November 15, 2012

Sports sponsorship, what’s in it for me?

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Within the sponsorship industry, it is generally accepted that best practice brands, rights holders or agencies are working within a so-called ‘Fourth Era/Generation of Sponsorship’. Whether this is seen as the “social era”[1] or “last generation”[2] experts agree that the key to a successful sponsorship is about connecting with fans on an emotional level in a way that is beneficial to sponsors, rights holders and most importantly, the fans.

So why is it that so many sponsors still focus on media values or awareness when it comes to the end of year review? These often ambiguous numbers may keep the C-Suite happy but what does it all mean to the most important person of all – the fan.  Aren’t they the real reason brands are involved with sponsorship in the first place?

Sports fans are a hardy bunch, watching their sporting heroes through rain and shine, they sneak out of important engagements just to flick on the TV and catch a quick glimpse at the score. They are passionate and they are engaged, but how much attention do they really pay to the vast array of logos that are splattered around the ground or on their TV screen?

While most now accept that corporate sponsorship is part and parcel of professional sports (even the previously ‘sacred’ All Blacks have welcomed AIG on board as a jersey sponsor) it is often seen as an interruption to the enjoyment of their sports experience. In turn, this simply results in a cluttered environment with a plethora of brands sitting patiently on the sidelines hoping for fans to notice them.

Sponsorship can and should be so much more.

Brands enter into a sponsorship agreement with an event, team or individual in order to leverage the association between the sporting entity and fans. Unfortunately the rights they receive are more often than not taken from a cookie cutter package, which differs minimally between sponsors. While logo placement on an advertising board or press conference backdrop may create brand awareness and media value, this doesn’t automatically translate into changes in brand perception or consumer behaviours. As a result, the onus is on the individual sponsor to stand out from the clutter – but how?

To have true impact as a sponsor is to take a fan-centric approach by demonstrating that you understand the fans of the event, team or individual you are sponsoring. Red Bull is commonly cited as a leader in this area staying true to the brand while delivering unique experiences to consumers through the creation of memorable standalone events – Felix Baumgartner anyone? Demonstrating this understanding and acting upon it to enhance the fan experience doesn’t have to be ‘Felix’ complex, it can be simple but it must be impactful!  Case in point is the recent example of the Atlanta Hawks paying toll booth charges for their fans ahead of the current NBA season.

Sponsorship provides the opportunity for brands to engage with consumers like no other marketing medium. But in order to do so effectively, brands must collaborate fully with all stakeholders both internally and externally. It is in the best interests of sponsors to work closely with rights holders in order to maximise every aspect of a sponsorship.  From a rights holder perspective, brands that are eager to take their sponsorship beyond a logo are a dream come true. By creating a truly collaborative environment where both parties understand and appreciate the value of their fans, they can work together to deliver the ultimate fan experience.

On paper it all sounds so easy but with today’s generation of fans being increasingly brand savvy, sponsors must be relevant and memorable in order to stand out and cut through the multiple brand offers fans receive on a daily basis. Brands could do worse than putting themselves in the shoes of a fan and thinking…“What’s in it for me?”

[2] Kim Skildum-Reid, Power Sponsorship Last Generation Sponsorship


  1. Luke

    This is what sports sponsorship/leveraging should be more like!

  2. Paul Robson

    Excellent article, Glenn! Really enjoyed reading this and relating to to my teams!

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