dramatic delivery combined with excellent writing makes this series of spectacular ads one of the best campaigns ever created. The hair on the back of my neck still stands up watching these and the impact the playoffs can have on our lives. Because of the playoffs, the impossible is now possible, more is expected out of kids named Joe, roman numerals have a pulse, five seconds of your time makes you a better person and how one foot can change history:

3. Just For Men

There is nothing better than two of the all-time greats as players and broadcasters combined with corny rhyming one-liners. Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Keith Hernandez were great players and are equally great pitch men and Just For Men took advantage. Not only does the product target an older audience more aware of the aging former athletes but the humorous campaign makes audiences of all ages fallout laughing.

2. ESPN: This Is SportsCenter

There are simply too many too count. Eli and Peyton Manning touring the ESPN compound? Tiger Woods gallery trotting through the office? How about David Ortiz putting on a Yankee hat? What about Albert Pujols, the Machine? Drew Brees' Mardi Gras float? Alex Ovechkin as a Russian spy? John Clayton's pony tail? Phil Mickleson's advice for anchors? How about Jimmy Rollins in the control room? Lance Armstrong powering the ESPN complex? The list goes on and on and on with mascots, gold medals, anchors, athletes, coaches, the lunch room and even Richard Simmons. The Anchors-Big Buddy version is just one of the dozens of hilarious spots.

1. Nike: Bo Knows


This campaign involved all sports including football, baseball, basketball and even hockey. But Bo Jackson and Nike’s “Bo Knows” campaign stemmed from his multiple sport prowess and career on both the diamond and gridiron. Every now and then a product, a pitch man and an era come together in perfect harmony and that is what happened when Nike was looking to promote its new cross training product. Who better than a cross-over athlete like Bo Jackson? The campaign blossomed into baseball cards, t-shirts, shoes and most importantly, a way of life on the field. This might be one of the greatest marketing/advertising campaigns in the history of capitalism.