Sports are back (for real this time). The triumphant return of IRL experiences brings teams and leagues looking for corporate sponsors and engagement opportunities. As fans rush back to baseball stadiums and plan their fall activities around football schedules, brands wish to return to the field as well.
Sports sponsorships should be a mutually beneficial relationship. One in which the team is prepared to deliver their audience and the brand is willing to pay for that access. However, we’re all still a little shaky after last year, but it turns out that sports sponsorships didn’t take too big of a hit. In fact, Wakefield Research Partners reported that,
“Among 177,000+ fans polled in 2019-20, 32 pro-sports sponsors reached more fans in 2020 (than 2019) through digital/social media, TV/radio, virtual events, and in-camera view gameday assets. Venue-based assets were less effective with no fans in the stands, but were still one of the top three most recognizable elements of a sponsorship campaign. Holding all else equal across the 359 sponsorships studied over the two years in the NFL, NHL, and NBA, sponsor recall increased from 37.2% in 2019 to 38.5% in 2020.”
Below are five traits corporate sponsors look for in sports partners:
1) A strong Gen-Z strategy
Millennials have officially been dethroned as the tastemaker generation. Brands want to connect with young consumers on a more personalized platform than TikTok (though they want to connect with them there, too). To hit this target demo, sports teams and leagues must understand what Gen-Z needs, how they consume content, and how to capture (and keep) their attention. This can be as easier as a fan survey or focus group.
2) Year-round fan engagement
Another COVID lesson no one asked for was that fans really do care about the game first and foremost. Prior to 2020, many advertisers thought they could coast off of a team’s aesthetic, their connection with the community, or the celebrity status of the latest all-star player. But sponsors won’t reach their goals without live games in stadiums full of packed fans.
However, live games can’t be the only source of fan engagement. Even with restrictions loosening, teams and leagues should keep their COVID-pivots as part of their year-round strategy. Including players-as-representatives on talk shows, daytime TV, and even celebrity competition shows, as well as throwback game streams to keep sponsors happy.
3) Clear OOH opportunities
Sponsorships come in all shapes and sizes, but, as John Zaldonis and I declared on the Win More podcast, it’s going to be the summer of out-of-home advertising. These advertising properties are distinct entities that cater to a specific audience. Each property has its own assets with 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.
4) Social media tie-in
Today, social media is where fans stream sports events, even if it’s just to watch a 10-second. In fact, according to The Sponsorship Space, 80% of fans use social media during live sporting events, both at the actual events and at home. So not only are videos of the event appearing online after they happen, but social media users post about the sporting event in real-time.
This means that brands have a wider range of platforms on which to advertise as it’s not just television receiving viewers. Brands have dozens of platforms from which to generate new revenue opportunities. Stadiums are fully connected with WiFi, HD screens, and beacon technology, so teams and sponsors can deepen their engagement with fans.
5) Alternative options
“Nontraditional” sports like surfing, motocross, or boxing (have you read about Gen-Z’s interest?) need sponsors, too. Red Bull discovered this early. The corporate sponsor’s influence in extreme sports includes windsurfing, cliff diving, rock climbing, Formula One, and even its own Air Racing series. eSports also provides ample sponsorship opportunities and may garner greater influence for their brand partners while they build sponsorship strategies.