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When evaluating sports sponsorships, you play for keeps

By David Nobs

One of my clients recently asked me how to avoid the pitfalls surrounding marketing campaigns that are built to support their sports, entertainment and event properties.  As sponsorships come under increasing scrutiny it’s an important question, particularly as B2B companies look for growth and value from existing and potential partnerships more than ever before.

The keys to success lie in bringing a marketer’s sponsorship to life in real and meaningful ways.  A vital element of the sponsorship decision is determining what success looks like at the outset of a campaign. 

One of the biggest reasons that sponsorships fail is that key constituencies have a different view of desired results and don’t have a clear understanding of what success looks like before committing money and resources needed to support a sponsorship investment.

A critical factor to success is applying creative resources that are necessary to ensure that a company can use the sponsorship as a marketing and communications platform on which to build. Perhaps nobody does this better than Nike.  No matter what sport, event or athlete the company is promoting it’s clear that the brand is first and foremost about “performance” and everything else emanates from there.

However, even with the sophistication of today’s metrics and measurement tools, there are no guaranteed formulas to ensure success.  It’s important for each sponsor to create its own methods and criteria in placing a value on its sponsorship investment and determining the ultimate success or failure of a given campaign.

Take Aon, which is spending an estimated $130 million to sponsor Manchester United.  The company is betting the sponsorship will help unify Aon’s worldwide team, create cross-selling opportunities and increase lead generation and new business opportunities. 

While it’s a considerable investment over a four-year period, the sponsorship decision is relatively cost-effective compared with the number of preexisting local sponsorships and, while global in scale, provides Aon the ability for local and regional execution.

In committing to being a sponsor, companies first need to establish a potential revenue base that would come from the sale of products and services to existing and prospective customers.  Set specific, measureable goals and objectives that will automatically define the category or area that is most beneficial to your needs and, therefore, the approximate cost.  Then, commit to promotional spending what is at least equivalent to the cost of the sponsorship, taking into account that the most successful programs are based on ratios that are two or three times as much as the sponsorship fee itself. 

One of the most common problems I see in developing sponsorship programs is spending the majority of marketing dollars on the cost of sponsorship with little or nothing left to advertise, promote and publicize a company’s involvement.

In some cases, keeping the competition out of a particular field of interest, whether it’s a league, team, sport or event, may be the primary factor in deciding on a particular opportunity.

In assigning value on a sponsorship, B2B companies should consider the cost of not being a sponsor.  The rise of guerilla marketing, cluttered sponsorship fields and confusion as to which companies are official sponsors are the most common reasons to just say no.

When you develop strategic and creative sponsorship campaigns, consider all elements in the marketing toolbox.  More often than not, public relations, product seeding and social media set the stage for future advertising, sales, events, promotions, and hospitality that will drive the sponsorship message home.

Strategic corporate and media partnerships with like-minded companies can broaden reach and frequency.  Online and offline marketing generate leads and reach consumers in unconventional ways. Many sponsors provide consumers with unique “moments” through experiential marketing, events and promotions.  And, of course, media outreach is essential in securing positive news coverage and third-party credibility.

The relationship between sports and entertainment is inseparable and interchangeable.  Sports still make sense as a way to enhance corporate image and increase product visibility despite the inherent risks. If executed properly, sports and entertainment provide companies with advertising, sales and marketing, PR, interactive and internal communications value all in one package.

David Nobs is head of sports marketing for The Lavidge Co., a Phoenix-based advertising, marketing and PR agency. He can be reached at

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