The Complete Guide to Sport Sponsorship: Professional, Amateur and Everything In Between
While professional sports have attracted sponsors to finance major aspects of the business including the cost of managing major stadiums through naming rights, brands can benefit from sports sponsorships across all levels of sports. Sports provide a widespread audience that can be reached in many different ways today. Brands have the opportunity to raise awareness and change their images to suit their changing marketing objectives.
Today, as we are fully immersed in the digital age, there are even more opportunities for brands to leverage sports and engage with their audiences in very meaningful ways. Our complete guide to sport sponsorship looks at the opportunities available to sports teams of all levels and shows you how you can use your audience to entice some of the most relevant, high profile brands.
Why is Sport Sponsorship Important?
Live sports, even on an amateur level bring large groups of people together. The more prominent the sport and team, the more attention the events get. Sports have a very interesting effect as they gather together groups of people who are both united and in competition with each other. While professional sports can reach billions of viewers making it an attractive prospect for international brands, amateur sports have their own appeal, especially within the local business community.
Sponsorship opportunities are vast and can reach an interesting demographic. The audience in hand with the chance to develop interesting ways to engage the audience allows sports teams to use sponsorship dollars to enhance the experience of fans, while also improving what they offer their players.
The power of athletes at their best provides an aspirational outlook that brands find attractive. It offers new ways to present their brand in support of an active, healthy lifestyle. Put a can of soda in the hand of an athlete and suddenly it is a magic potion that can do everything from make you perform like a superstar to living a life of luxury. People don’t realize the athlete was paid to drink the soda, and instead associate drinking the soda with the athlete, their abilities and lifestyle. An entire team using a brand can have the same effect.
The funds gained from sponsorships can be spread around to provide the tools the team and supporting staff need to keep the team successful. In a small town, sponsorship might make the difference of having a single soccer ball for practice and a ball for every team member. It might mean having better quality uniforms, or a well-maintained soccer field. For a professional team, it can mean attracting the best coaches and medical care with better salaries and more services at the stadium for fans.
When funds are raised through sponsorships, team management focuses on training and performance instead of coming up with ways to raise money. This improves team performance and brings them closer to championship status.
When you get sponsorship right, you create emotional connections that help drive fan loyalty that differentiates casual fans from those who can’t miss a game. In other words, you create not just fans but fanatics. When fans are happier, they invest in the team via ticket sales, and stadium purchases that come full circle to support the needs of the team.
Improving the Fan Experience
Improving fan experience sells tickets and helps fans become more supportive of their team. Sponsors allow teams to hold special events on game day, or even create fan experiences off-season. A good example is fan days where stadiums are opened up and fans are invited to walk the field, participate in activities, enjoy some stadium food and often meet the players. This shows appreciation for fans and allows teams to bond with them. As a sponsor for such events, brands get their name as the host of the event, the right to participate with handouts, offer contests and prizes and more.
Each game can also feature a special giveaway or contest during breaks such as choosing stadium seat numbers for prizes, allowing fans to try to score a goal, hit a homerun or take a shot at the basket to win a major cash prize. These experiences offer a form of entertainment, but also allow fans the chance to interact with other fans, try their skills and often meet their favorite players.
Sponsorship Properties and Assets
Properties are distinct entities that cater to a specific audience. Each property has its own assets, both tangible and intangible benefits. Examples of properties would include:
- Advertising in the arena, stadium etc.
- Broadcast rights
- Sampling rights
- Pouring rights/rights to food and beverage
- Stadium naming rights
- Logo placement on tickets, jerseys etc.
It is not uncommon to confuse assets and properties. However, assets are packaged under each property to make them a more worthwhile investment such as:
- Naming right of physical spaces
- Naming rights of events and attractions
- Product giveaways and samples
- Exhibiting opportunities
- Social media
- Newsletters and mailings
- Pass through benefits
- Use of venue
- Paid media
- Traditional media
- Employee benefits
- Hospitality opportunities
Your goal is to create packages that offer the most relevant properties with an impressive list of assets. It is always best to go for a larger sponsor for a property so you can improve audience response by helping reduce all the noise they are hit with at a sports event. Including exclusivity for the most intriguing assets will also help you find higher investments to ensure a clear connection between the fee paid and the benefits received through the properties and assets.
Defining Your Audience
Although sports can have a general audience, there are segments to be found in any audience. For sports, more specifically professional or semi-professional teams you can usually break down your audience into the following:
- Viewers at home
- Dedicated fans vs casual fans
- Annual pass holders
- Corporate ticket holders
This is important because each of these groups should be approached in a different way, and in fact, should be offered different benefits through sponsors. For example, it doesn’t make sense to offer general attendees the same privileges as someone with season’s tickets. As well, you can come up with different opportunities targeted at specific corporate ticket holders based on their industry.
Your job is to understand each audience segment so you can accurately place value on each group and base your sponsorship offerings on each target. This expands your sponsorship levels while helping you create more defined, targeted activations.
Sponsors will determine their level of involvement on their own criteria, and therefore you really do need to know your audience. They will typically consider things such as:
- Buying habits of your audience segments
- Level of intimacy the audience might feel with properties and assets, causal or intimate
- Reach of each property
- Does the lifestyle of fans associated with the sport align with their brand?
- Are we paying for too broad an audience so reducing ROI?
- They will also look at the activations and potential challenges or conflicts:
- Is the image created by each activation compatible with their brand?
- Is the team or sport bigger than the brand potentially posing issues for them to break through the noise?
- Who are the other sponsors, how do they align with their brand, and does it make sense to participate in multi-brand properties?
- Will the activations lead to logistical nightmares during execution?
- Can they provide enough staff to manage activations?
- How did activations work in the past?
If you can match up your segments with these common questions and criteria, you make it easier for sponsors to see how they fit in and whether it allows them to meet their objectives.
Creating Experiential Activations
Just about every audience today, sports fans or not, have higher expectations when it comes to brand experiences. They are even more judgmental when there is a chance a brand is using them to get sales. Therefore, creating experiential activations that are honest, enjoyable and meaningful is very important for sponsors. So, you are caught between pleasing fans while also ensuring sponsors feel they are getting their money’s worth.
From a fan standpoint, they expect the following from their stadium visits according to a report by Deloitte:
- Safety, comfort, and cleanliness.
- A view to match their expectations.
- A high-quality game.
- An exciting atmosphere within the stadium.
If you get #4 right, you can generate funds that improve #1 through 3. The report also showed fans want the opportunity to share experiences unique to the stadium targeted at their personal interests in hand with live entertainment options before, during, and after the game. These insights allow you to find focused sponsorship opportunities that deliver:
- One of a kind memorabilia available for purchase in the stadium, or equivalents in giveaways
- New ways to use mobile devices to enhance the stadium experience such as watching replays and game highlights
- Fan exclusive entertainment available post and pregame
- New ways to interact with the team, sponsors and other fans
- In-event experiences tied to fan interests, new ways to review highlights, real-time fan stories and experiences
Keep in mind that different fan bases have different needs. For example, while NHL and NFL fans put little emphasis on pre- and post-game entertainment, NASCAR fans expect and want to experience unique entertainment. The NFL was the highest when it comes to expecting to enjoy an exciting stadium atmosphere. So, knowing your fan base is key to providing the right kind of experiential activations.
Leveraging Social Media
Social media is becoming more important for sports fans that use it for many reasons. From streaming live sports events to getting the best clips following or even during events, to commenting on plays in live streams, mobile devices and online opportunities are becoming far more diverse and exciting. There are way more platforms for sponsors to enhance the fan experience taking away from the traditional sports medium, television.
In fact, athletes themselves have their own social media pages that are becoming the preferred channel for “accidental” endorsements showing them using brands. New revenue opportunities for both sponsors and teams now exist that can work well when combined with full connectivity at stadiums, not to mention high-quality screens and other forms of beacon technology.
Engagement with fans through social media allows sponsors to be present to offer all kinds of experiences. This can include calls to action to attend their pre and post-game entertainment, contests, encouraging fans to be one of the first 10,000 to get a free product at the door, encouraging fans to engage in heavy discussions on a certain play of the day, or complaining about a recent trade.
Your properties should include social media assets to help sponsors meet their objectives. This can include:
- Sharing and participation opportunities
- Impactful use of images and video shared between the team and sponsors with rights to use them in their own social platforms
- The ability to live stream highlights for fans
- Collecting comments to better gauge fan reaction to their sponsorship
Social media also provides social proof activations are working, while also allowing for a collection of fan input via quick surveys. This leads us to the next key to successful sports sponsorships: Surveys and focus groups.
Evaluation and Surveys
Measuring sponsorship impact and success provides proof to sponsors their investment was worth it. But you should be combining the measurement of current events, with the input of fans so you can better determine what is expected, what works and what is a waste of time. When you can provide survey and focus group input with social proof certain activations have been successful, you can help sponsors decide where they want to invest for future opportunities.
Tracking user engagement and collecting input helps you target the best brands for the right opportunities. You can drill down to find important information that will influence sponsor decisions such as:
- Where fans spotted logos most often
- Which channels/platforms they are most likely to use during and following a game
- Which experiences they would participate in and which ones they feel are a waste of time
- The types of giveaways that would get them out of bed, and the ones that would keep them on the couch at home
- The brands they choose of a list they would like more engagement with, etc.
- Apps they feel improve their fan experience
You can then present your findings during brainstorming sessions, pitches and other points of contact to help bring sponsors onboard.
The Audience and Prospect Tie In
The right sponsors will have a direct tie in to your audience. Therefore, when making your list of prospects you will use your surveys and focus groups to come up with logical prospects that will be most likely to connect with your fans. In general, your prospects would include:
- Companies with the same target segments
- Companies that are sponsoring similar properties, fans and teams
- Companies that align with the sports fan profile and lifestyle
- And of course, companies that fans have called out in your studies
From there, you can develop packages that will meet the needs of these brands.
Beyond Basic Packages: Leverage
We’ve already listed the basics of properties and assets. This provides the base for your packages. However, sports sponsors tend to look for an expanded list of opportunities that allow them to participate on a more exclusive or unique level. Some ideas they might be looking for to leverage their sponsorship sponsorship might include:
- Added value: Fans can bring proof of purchase from a sponsor to get a discount at the door or reverse this and provide a discount voucher at the point of purchase. This can also be connected to something different to add value such as a seat upgrade with proof of purchase to improve the viewer’s experience.
- Self-liquidators: Merchandise offers either at the game or at the sponsor, locations can include something like a sports reel of the best plays of the year, or a high-ticket item such as an official jersey for a very low price.
- Team recognition for better optics: Allowing a brand to include your team name in an official capacity such as the official cereal can often gain brands more shelf space across chain retailers for improved exposure.
- Co-sponsor cross-promotions: Arranging options for sponsors to work in partnership with other aligned brands can reduce costs while still offering equal benefits to you and the sponsors.
These are just a few ways you can allow sponsors to leverage their sponsorship to get more bang for their buck. This can encourage continued participation. Basically you offer them an added menu that allows them to “exploit” their relationship with the team whether it is to increase traffic to their stores, sell more products, boost sales with borrowed imagery for their marketing, or get their product to more people through sampling and discounts.
In sport sponsorship sales, you will still be expected to appropriately price your sponsorship packages. You can find similar value in a number of places including:
- Ad prices in industry publications
- Digital ads on popular sports websites
- Industry conferences and events
- Your average fan attendance for regular games versus special event sponsored days
- What other sports teams are charging for their sponsorships
Other teams will be the best resource to get some good average prices to help you put a fair value on your properties.
Your activation strategy should address each phase of the sponsorship including:
Onboarding will address objectives and each aspect of activation, so everyone is on the same page including:
- The audience segment each activation will target
- The problem each activation should be solving for the audience
- Any problems each activation should be solving for the sponsor
- Better ways to customize the activation to see better results
Clarify Sponsorship Agreements
Don’t let poor communication ruin your chances of effective activations. A checklist shows everyone what’s what to avoid confusion including:
- What logo placement, company name mention they are entitled to
- Who provides what for events and activities
- Production schedules for all marketing collateral
- Clear schedule and locations for sponsor speakers, talent, etc. so they know when and where they are to appear
- Clear schedule for things such as players appearing to sign t-shirts
- Clear instructions on set up including when sponsors can access the venue, how to access the venue, etc.
Delivery schedule and deadlines for anything the sponsor might have to provide that they will not be handling themselves such as handouts at the door, prizes for the event, t-shirts to be worn, etc.
The more customized the activation, the more detailed the list will become.
Confirm Execution and Activation
To avoid conflicts on whether activation took place or not, you should ensure everything is being confirmed including:
- All event collateral should be signed off by sponsors to ensure you have approval for logo and company name usage.
- Have your own representatives available at the site of each activation to ensure everything is being done properly, whether it is ensuring handouts reach fans’ hands, discount coupons are handed out, discounts are offered with proof of purchase and proof is collected, etc.
- Take pictures of each activation
- Encourage fans to post to social media pages using game and activity hashtags
- Do screen captures of anything online so you can prove it was done just in case it is deleted after the game
- Provide social proof an activation was successful whenever you can
With a plan in place, you can ensure everything is organized and nothing gets lost in the hectic stadium the day of the event.
Annual Sponsor Summit
Sponsor summits are not only an excellent way to collect information on how sponsorships can be improved, but also thank sponsors for their partnerships. They invite sponsors to meet at an event with food, drink and, most importantly, scheduled group work and presentations that allow people to network, learn from each other and pick each other’s brains. For your most exclusive sponsors, you can include more private time with your reps as well as influencers or speakers in attendance. This helps build goodwill and nurtures relationships, so sponsors see their investment is appreciated and brings value to your fan experience.
Monitoring the impact of sponsorships provides sponsors with the numbers they need to justify their marketing dollar spend. Data and tracking are more important than ever, as sponsorship opportunities become more specialized and harder to monitor. One way you can prove success is to include brand and logo detection. As mentioned above, social proof works wonders to prove activation was successful, as does surveys in real-time to capture fan reactions to experiential marketing activations.
Sport sponsorship is a huge money generating opportunity allowing you to build relationships with brands wanting to get in front of your fans. This guide provides the tips you need to put together effective packages that will attract top brands to invest in your team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.