Game-Day Success: Sponsorships That Deliver

When you hear the term "sports sponsorship," does the first image that comes to mind resemble a hospitality tent at a golf event or your favorite athlete guzzling a sports drink?

Oftentimes, that's what some brands (and consumers to a degree) see as well because of what had been the blueprint approach for years. But what many of the more progressive, savvy marketers have understood is that sports sponsorships have evolved over the past decade into multifaceted, measureable, strategic vehicles to connect with consumers in a far more engaging fashion that move beyond tickets and signage. When you look at the communications plans of a majority of the brands that sit within the Fortune 100 list, you will find sponsorship, and in particular sports sponsorships, playing a critical role. This is by design.

With approximately 90% of today's global $40 billion sponsorship spend being allocated to sports partnerships, it's difficult to deny the significance of this channel in building long-term relationships and cutting through clutter to reach consumers.

As with any marketing tool though, proper insights, holistic planning and implementation rigor are required to maximize the results and ensure that a sponsorship is maximized and truly lives as part of the overall plan, not in a silo. By following a few guidelines like the ones below before venturing into this growing channel, you can be sure to deliver when it comes to the game of sports sponsorships.

1. Understand the brand and its challenges
Marketers should establish a role for a sports partnership that is a clear fit for the challenges faced by their brands. Basing these decisions upon personal interest or gut instinct often leads to waste. The partnership needs a strong commercial foundation with a full business case and built-in measurable objectives.

2. Involve the business
It's vital that all key stakeholders are involved from the start, enabling any strategy to be developed with the full support of the business. This will inevitably have a demonstrable and positive impact across the entire team.

3. Research is the foundation for powerful insights
Research and insight should play a fundamental role in all phases of the sports partnership process, feeding sponsorship strategy and property selection, fueling activation and evaluation. Consultation with the consumer should help shape the program. Testing is key.

4. Think three-dimensionally
Developing a structured strategic platform in conjunction with other parties (such as rights holders) can give a property real potency, especially within a cluttered territory. Think across more than one discipline, more than one channel and leverage every aspect of a property.

5. Invest well
However the economy is behaving, it's essential to ensure that there is sufficient budget allocated to bring a sports partnership to life and deliver on business goals. Investing also means longer-term thinking. Partnerships should not be treated as a quick fix for brand equity, awareness and sales.

6. Negotiate and plan together
Balancing negotiation and value well helps to establish exactly what the brand wants to gain from the property, which may not always be the most obvious route. Value takes into account factors such as market consideration, potential consumer engagement and financials.

7. Contractual balance
Brand-owners should work closely with rights holders to create a balanced contract. The closer they work, the more opportunity they have to create something mutually beneficial. Performance metrics play an essential role as well in assessing the real value of a property, impacting collaborative efforts of the brand owner and rights holder.

8. Innovate (but be relevant)
If brand-owner and rights holder are in close harmony, there will be a good chance to create an innovative partnership. But, more importantly, there's an even better chance to create one which is relevant to the brand, its consumers and the property.

9. Integrate, integrate and integrate
Integration is critical because it's about managing budget, structural, organizational and even agency challenges. It's essential to ensure that a property inspires the right reaction in consumers and delivers local relevance.

10. Look for a winning return
Mechanisms must be set for return on objectives and return on investment against the key communication and business objectives. A winning partnership can be a far more effective weapon in the battle to deliver genuine consumer engagement than many traditional campaigns.

As you might have figured out, creating effective sports partnerships is not a strict science, rather an approach that requires a willingness to be creative and an openness to share your brand equity with a partner and vice-versa to truly engrain your brand in the consumer's passion point. When implemented with involved players, proper research and strategic foresight, these properties can offer even more value and a greater return on investment than traditional marketing programs, especially in this changing economy where there is an unrelenting demand for efficiency and results.

2 comments about "Game-Day Success: Sponsorships That Deliver ".
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  1. Anne Rivers from BrandAsset Consulting, August 4, 2009 at 1:12 p.m.

    This is a great overview and I agree with all points. We work with several leagues/teams who use our data to set up and direct the relationship from the beginning- focusing on how each brand can help build the other.

    We also provide accountability, as we track both brands and users of both brands to see how much brand equity rub the sponsor is getting from the relationship.

    We have a panel of 17,000 US consumers who rate 3,500 on a quarterly basis, including nearly 100 sports brands. I would love to talk more about it to any one who is interested: or see if you want a peak at your brand.

  2. Monica Hahn from Hahn Solo, LLC, August 4, 2009 at 5:52 p.m.

    I agree with all Jon's points as well. I would add that to break through the clutter you need to create opportunities to engage fans in interacting with your brand in some way. Don't waste your money on a sponsorship that only involves hanging a sign. Points 1-3 above are really about determining what impression of your brand you want fans to walk away with. Then create engagement through points 8&9 that brings that to life.

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