ROI was the theme of the Sports Sponsorship Symposium on Wednesday in New York. The opening panel on recalibration of sports sponsorships and event marketing put properties like MSG and NFL and brands like AT&T and Anheuser-Busch at the scrimmage line over how to measure effectiveness, and how properties and brands can make data work in a dialog.
The panelists agreed that this discussion would not have happened a decade ago, when both fans and marketers were flush and marketing goals were simply about awareness. Marketers and properties represented were relatively optimistic, however -- saying they will not spend less, but more tactically and more intensively.
"The bottom line is, how are you going to help me sell more beer through this sponsorship? It's a big difference from ten years ago," said Dan McHugh, VP, media, sponsorship and activation of Anheuser-Busch. "Sponsorships are not mile-wide now, but mile-deep. We are no longer buying properties just for brand image, but for activation." He said the company is now doubling digital spend against sports sponsorships to drive engagement and activation.
McHugh says the company is now also more focused on key properties while doing fewer category-exclusives. He says A-B has gone from about 84% category-exclusive deals with teams to 54% exclusive. "There used to be a time where you had to make sure the competition was on the sideline. We still do that in certain markets, but you can't be afraid to use marketing wherewithal now. If we do half-exclusive deals we will get out there and activate them."
Rich Lehrfeld, VP global sponsorship marketing at American Express, said the company has also shifted strategy from brand-building. "No longer can you take a bucket of dollars and throw them in a hundred different places; it's focusing on things that drive business," he said. "It's about insights. How do we really understand the person experiencing that sponsorship? How do we deliver value?"
Still, Mark Waller, CMO of the National Football League, said brand marketers need to be more open about delivering metrics on sponsorship activity. "Three years ago, we set up a sponsor-satisfaction survey looking at sponsors' individual goals and delivery of goals. But we found it hard to find similar reciprocation on clients' goals," he said. "The dialog has to be two-way."
He added that the most vivid example is ROI. "We have yet to find a partner who will share profit metrics against investment." He argues that brand marketers are loath to share ROI numbers because it weakens their position later. "If they show ROI, they become vulnerable."
As for under-used brand opportunities within the NFL, Waller said to look to the off-season. "The draft is an unbelievable story, and it's underutilized. There's no more compelling activity going on in the off-season, and it's a huge opportunity. There is another unbelievable story on preparation. NFL teams spend six months preparing to play four or five months. It's a reality show, day in and day out."