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What is Sponsorship?

by | December 20, 2019

Why you can trust Sponsorship Collective

  • The Sponsorship Collective has worked with over 1000 clients from every property type all over North America and Europe, working with properties at the $50,000 level to multi-million dollar campaigns, events and multi-year naming rights deals
  • We have published over 300 YouTube videos, written over 500,000 words on the topic and published dozens of research reports covering every topic in the world of sponsorship
  • All of our coaches and consultants have real world experience in sponsorship sales

Sponsorship is a marketing discipline and is one of the most powerful tools within the marketing spectrum. Sponsorship allows the property (the one making the sale) to connect the brand (or sponsor) to their target audience in meaningful, targeted and interactive ways.

Sponsorship is a Verb

In fact, sponsorship is a verb. It is not a product that companies buy off the shelf or from a sponsorship package but an activity they participate in to deliver a very specific outcome. Sponsorship is the act of reaching across the entire marketing spectrum and borrowing the tactics that will get the desired outcome, whether it be about product sales, branding, lead creation etc.

These tactics include:

  • Advertising
  • Branded content
  • Branding
  • Content marketing
  • Coupons
  • Digital marketing
  • Direct mail
  • Employee engagement
  • Exhibit space
  • Experiential marketing
  • Hospitality
  • Lead capturing
  • Logo placement
  • Media exposure
  • Networking
  • Product placement
  • Public relations
  • Recruiting
  • Retention
  • Sales
  • Sampling
  • Social media
  • Speaking opportunities
  • Thought leadership

Sponsorship does not change based on the sponsorship seeker. In other words, whether you are a sports team, charity, association, college, university or athlete has no impact on the sponsorship sale and fulfillment process. Let’s take a closer look at sponsorship in its many forms.

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What Sponsorship Is Not

People often use the term “sponsorship” to describe activities that are, in fact, not sponsorship at all. Sponsorship is about marketing and so sponsors are not:

  • Donors
  • Investors
  • Interested in “awareness”
  • Looking to buy levels
  • Happy with a few logos on signs

Sponsorship is demanding and so too are sponsors with their investment. They are buying marketing assets and so expect a marketing return on investment.

The Different Types of Sponsorship

Everyone assumes that sponsorship is different for their particular opportunity, thinking that their situation is unique and so can stray from the “typical” sponsorship sales process. The mix of assets and available opportunities might change slightly but the goals of sponsorship and the process used to engage audiences does not change. Some common sponsorship “properties” includes:

  • Athletes
  • Blogs
  • Branded Clothing and Equipment
  • Conferences
  • Endurance Events
  • Festivals
  • Fundraising Events
  • Major Events
  • Physical Naming Rights
  • Podcasts
  • Program Naming Rights
  • Sport Teams
  • Webinars

Wherever there is a gathering (in person or virtually) of a well-defined group of people that advertisers and companies want to connect with, there is a sponsorship opportunity.

The Importance of Audience

If sponsorship is a verb, then it requires action in order to work. The question is, who should take action? This question is central to sponsorship because sponsorship is entirely focused on audience. Without audience, you do not have a sponsorship opportunity.

Remember, companies use sponsorship as a means to a specific, measurable end. Brands want your audience to do something, think something or buy something. Sponsors want their target audience to take an action towards the ultimate goal of the brand, which is usually a purchase!

Everybody MUST Win

We’ve all been there. At a gala, or a race or waiting for a music act to take the stage, pretending to listed to a dozen sponsors talk about why they are sponsoring the property. Nobody cares, nobody listens and yet we all do it. Sponsorship requires that every party has to win. That is, the sponsor wins by engaging with their target audience, the audience wins because they receive an amazing benefit or experience and the property wins because their opportunity is made better by sponsorship. If your attendees do not walk away saying “isn’t it great that the sponsor was involved in this event?” then you are not practising sponsorship.

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How Does Sponsorship Work?

Sponsorship has several distinct stages, outlined in more detail in this blog post. The sponsorship sales process is as follows:

Inventory Building and Valuation:

This involves identifying everything you have to offer a sponsor, based on audience feedback and goals and determining what the market value each asset is.


Once you know what you have to offer and how much it’s worth, only then can you begin to identify companies who have an interest in marketing to your audience.

Getting the Meeting and Discovery:

First of all, when you meet a prospect for the first time, bring nothing with you at all. Don’t bring a proposal, or a one-pager or any other information about your organization. The ONLY goal of the first meeting is to gather information and to get the second meeting, not to make the sale. When you go to the meeting, only ask questions. Don’t try to tell your prospects anything at all about what you do unless they ask. Remember, you aren’t trying to make a sale here but to gather information.

The Objectives of Sponsorship: Building Activations

Activations, or leverage, is a fancy term for an experience or bundle of assets designed to bring your sponsor closer to their audience in meaningful ways. The process of identifying activation opportunities is very simple:

Step One: Identify an audience niche or specific target market

Step Two: Ask your audience:

  • What about their experience is positive?
  • What did they not enjoy?
  • What do they want more of? Less of?
  • Why are they involved with your property?

Step Three: Brainstorm ideas that improve audience experience based on that feedback

Once you done all of the above, you can move on to developing a sponsorship package.

The Sponsorship Package

One size fits all sponsorship packages are not helpful and should be discarded in favor of creating custom packages for each sponsor based on the process outlined above. The gold, silver, bronze (and any variation of that theme) sponsorship package rarely works and always leaves money on the table.

Some important notes about using sponsorship packages:

  • You should never submit a sponsorship package to a prospect until both parties agree that it fits the needs of the sponsor
  • The only way to know if your proposal meets the needs of a prospect is to meet, talk and e-mail before you submit anything
  • Never assume your prospect wants logo placement as the main focus on the sponsorship package

Sponsorship is a powerful tool but only if you use it properly. Use sponsorship to connect brands to their target market in meaningful ways and always build your sponsorship programs based on audience feedback. When done in this way, sponsorship can be a lot of fun, a great challenge and produce outcomes that brands, audiences and properties love.

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