The A B C of next generation sponsorship

The sponsorship industry is going through somewhat of a crisis of confidence. Sponsors’ needs are changing as a result of evolving consumer needs and behaviours. Sponsors are demanding more or different rights that property holders increasingly struggle to deliver. The benefits of being “unofficial” or ambush marketing appear to be gaining more traction than ever before.

But how can property holders prepare to meet these evolving needs and demands and secure this important revenue stream as well as the marketing benefits a strong partner can bring?

It’s as easy as ABC…

“A” is for “Audience engagement”

Property holders can no longer sell their properties as brand exposure platforms. Brand exposure is a “hygiene” factor in any sponsorship package. It’s expected but won’t represent the value it used to for most savvy sponsors. The big value that property holders can offer to sponsors is their ability to facilitate a relationship between sponsors and an audience.

It is not enough to throw out big viewer numbers from linear TV broadcasts to attract sponsors. Experienced sponsors want to know how they can engage an audience (whether digital or face-to-face) that fall within their target group. Properties therefore need a more acute understanding of their audiences needs and how they respond to marketing stimuli.

More and more small, focused partnerships seem to be emerging (especially in sport) most likely as a result of fewer brands willing or able to shell out for larger-scale deals as well as their increasing focus on engaging specific audiences. MLS franchise DC United’s tie-up with Tinder, which gives the dating app access to singles in the Washington D.C area, is a good example. Draft Kings partnerships with some venues in the US around “fantasy lounges” also represents a very targeted approach to engaging their specific target audience.

“B” is for “Brand strength”

As we move towards greater engagement focused sponsorship, sponsors will depend predominantly on properties providing a strong brand platform (i.e. unique, credible, relevant and legally protected / enforced) to justify rights fees and facilitate audience engagement. However, there is a growing perception that official sponsorships are too restrictive from a brand usage perspective. This is particularly true in the digital age where many sponsors want to activate on social and digital channels but are limited in how they can do so.

Many believe its better being unofficial so that, as demonstrated by Beats and Guinness during the 2015 rugby world cup, you have complete flexibility to shape how you associate with the goodwill of a property.

Property holders therefore need to build resilient brands that are digital-ready and remain relevant in our visual communication age of GIFs, memes and emojis. They must be flexible to meet increasing sponsor demands and confident enough to stand up to fans attempts to “own” a piece of them irrespective of good or bad intentions.

In order to build resilient brands, property holders need to get back to branding basics. They need to think beyond visual identities and look at the multi-faceted modern brand. The MLS, for example, had a clear vision and from this starting point created a visual identity (rather than vice versa) which works harmoniously with their non-visual communication (

“C” is for “Customer action”

In the current digital marketing age much is measurable. This is putting analogue marketing channels under pressure. Why would a brand invest its marketing budget in something if they don’t get the same level of feedback on its performance?

Property holders need to get better, quickly, at demonstrating how an official sponsorship can contribute to pushing an audience up the marketing funnel. They must better illustrate a sponsorships’ potential to influence purchase intention and even loyalty / advocacy.

The sponsorship industry has for many years proclaimed the end of exposure driven sponsorship. However, there have been surprisingly few advances in terms of how the impact of sponsorship is measured with many still hanging on to exposure and media value metrics. Follow the debate and commentary around any major sponsorship conference and you won’t have to look far for evidence of the industry’s inability to move the needle on this discussion.

Unsustainable positioning

Clearly, there are still brands out there that base their decision to buy a sponsorship on the exposure benefits. However, with the changing media landscape, it is not sustainable for the sponsorship industry to continue to position the bulk of the value attributable to an official sponsorship as exposure based. There are far more effective marketing options available, particularly in the digital world, that can deliver this.


About the author of this post:

David is a Chartered Marketer with more than 15 years’ experience in international sports marketing roles. You can follow David on twitter @davidgfowler or connect on LinkedIn at

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