Sports Sponsorships: Trying To Predict The Ups And Downs

With the fall sports season in full swing -- and all the upsets flying around -- I often wonder what it's like for a brand CMO who has made a big investment in a sports property.  For these marketing pros, so much is out of your control that betting on a sports property is a bit like picking stocks or making investments in early stage startups.  All you can do is think about your brand, your target customer, and your budget -- and hope that the sports gods are with you as your investment plays out season after season.

So which CMOs might be feeling great right now -- and who might be hoping for a turn of events over the next few months?

Well, starting with this past Saturday at midnight ET, hockey fans officially began coming to grips with the reality that there may be no action on the ice in 2012-13.  With last season's Stanley Cup story etched by the LA Kings, the sport feels like it has finally made it all the way back from the loss of the 2004-05 season. But if you're an official sponsor of the NHL, a local sponsor of a team, or even a local business in a local market that relies on a season, you're probably feeling a little stressed.

On the other hand, marketers that are jumping on the soccer bandwagon may be doing so with the sport having much upside ahead.  First, the MLS craze that is sweeping through the Pacific Northwest just might spread throughout the league -- making an investment in U.S. based soccer payoff for brands, particularly those who don't have the budget for top tier properties. 

Beyond the MLS, the wave that seems to really be washing ashore in the U.S. is global soccer, most notably the investments being made to bring English Premier League games to American TV screens.  We may finally be seeing the uptick in adult soccer interest in the U.S. that many have been predicting since the surge of youth soccer leagues began in the 1970s.

Now what if you're a college football sponsor?  Well, USC’s loss to Stanford might have dinged you up a little.  Why should sponsors care about a Pac-12 game?  Well, as a national sponsor, you want the championship of college football to extend beyond the SEC.  With USC back in the picture, we had the specter of a truly "national championship" ahead of us in Alabama vs. USC. 

But until we get to the playoffs, USC has most likely lost their shot at the BCS title game and those marketers behind big-time college football sponsors may have lost a few return-on-investment points in their bet on college football, now that we have another Alabama vs. LSU rematch waiting in the wings.

And what about NFL sponsors after Week 2?  What’s not to like? 

The league has great parity, which puts just about every corner of the U.S. in what a marketer might call “high interest” mode.  The story lines and drama from rookies RGIII and Luck, to Manning’s return (good to see him back in just about every TV commercial) and the questions coming out of NYC  and New Orleans mean that just about every marketing dollar spent around the Shield ends up leaving a lasting mark on fans.  At this point, there aren’t too many reasons why a CMO would lose sleep around the trend line the NFL is on right now.  Heck, even a Cardinals vs. Bengals Super Bowl would turn into marketing gold.

So what about baseball?  The new wildcard format has revved up additional markets and brought in markets like Baltimore and the non-SF part of the Bay Area to the party.  The league has great player stories like Trout in LA and Harper in D.C. to lead out front with as well.  And there’s the undeniable connection that the game has with families –- this aspect is hard to find in other sports and draws sponsors that want to deliver a marketing message to the family audience.

But of all the places for a marketer to be in sports these days, perhaps the most intriguing just might be the NBA.  With King James now a NBA Champion and the groundswell in OKC and Los Angeles –- not to mention the unbelievable star power we’ll see this season coming out of two New York City boroughs -– the NBA might be in the midst of its next great era. (The last two being the Magic-Bird and Jordan eras.)

No league combines an on court product with an off-court interest level like the NBA.  The marriage of sports and entertainment is very attractive to brand marketers and those CMOs who have already made the NBA investment should see good upside for years to come.

The bottom line for sports marketers is that you need to do your homework in what sports properties you invest by paying attention to which sports are on the upswing, and which sports may have bumps in their respective roads ahead.  However, no matter how hard a marketer tries, every sports marketer needs a little serendipity, too.  You need to hit it like the sports drink FRS and connect with Tim Tebow ahead of last year's Tebow-mania or be a Barclay's when both English professional soccer is on the rise in the U.S. and the NBA's Nets open their inaugural season in your arena in Brooklyn.

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2 comments about "Sports Sponsorships: Trying To Predict The Ups And Downs ".
  1. brian wilhite from Virtual Fan Network , September 18, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
    A provocative post and a topic that inspired me to launch the Virtual Fan Network. The VFN helps solve for this dilemma for brands. Traditional endorsement and licensing deals have their benefits and risks. Most of corporate america can not make these bets. The VFN unlocks the digital sports marketing industry for those brands that are risk averse, but desire to reach the sports audience. The Virtual Fan Network is a turnkey monetization platform for sports.
  2. Troy Turner from Fans United Against ABC , September 20, 2012 at 8:33 p.m.
    Oh boy-yet ANOTHER article trying to convince the general public that we're "about to see interest in American soccer". While MLS has guttily survived for 17 years, it's still a second-tier league, and NOTHING will ever change that perception. Conversly, the reason that the EPL, UEFA, etc have carved the niche that they have here in the US is because it can be reasonably argued that these are the BEST athletes in their sport competing. Savvy consumers and marketers know the difference...