Before you dive in, if you are interested in sport sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for sports” series:
- Resource Page for Sport and Athlete Sponsorship
- 5 Sports Sponsorship Valuation Strategies
- 5 Examples of Bad Sports Sponsorships that Missed the Mark
- Sports Sponsorship Measurement and ROI Metrics to Track
- How do Sponsorships Benefit the Sports Organization and the Sponsor?
- How to Write a Sports Sponsorship Proposal
If you’ve only skimmed through the information in this guide (which, you really should take the time to read everything), then spend some time with this section at least. It’s a recap of all the steps needed for sport sponsorship success.
Activation opportunities are a form of experiential marketing that is a great fit for sporting events. Many of my sponsorship-seeking clients struggle to come up with quality activation ideas, which inspired this post. What are the top activation ideas for sports sponsorships?
Here are the 7 best sports sponsorship activations:
- RFID wristband contests
- Free fantasy sports betting
- Playing games
- Branded photo walls/props
- Exclusive fan experiences
- Sports memorabilia giveaways
- Pop-up bars
In this article, I’ll talk further about why the above activations are fantastic for sports sponsorship seekers. I’ll also share plenty of real-world examples of these ideas so you can see how they’ve been done. This will make it easier for you to put your own unique spin on it.
Let’s get started!
7 Attention-Grabbing Sports Sponsorship Activation Ideas
Before I delve deeper into the 7 following sports sponsorship activations, I want to mention one thing. When determining which activation ideas to present to a target sponsor, you can’t focus only on how cool the activation opportunity is.
Instead, the perfect activations are those that align the needs of your audience with the needs of your target sponsor.
With that out of the way, let’s dive right into some great sports activations.
RFID Wristband Contests
Sports organizations and promoters love RFID wristbands for a multitude of reasons. For one, wristbands can lessen the risk of fraud. Their presence also separates season pass members from the everyday attendees.
Consumers appreciate RFID wristbands too since they can preload a certain amount of money on the wristband and then make cashless, hands-free payments.
All you have to do is hold your wrist up to a kiosk so you can carry your foam finger, burger, soft drink, and soft pretzel back to your seat without anything spilling.
The gamification possibilities with RFID wristbands are part of what makes them popular among sports sponsors. The sponsor can set up kiosks around the arena where attendees can scan their wristbands and then participate in contests or instant giveaways.
This will excite other attendees with wristbands. If all they have to do is scan to enter, they’ll make their way to the kiosk as well. Even those attendees without wristbands will want to get in on the hype. If wristbands are available for purchase at the event, they might be inclined to buy one.
In exchange for the contest entry, the sponsor gets the attendee’s name, phone number, email address, and perhaps a physical address as well. Now the sponsor can start the nurturing and engagement process through email marketing to convert your audience to theirs.
Free Fantasy Sports Betting
Here’s another tech-based sports sponsorship activation that I think is especially stellar: sports betting.
Sports betting is a huge market that’s only going to get bigger in the years to come. According to sports resource Athletic Panda, from 2020 to 2024, sports betting will rake in $144.44 billion. That’s a growth rate of about 12.91 percent from 2020 onward.
Of course, sports betting requires you to put in money to win, or at least, it usually does. If you want to make sports betting more inclusive as part of your activation opportunity, then it should be free to participate.
Your sports attendees would have to download the sponsor’s app to bet with their friends. The prizes would be real, including a huge payout for a grand-prize winner to incentivize more people to join in.
Sports betting wouldn’t only last for one sports game, of course, but throughout a whole season. This gives people a reason to download the sponsor’s app and keep it on their phones.
Even once that season ended, if the sponsor does another season of sports betting soon thereafter, then the user will continue engaging with the app.
The downside of sports betting as an activation opportunity is that this option is only viable if the sponsor’s target audience includes adults ages 21 and over, as that’s the legal gambling age in the United States.
Here’s an activation that all your sports event attendees can participate in no matter their age: free games!
Before the race or soccer game starts, attendees are always looking for something to do. Playing games is fun, especially when there are prizes to win. Plus, when the games are branded (and the prizes potentially are as well), that’s a great way to spread brand awareness for the sponsor company.
One such example of this was Goodyear’s tire Plinko game, which I believe was hosted at a NASCAR race. Called the Throwdown, participants had to toss Goodyear tires onto pegs to earn a certain amount of points or even cash.
This activation is great for several reasons. For one, it makes tires interesting, which they’re really not otherwise. The activation is also thematically tied to NASCAR, so it’s even more effective.
Even if your activation budget is on the smaller side, you can still entertain your audience with sponsored games. Puma’s cornhole activation proves that. Who doesn’t love cornhole? This activation was a big hit!
Branded Photo Walls/Props
What if your sponsor isn’t particularly sporty like Puma and Goodyear? That’s no biggie. Sponsors from any industry can benefit from one of the most tried and true activation opportunities of all.
Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about photo booths or walls.
People love to take photos of themselves enjoying the game, but selfies get old after a while. A branded photo wall is a great opportunity for professional-level photos that event attendees will hold onto for a long time to come.
Even better is that the photo wall is branded with the sponsor’s name, making their involvement impossible to forget.
Here is one such photo wall from Dove, whose men’s care line was a sports sponsor. The greenscreen photo wall let participants look like they were anywhere such as right beside a racecar or on the basketball court.
Back in 2016, alcohol brand Veuve Clicquot sponsored a polo game appropriately called the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic. Their branding was everywhere, from umbrellas over the seating areas to golden goodie bags.
My favorite bit of branding though was the prop wall for photos. The giant golden Veuve Clicquot photo frame was too massive (and colorful) to ignore, so it surely attracted a lot of attention throughout the whole event!
Exclusive Fan Experiences
Although it requires a sizable budget, an exclusive fan experience will definitely attract attention. This American Express Fan Experience erected for the US Open is a rather extravagant example of how far you can go with this type of activation opportunity.
As the photos show, the American Express Fan Experience included branded kiosks, a social wall, interactive tennis games, a sitting area, and photo walls. There was a lot to do in this oversized booth, so you can bet it had people filtering into and out of it all day long.
Not only is an exclusive fan experience booth a smart way to stave off boredom ahead of the game, but spending time in the booth can beat the heat if the sports game is outdoors in the middle of summer.
Sports Memorabilia Giveaways
For those sponsorship seekers with a much smaller budget for experiential marketing, you don’t have to go big and extravagant. You just need to think about what your audience wants when going to see live sports, such as thundersticks to enjoy the game.
McDonald’s sponsored a sporting event and gave out free inflatable thundersticks to those passing through the gates. During the whole game, whenever attendees raised their thundersticks in jubilation, McDonald’s was getting free promotion.
If the sports attendees brought their thundersticks home and then attended another game with the sticks (provided that’s allowed, of course), then that’s an even broader radius of free promotions for McDonald’s.
What’s the most popular beverage sold at sports games? Let’s be real here, it isn’t soda. It’s alcohol.
According to the Norman Transcript in Oklahoma, between 2019 and 2020, Oklahoma sporting events brought in more than $1.3 million just in alcohol sales. Yes, sales were down, other sources reported, due to COVID-19. Still, those numbers aren’t too shabby!
All around the country, alcohol sales are a huge part of concessions earnings for sporting arenas. Thus, the easier you can make it for people to get their hands on alcohol at a sports game, the better.
That’s why pop-up bars as an activation opportunity make so much sense. This one from Heineken for a soccer game is perfectly sporty enough to attract a huge crowd. It’s also branded all over.
Like the sports betting activation idea, this one only works if most of your audience is of legal drinking age.
Sports sponsorship activation ideas should be exciting, innovative, and fun. Most importantly, they should tie a sponsor’s goals with those of an audience segment.
The 7 ideas above are starting points for coming up with your own phenomenal sports sponsorship activation opportunities. As I always say when it comes to activations, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but you must put your stamp on what’s been done before. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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