Sports Sponsorship – Are Brands Leaving Value on the Table?

January 30, 2018 11:51 am Published by Leave your thoughts

As we head into Super Bowl weekend, and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots continue their domination of the NFL over the past two decades, it’s hard not to draw parallels to David and Goliath. The Philadelphia Eagles are looking to win their first Super Bowl ever, the New England Patriots – with Belichick and Brady at the helm – are looking to add a sixth championship ring. It seems like the New England Patriots are the sure thing. They’ve been there before, they have walked the walk and talked the talk. They are a proven talent.


It may come as a surprise, but there is a lot we can learn about sponsorship when we look at the Super Bowl matchup in 2018 without talking about the legendary price of an advertisement, or the world-class activations hosted at the NFL Experience Driven by Hyundai.


For many sponsorship managers or directors at properties across Canada, they constantly feel like they are heading out onto the field against Tom Brady. Just like the Philadelphia Eagles, properties across the country have strengths that frequently get overlooked by brands for the ‘sure thing’. The Philadelphia Eagles are arguably the better team playing in the NFL’s last game of the year this season, but taking a look at the odds heading into the game, you wouldn’t know that because of all of the coverage the Patriots are getting.


There are a few big players in the sponsorship game in Canada’s amateur sports scene – everyone who works in the industry, and lots of people who don’t, know who they are – Hockey Canada, Curling Canada, Canada Soccer, Swimming Canada, Tennis Canada and a few others dominate the lion’s share of the sponsorship money in the industry. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this, the same way there isn’t anything wrong with the New England Patriots building a dynasty. These national sports organizations represent long-standing sports that a large percentage of the Canadian population plays or watches, and they have exceptional teams of sponsorship and marketing professionals who ensure that they leverage their assets, build properties that have a cache for Canadians and sponsors, and have respected relationships with the brands in Canada.


But, what about everyone else? How do the rest of the not for profit sports in the country draw the attention of brands when their competition is tried, tested and true? And, why should brands care about anyone else?


The fact is, there are over 170,000 not for profits in Canada, and over 85,000 of those are registered charities. That doesn’t include professional sports, events, festivals, and any other myriad of partnership opportunities. The choices for a brand in partnership are overwhelming and usually only the largest properties, with finances that support the employment of a dedicated partnerships team, can maintain active relationships with the industry well enough to continually float to the top. There is no way a brand could know of, or even research, every relevant property for their consumer. And, why would they?


Sure, there are sure-win, well-known properties consistently delivering against their sponsorship objectives. But, there is a big reason why brands should care about the properties they don’t know about – because by partnering with only the big players in the sport sponsorship scene they are leaving value on the table.


Where the dichotomy of sponsorships in Canada gets interesting is when we consider that, as a product of the way sponsorship sales happen, often the ‘underdog’ properties get overlooked, even if they have valuable assets at a remarkably lower price. Brands naturally think of marquee sports and their associated events which have the household name recognition to build their sponsorship portfolio while there are meaningful, engaging properties with the ability to deliver to their objectives for less.


There are 66 national sport organizations in Canada. For brands considering building sport portfolios in Canada, often a large majority of these properties get overlooked either for professional sport opportunities, or the largest national sport organizations. But, for decidedly less of an investment there are untapped opportunities to engage with niche consumer markets. Often, these smaller sport organizations, some of whom have massive reach within their market, are willing to go above and beyond to secure funding and support brand goals for less investment.


Let’s examine this concept with a theoretical example.


Brand X is a vehicle brand looking to increase the perception of parents (specifically moms) that they are ‘Canadian’. Naturally, to increase Canadian perceptions, and reach parent targets, brands look to sport sponsorship to borrow brand equity from their partners and talk to Canadians whose children are participating in sport. Any number of organizations could accomplish this goal.


Property A is a large, national sport organization with a roster of sponsors, a robust sponsorship team, and a well-known, broadcast, international event which will generate millions of brand impressions for the sponsor across a wide variety of demographics. This is a natural, and common-sense partnership fit.


On the other hand, Property B, is a property free from sponsor clutter. They are relatively unknown, but they’ve been in business for decades, delivering their sport to a niche audience of predominantly girls and their parents (mostly moms). There is one person on staff who works on both sponsorship and events. There is an appearance that there is more of a risk for partnering with Property B.


The interesting piece here is that after a discovery call with both properties you can uncover some interesting details.


Property A’s international event has a vehicle competitor that has already purchased advertising space, the sponsorship team of 4 manages a roster of 30+ sponsors, the sponsorship opportunity would cost the brand $1 million dollars and would guarantee X impressions through broadcast to a market of 18 – 65 year olds (men 60% and women 40%).


Alternatively, Property B has a domestic event which is relatively unknown outside of the sport but engages thousands of athletes across the country and their parents who travel to, participate in, and celebrate their sport on-site. There are no competitors in the properties sponsorship roster. Their event would guarantee one-third of the impressions (on-site instead of broadcast) compared with Property A but their market is parents, 25 – 45 years old (women 85% and men 15%). Property B is interested in expanding their sponsor roster, and with a $350,000 investment your brand will become a national partner and a partner on their domestic event, and they’ll commit to using some of the partnership investment to hiring a full-time sponsorship manager who will manage your portfolio as 40% of their workload.


The perception of the property values here changes dramatically with some discovery.


Everywhere you look there are articles telling properties “get the brands on the phone so you can tell them your story”. But, the truth is, brands have a responsibility to understand the value that’s being left on the table, too.


For brands to really understand the value of the partnerships in the market, and how they’ll best get return on their investments, they need to think beyond the things they know, take calls from properties they haven’t heard of, and challenge what they think they know is available in the industry. That way, they aren’t leaving value on the table.


Because maybe this crack at the Super Bowl is all Philadelphia needs to start building the next dynasty.





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This post was written by Krissy Murphy, Consultant

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