Sport sponsorship: Use your head, not your heart.

Sport sponsorships have for a long time been the domain of senior executives passionate about a particular player, team, or code. Too often the decision to become a sponsor is made with an innate personal bias or “punt” on how the team will perform over the coming years.

This process isn’t completely wrong or void of due diligence. There is often a clear business case that supports the investment and the perceived value is seen by all stakeholders as “fair”.

But, there is a better way. And, it starts with business leaders checking the love and engagement sport elicits in them at the door and really considering what guaranteed results a sponsorship will deliver.

So, what should brands consider when evaluating a sponsorship objectively?

  1. Tangible business results.

The tools used to measure the success or failure of a sponsorship investment have remained traditional and unlinked to business performance. In fact, Kantar recently found 44% of marketers were unable to link their efforts to short or long-term impact on performance – the worst offending channel.

Vanity awareness and engagement metrics (simple exposure) should be replaced with sponsorship ROI, long-term brand preference and a full measurement framework. A dedicated measurement budget should also exist to track performance and evaluate sponsorship over time – given many are long-term investments.

  1. Relevance beyond reach

Sponsors still prioritise media coverage, exposure and awareness as the key tasks and measurement for their investment. It’s no surprise then that bigger often equals better.

But, sponsor fit and alignment are more important in driving a meaningful and memorable message with consumers.

How easily people can link the brand and sponsor will determine the longevity, strength and message attribution people have.

Vegemite has successfully reinforced their “tastes like Australia” message by sponsoring Ash Barty, who encompasses everything Australia offers.

  1. Data access and ownership

As we enter a cookieless future, accessing first-party data becomes an increasingly valuable tool for brands to reach the right consumers. Sporting teams through their own member databases and social media channels often have some of the richest datasets available for brands to tap into.

Review what access is available, the way in which it can be used and if the audience base is the same as the brands target audience.

  1. Creative Insight-led integration opportunities

Sponsorships come with packaged entitlements and often proactive off the shelf ideas for integration. But, the real value comes from co-creating integration platforms that come from brand insights rather than the sport.

Work on including entitlements outside of paid media and existing assets alone like talent integration and social takeovers to become more relevant in the sponsorship.

  1. Team performance

Underperforming teams do struggle to command a premium for sponsors. More concerningly, research has shown that brands associated with poor performing teams can not only miss out on positive associations, they can actually be attributed with negative ones – beyond even neutral.

Understanding the player or team performance trajectory plan is key in evaluating whether a sponsorship is valuable. Both the Canterbury Bulldogs and North Melbourne Kangaroos remain winless in the 2021 NRL and AFL season. I wonder what results both key sponsors are currently receiving from their sponsorship investment this season?

  1. Visual alignment

Brands that have similar colours to a sponsor team or embrace the same colours have been shown to have better associations and positive return than those that don’t.

It’s a small thing, but a good check point before signing off on a sponsorship!

At the end of the day, sport sponsorships are a good investment for brands.

Several studies have shown the positive effects of sport sponsorship on brand performance across the entire funnel – awareness, preference and actual purchase.

It is no surprise then that investment in sport sponsorship continues to grow as brands try and find different ways to connect with consumers in an increasingly cluttered and low-attention economy. Entire new opportunities are even being created with the continued rise of e-sports and viewership of newly created female codes.

Sport is a unique industry. It captures everyone and has the most engaged and loyal following of any other product out there. Unfortunately, it is this fandom that can get in the way of business leaders making practical and informed decisions on sport sponsorship opportunities.

So, when the next proposal lands on the desk, think with your head and keep the heart out of it.