At least three possible answers come to mind with regard to low activation spenders:
Instinctively, spending more on activation than on rights makes sense. Sponsorship rights only buy that -- the rights to be an official sponsor. Some location signage, free tickets and other benefits may be included with the rights, but there is usually little media exposure included, apart from what is gained through media event transmissions showing onsite signage or otherwise mentioning official sponsors.
The rights primarily allow the sponsoring brand to associate itself with the new equity provided by the sponsored event. By sponsoring tennis tournaments, yacht and car races, among other sport events, the Rolex brand benefits by association from the exclusivity, international renown and performance perceptions associated with such events. But to achieve their full impact, these new equity associations need to be communicated to the brand's target audience. This is where sponsorship activation comes in.
In some cases, however, not spending a lot on activation can make sense. The key to a successful sponsorship program is clear program objectives. If the target of the sponsorship program is narrow, and will be exposed to the sponsorship without need for activation, don't activate. An example would be a sponsorship program aimed at building relationships with business partners.
Here, the objective is not to reach potential customers with exciting new brand equity associations from the sponsorship, the purpose is to get business partners excited about doing business with the brand by inviting them to the sponsored events, have them interact with athletes, etc. No activation is needed.
But we see many examples where low activation spend is primarily driven by the two first answers: Budget constraints and inability to measure activation effects. Examples include companies finding themselves with too many properties sponsored, as a result of legacies from past acquisitions and chief executives, and facing increasing budget constraints. We also see companies with no plan for measuring sponsorship ROI.
According to the IEG / Performance Research study, 70-80% of sponsors don't have a specific budget for sponsorship research, and some 25-40% of respondents don't spend anything on measuring sponsorship effects. It wouldn't be surprising if these sponsors were unwilling to spend a lot on activation. Nobody wants to spend money if they can't measure the value it creates.
The take-away is clear: If you are going to invest in sponsorship rights, you need to make sure they are optimally activated. In order to do that, you need to measure your sponsorship ROI. There is clear evidence of upside potential. We see it with our clients, and the consistent 15-20% of sponsors who spend more than three times their rights investment in activation must be seeing an attractive ROI; otherwise they wouldn't keep doing it.