The value of sports sponsorships in North America is expected to surpass $18 billion in 2019 (eMarketer). And because sporting events remain the highest-watched live TV programs, the value is only expected to increase as brands seek prime screen positions and visibility.
However, proving a direct ROI for sports sponsorships has never been easy. It’s a problem that should make any smart marketer think long and hard before entering into a multi-year, high budget sponsorship agreement. But with a little planning and diligence (plus, a few newer tools), sports sponsorships can be a powerful addition to a brand’s marketing strategy.
WHEN A SPORTS SPONSORSHIP IS A GOOD IDEA
Awareness of Newer Brand, Service or Product: Depending on the team or sponsorship, your message will potentially reach hundreds of thousands of sports fans, and at a high frequency. Meaning your name/logo/message will be seen multiple times throughout the season, ideally improving the rate at which fans/consumers will recall your brand.
If your brand already has high awareness in your market, we might not recommend a sports sponsorship with that objective in mind.
Tips for measurement:
- If you have room in the budget for research, a survey to measure brand awareness among your target audience is a great method for getting quantifiable results. We recommend doing a base survey before the sponsorship starts to set a benchmark against which to measure success.
- A second option is to work an offer into the sponsorship deal that consumers can redeem through your business. A popular example of this can be seen with MLB and NFL teams. Every time Player A hits a homerun or records a sack, you get BOGO sandwiches the next day!
Build New Customer Base: Is your objective to reach a new target audience that aligns with a particular sports crowd? Similar to building awareness for a new brand, service or product, a sports sponsorship can help you break into a new audience segment.
Mutually Beneficial Partnership: Perhaps awareness isn’t the issue, but you want to increase your sales/value to your customer base. Occasionally, sports sponsorships can be born out of a mutually beneficial partnership.
For example, a grocer could partner with their city’s MLB or NFL team to sell single game tickets at each store’s customer service desk. This makes it easier for fans to purchase tickets and helps drive foot traffic to stores. Both ticket sales and grocery sales would likely increase.
Tip for measurement: Keep track of ticket sales. When there is a spike in ticket sales, check to see if there is a correlating spike in store sales.
Aligns with Pillar of Organization: We all know the obvious examples of this. Sports equipment, sports apparel, sports drinks… they all have a vested interest in sports and the culture surrounding athletes. However, brands that don’t directly support the sports industry can also have organizational pillars that support athletics.
The aforementioned grocer believes that in order to be successful in life (and sports), a healthy diet is a must. Their mission is to build a healthier community and fuel the next generation. By sponsoring local youth and high school sports teams, the organization is supporting that mission.
Another great example is a healthcare system. Its organizational goal is to provide the best possible care and outcomes to the community it serves. By sponsoring teams from youth to professional the healthcare system is serving the community in a fun way, while also reminding players and fans it’s got their backs for injury prevention and care.
Tip for measurement: Provide a specific offer that can be tracked. In the grocer’s case, they might offer a program in which coaches/parents can order healthy boxed lunches for the entire team. Tracking redemptions is one way to show ROI.
BENEFITS OF A SPORTS SPONSORSHIP
As with any advertising effort, what should/could be considered a benefit depends on the objectives. Based on the situations above, here are several benefits of using sports sponsorships.
Increased Sales: The obvious benefit for any business would be increased sales. As we’ve already noted, directly tracking sales from sponsorships can be difficult. However, here are a few ways to find correlations:
- Include in messaging key products that can be used as indicators. Measure sales of key products to see if there is an increase that would correlate with timing of the messaging.
- Use a unique vanity URL for in-stadium signage. Measure traffic/activity of URL through Google Analytics. If you also have e-commerce, set up an event code to track online purchases.
- Include an in-game/in-stadium offer through a “text-to-receive” message. Track redemptions of text offers.
Additional Media Exposure: With larger sports organizations (D1 universities or professional teams), there is often a media component to the sponsorship. We all know that the more times a consumer sees or hears a brand, the higher their recall. And it doesn’t hurt when your brand is mentioned in conjunction with a beloved sports team.
A few ways to assign media value to sports sponsorships include:
- Track the number of mentions during games that are aired on television. This can be done with a media monitoring platform such as Meltwater, Cision or IQ Media.
- With IQ Media, you can also track the number of times your logo appears on-screen during games. This includes when your brand appears behind home plate, around the sides of the pitch, on a step-and-repeat in the post-game press conference, or anywhere else that serves as a backdrop to the game. IQ Media uses its proprietary software to visually track your brand and provide an estimated value for the exposure.
Exclusive Experiences for Customers/Fans: Coming from a lover of experiential marketing, some of the most unique benefits from a sports sponsorship are exclusive offers/events for your customers and sports fans. One way we’ve achieved this for a client was a grand prize sweepstakes for a private meet and greet with a star player, followed by an all-inclusive suite experience during the game. Benefits of exclusive events include:
- Your brand comes off as a hero for providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience
- Buzz about the partnership during the sweepstakes period and the exclusive experience
- Organic reach from people sharing the sweepstakes with friends and family
Goodwill with Customers: Aligning your brand with a beloved hometown team is a great way to boost good sentiment with your brand. It shows that you support the local culture whether or not it’s in the same city as your headquarters. Nearly ubiquitously, American society loves its sports teams. Sponsoring a favorite team can show your customers that your brand loves the same things they do. Two ways this can be measured include:
- Attitudinal surveys of customers that measure their sentiment towards your brand. Conduct a survey before the sponsorship begins and repeat at least annually to record any changes.
- Use a social listening tool to measure online sentiment. Social media listening tools such as Hootsuite, Nuvi and Sprout Social allow you to track keywords and access the sentiment attached to the topic at hand.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR SPORTS SPONSORSHIPS
When evaluating a potential sponsorship, you should consider several factors in order to maximize the benefits.
Cost vs. Audience: Ask up front the potential reach of the sponsorship proposal. This goes beyond the number of fans the sports team may reach. Depending on the details, be sure to check on:
- Average attendance per game
- Unique attendance per season
- Average television audience (if the games are televised)
- Average monthly unique website visitors
- Average monthly social media reach
All of these metrics combined provide your brand’s total exposure potential.
Desired Actions: This seems basic and common sense, but it’s easy to overlook when negotiating a high-profile partnership. As you negotiate the details of the sponsorship benefits, ask yourself and your team what it is you hope to achieve through the deal. Do the benefits line up with those expectations? Are you able to measure your desired outcome? Approach the deal with the end in mind. In other words, what would make this partnership a win for the brand.
ROI Measurement: Harkening back to previous points and your desired actions, determine how you will measure ROI before embarking on a sizeable sponsorship deal. With established metrics you’ll be able to evaluate value of the sports sponsorship more easily.
Activations and Other Additional Costs: In order to get the most out of a sports sponsorship, you’ll want to look at ways to extend the partnership beyond in-stadium executions and standard benefits. Consider incorporating these additional activations that are typically outside of the sponsorship cost:
- Paid media plans to celebrate the partnership. This could include TV, radio, outdoor… you name it. But make sure you review what is allowed in the sponsorship. Sometimes there are restrictions on what forms of media you can promote the partnership in.
- Endorsement contracts with star players that include media rights. When you have a partnership with a team, that doesn’t mean you can use their players in your advertising. Those contracts are typically negotiated separately.
- Event activations. While the opportunity to be on site and have a presence at the event are included, that’s about it. Any booth materials, giveaways or food are an additional cost – not to mention paying to staff an event with brand ambassadors.
- Game days gifts: As fans enter the stadium or arena, they might receive items such as hats, t-shirts, bobble heads, flags, towels, etc. These are often paid for by sponsors and the costs to produce said items are not in the sponsorship agreement.
- Philanthropic causes. Sports teams and sponsors often work together on charitable fundraisers to combine their powers for more effective efforts. Sometimes a sponsor donation is wrapped in with the larger agreement, but you’ll want to clarify. Sometimes it is an additional investment.