Marketers for MetLife, MasterCard, and a major NASCAR racing team agree that sports marketing platforms are great as long as marketers can articulate what they want from sponsorships and are willing to do more than just buy advertising real estate to achieve it.
They spoke about plans and strategies in a wide-ranging discussion whose timing couldn't have been better as the Tuesday Advertising Club event was sandwiched between the Super Bowl, with its record 106 million-plus viewers, and the Winter Olympics coming up this weekend.
Panelists all agreed that, in spite of huge potential viewer numbers, it might be more valuable to think of sports marketing partnerships in terms of return on objective rather traditional ROI.
Said Beth Hirschhorn, CMO of MetLife, "We prefer to have straight ROI, but in businesses with a long sales cycle, it gets difficult. We do have specific objectives that are measurable: from how many times we reach a person to whether we drove them to the web site, or did they like us better because we ran the sponsorship?"
She said engagement is the key. "It enables us to do things traditional TV or print ads can't." MetLife was the first company to sign on as one of four "cornerstone" sponsors of the new Giants/Jets stadium at the new Meadowlands Sports Complex in New Jersey.
"With Giants Stadium we have an overarching mission, which is for fans to actually miss our presence if we weren't there," she said. "So we are trying to create something special for both sports and concert events, from different angles: from regular ticket holders to on-site and virtual promotions, and hospitality. Our job is to democratize the whole process and allow fans access to things they normally wouldn't have access to such as opportunities to go on field and watch the teams exercise, attend press conferences and ask players questions."
Steve Lauletta, president of NASCAR team Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, LLC, said sports platforms and marketers have to work hard to tailor a program that fits. "Every company that does a sponsorship is doing it for a different reason; there's no golden ticket," he said. "That's why the return on objective should be the starting place."
He said not many companies can articulate those objectives. "Three years ago a major company was evaluating whether to stay in NASCAR," he recalled. "I sat in a room with five of their marketing executives and asked the simple question: why are you in NASCAR? They had no answers. The rest of the meeting was about how NASCAR wasn't working for them. "But it comes down to what you are trying to do, and it starts with that simple question, with a benchmark." He said that because NASCAR's season is basically 10 months long there is time to tweak a program. "Sports properties let you make changes on the fly," he said.
Lauletta added that the Earnhardt Ganassi team's relationship with Target is a good model for long-term health, as the team has had a 21-year relationship with Target. He said the company uses NASCAR not just for external marketing but also for employees, even with its internal mantra for operations and customer service: "Speed is Life."
Target was also involved in building the team's headquarters and regularly sends its IT staff to work in the racing shop on technology. "It's more than just logos on a hood," he said. "You want to build a relationship with the company from a standpoint that's deeper than media exposure and the exchange of 'you give me these assets and I'll give you money.'"