The Business Value Of Sports

It's interesting to me that marketers are cutting back on their investment in sports during this economic downturn. Putting aside some of the political elements that influence certain of those decisions, I can't understand why cutting one's investment in sports is a smarter choice than curtailing the use of other marketing elements, where the results are less tangible, less targeted, and providing lower ROI.

Ultimately, as marketers, what is it we're trying to do? Sell product to motivated, engaged customers might be one way to answer the question. For my money, the business value of sports lies in its unique ability to do just that. We can point to the common measures of value -- brand exposure, GRPs, and the like -- but to me those metrics don't fully reflect some of what makes sports unique.

Sports are about passion. Take a survey and ask for the three things most important to most people and you'll get "my family, my god, and my team" and probably not in that order. Sports fans are motivated and highly engaged -- just stand in front of the bar's TV if you don't believe me.

Sports are tribal. I don't know about you, but I haven't seen many folks wearing clothing from their favorite mutual fund or hedge fund manager even in good times. I do, however, see lots of teams, players, and leagues reflected in the clothing of fans. These people belong to a committed group of supporters whose membership in their tribe reaches across the boundaries of age, sex, race, economic status, and geography. Being a part of that tribe makes your brand familiar and desirable.

Investing in sports is about borrowing brand equity. It's based on fan attitudes about positive brand attributes and favorable consequences of brand use -- what enhances your relationship to the consumer and what brings you new consumers. If you can find a way to transfer or borrow some of the loyalty fans feel, you're in the open field heading for the house.

In my mind, this raises the biggest caveat about sports: Sponsors need to research the brand image and, in particular, the brand personality of the sports event which they are seeking to sponsor, but I don't know of a potential sports property that hasn't conducted careful research to provide that. It's sort of like dating -- there needs to be a basic compatibility if there is going to be a successful relationship, and you want that relationship to be accepted by your family.

As with any other platform, sports needs to justify its ROI. In the past, many folks assumed that the CEO was investing in golf because he played, but those days are long gone, and the industry has developed a good set of tools to measure every aspect of a sponsor's investment. In fact, many deals come with built-in reporting metrics agreed to by both parties. How easy are other marketing investments to measure?

Today, marketing is all about the conversation. What are your targets talking about? Sports, probably, and they're doing so both as fans and employees. The careful use of social tools to continue the engagement with the fans beyond the broadcast or stadium is a built-in bonus for companies marketing around a property. In my practice, I spend a fair amount of time working with clients to listen via these tools to fans in the vast virtual sports bar that is social media. If you are wondering how to strike up a conversation with a potential consumer, sports are a great icebreaker.

How do you look for value as you're assessing the marketing landscape? Have you found anything that you can slice, dice and mold into the perfect program as readily as sports? What else does the sports business need to do to grow its business value?

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2 comments about "The Business Value Of Sports ".
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  1. Kevin Hanft from Marketing Leverage LLC, July 7, 2009 at 1:11 p.m.

    Keith is spot on. When well done, sports and sponsorship are highly effective and efficient in reaching an audience. That means that clearly defined objectives are established with solid measurement criteria.

    However, there are several forces at play right now:

    - The economic conditions have caused marketers to shy away from anything perceived to be glamorous or provocative, regardless of the effectiveness and business returns.

    The political populism of TARP fund use and egregious spending has many playing it safe.

    - Too many sponsorships were poorly conceived, executed and not measured. These bad actors have led to the broad brush condemnation of the category.

    Hopefully stability will come soon and marketers can return to fundamentals and re-enter sports marketing without fear.

  2. Bill West from Comcast Spotlight, July 7, 2009 at 3:18 p.m.

    Whether developed as a closely coordinated sponsorship with a sports team/program or simply executing a plan featuring regular exposures during games/events, tying yourself to a followed team/program assures a solid marketing campaign. The nature of sports-- multiple events, seasons, tours, etc. allows for habitual frequency of exposure and a reasonable timeframe (several months or even years) to repetitively hone the relationship or action you desire of the followers of that team or program. At the least, make sure the message is relevant, thus sport personalities and/or themes in your message help. Finally, "Sports talk" may have been the original social media--- so be attentive to wherever the followers huddle outside of game time; on-line, on-air, print or even venue (this includes bars). These areas often all afford inexpensive ways to extend the message even if your initial investment in the team/program is not a (major) sponsorship. Best of all, the more "they" win, the more your brand will too!

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