Brand Strategy

Inside Rakuten’s sports marketing playbook

The shopping platform has bet big on sports marketing, with a multi-year partnership with the Warriors and two Super Bowl ads in recent years.
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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

· 5 min read

Rakuten has been something of a good luck charm for the Golden State Warriors…or maybe it’s the other way around.

Since the cashback company became the official jersey badge partner of the NBA team in 2017, the Warriors have won two championships, although they already had five under their belt before then. Rakuten, on the other hand, was significantly less well known in the US then than it is now, according to CMO Dana Marineau, with brand awareness growing from 23% in 2017 to 63% as of this year.

“I obviously cannot say it is the Warriors [sponsorship] that solely has skyrocketed our brand awareness,” Marineau told Marketing Brew. “Of course there are other things we have in market—there’s other advertising, the Super Bowl—but you cannot discredit how amazing that kind of awareness is, on a championship team.”

After Rakuten, a Japanese company, acquired Ebates in 2014, it ran into a problem: No one in the US had heard of Rakuten before, Marineau said. In the years since, the company figured out that sports marketing was part of the solution.

The Barça effect

In 2016, Rakuten and FC Barcelona announced a deal that would keep Rakuten’s name on Barça jerseys for the next five years. According to Marineau, it set the stage for Rakuten’s sports work in the US.

“It was the foundation of how we knew, here in the US, of the power and the influence of sports marketing, and particularly team partnership and team sponsorship,” she said. “That is how we knew that it would work.”

The 2017–18 season was the first during which the NBA allowed jersey sponsorships, and Rakuten was one of the first brands to capitalize, signing a deal with the Warriors that was reportedly worth $20 million a year. Rakuten renewed the deal in 2021, then again last year. With its US headquarters in the Bay Area, the Warriors were a natural pick, Marineau said, and it didn’t hurt that the team had just won a championship.

Half of Warriors fans said they were more likely to consider Rakuten because of the partnership, according to MarketCast data Marineau shared with Marketing Brew. Additional data that Rakuten commissioned from sports marketing and management firm Wasserman based on the 2021–22 Warriors season showed that 64% of fans agreed that the partnership improved their perception of Rakuten.

Marineau said the biggest indication of success, however, comes from Rakuten member surveys: When Rakuten asks how they heard of the company, the most common answer is via a friend, then an ad, then the Warriors jerseys.


After six seasons on the jerseys, plus a separate brand ambassador deal with Stephen Curry, it’s no surprise that fans are at least familiar with the name Rakuten. But do they know what the company does? Teaching them is Rakuten’s next step, Marineau said.

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“We transition from brand awareness, and credibility, and trust, and gaining those things, to now educating,” she said. “Now we have a different challenge.”

The Warriors are part of this next phase, too. The partnership has always included signs in and around the team’s arena, but lately, the brand has  been more focused on sharing information about Rakuten as opposed to just driving awareness by displaying the logo, according to Marineau.

Rakuten also serves as the presenting partner of the “Rakuten Runway,” where players show off what they are wearing when they arrive on game days and “how you can buy it and save on Rakuten,” Marineau said. The brand is running 30-second ads against “every single local broadcast” of a Warriors game, in addition to some spots during nationally televised games, to help educate viewers as well. The company didn’t share details about its marketing budget or how much is dedicated to sports.


There’s no talking about Rakuten’s sports marketing without mentioning its star-studded Super Bowl ads. This year’s saw Alicia Silverstone reprising her iconic role as Cher Horowitz from Clueless, and last year’s featured Ted Lasso’s Hannah Waddingham.

Super Bowl spots are among the most sought-after (and expensive) inventory in advertising, so Marineau said it took “a lot of work” to make the business case to buy one the first time around. Ultimately, Rakuten leadership went for it to address a “lack of informed awareness” around the brand, she said.

Super Bowl spots can be tricky when it comes to tracking ROI, though views on social platforms help paint the picture, as does press coverage. The Clueless campaign saw about 600 news stories, with more than half of the outlets that covered it having never written about Rakuten before, Marineau said.

“That alone is worth it,” she said, explaining that “of course you’re going to see app downloads higher than a normal Sunday, and search volume higher than a normal day…but the power of the Super Bowl actually is the halo effect for the rest of the year.”

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