The State of Sponsorship Part 2: Weaknesses and Strengths

By Jim Andrews May 17, 2018

The State of Sponsorship Part 2: Weaknesses and Strengths

My previous unconventional SWOT analysis post examined the current threats and opportunities facing sponsorships and partnerships. We turn now to the other half of the exercise.

Two Weaknesses We Must Overcome

1. Missing a key piece of the data possibility

The last post ended with data as opportunity. So what gives?

Yes, first-party data is being used to fuel significant functions of the business for rightsholders. The investments properties are making in things like enterprise data warehouses, advanced analytics software, predictive modeling to positively impact audience experience and customer value, event operations, service delivery, understanding customer buying journeys, delivering dynamic content, pricing, product development, identifying lookalike audiences to target, etc. is all great stuff. But who’s on the outside looking in? Brand partners.

Rightsholders are doing a great job of getting closer to their customers. Now it’s time to help their partners do the same.

Why aren’t they taking that next step and using fan and audience data for building partner value? That’s where real, sustainable growth in partnership revenue is going to come from. It makes sense that brands would want the ability to personalize marketing efforts, so why don’t we see more of it? Are properties not offering it? Are brands not asking for it?

I hear many properties say, “Once we’ve gotten the data thing down for ourselves, our next step is to put it to use for partnerships.” I suggest it’s time to take that step before your partners find someone else who will do it for them and cut you out.

2. Still taking an old-school sales approach

A little more tough love for my property friends. Despite everything we know about how sponsorship works, what partners want, the necessity of offering them marketing solutions--not inventory or a menu of benefits--many rightsholders are still discussing sponsorship opportunities with prospects using a model based on outdated notions of what sponsorship is all about.

I have a possible answer to why the industry seems to be stuck. And perhaps my IEG colleagues and I are partly to blame.

The rightsholders most successful at sponsorship are the large ones. The Olympics, the pro sports leagues, the Live Nations, AEGs and Madison Square Gardens, etc. Organizations that are successful have naturally been the ones we model.

But although there are many reasons why we should hold those organizations out as great examples of activations, of how to service partners, of how to deliver great experiences, produce relevant content, etc., the sponsorship sales/partner recruitment process is not an area for smaller opportunities to emulate those at the top.

In those other areas, the ideas are transferable, just on a smaller scale. But the sponsorship sales process for major properties is premised on huge reach and mass popularity. If you can’t deliver that, you have to take a different approach to what you offer prospective partners. But many rightsholders don’t do that. They pattern their efforts after a model built on scale when they don’t offer scale.

And they neglect to mention the amazing things they do offer, like emotional connections to their audiences and the information (data) they have on those individuals. They offer an auto manufacturer the opportunity to place a car in a high-traffic location. Maybe that works for properties with scale. But for most, the numbers aren’t big enough. Instead, they should be offering an engaging experience based on one-to-one relationships with a much smaller number of individual audience members who actually are targeted prospects for buying that car.

Strengths We Should Bank On

At the IEG conference, in addition to sharing some examples of successful partnerships and touting the many successful cases that would be discussed during our presentations, workshops and roundtables, I concluded that amid the multiple brand and business objectives that sponsorship can help achieve, the core strength of our industry is simple: the ability to emotionally connect brands to their consumers, employees, and all manner of other stakeholders through supporting, enabling and promoting the things they are passionate about.

 A well targeted partnership coupled with meaningful, relevant activation that enhances the consumer’s relationship with what he or she cares about earns share of heart. It is the powerful, timeless equation that underlies everything we do.

For brands to try to accomplish this through other means is decidedly not simple, nor is it often effective. To illustrate that point, I will pick on a brilliant young guy who I have mad respect for: Brian Wong, a mobile marketing savant and keynote speaker at IEG 2017.

Brian’s company Kiip, recently introduced a new service called Pathos, which is intended to help brands “appeal to consumers’ core emotional needs and evoke emotions consumers want to feel.” As part of this, Kiip identified “eight well-established emotional needs that matter most to brands,” mapped this against when people sought these emotions by time of day and researched which activities correlated to these emotions, such as the activity of listening to music with “fitting in.” Okay, I’m with them so far.

But Kiip’s recommendation to brands in the music/fitting in example is to buy mobile advertising on Spotify or Shazam and address the theme of fitting-in in the creative. That’s where they lost me. That’s a lot more steps along a convoluted path than simply partnering with a concert promoter, a festival producer, a venue, or an artist.

If there is one word that sums up the reason why what we do is often the best answer for brands seeking solutions, it is authenticity.

Authenticity was the heart of sponsorship’s strength when IEG was founded in the early 1980s and it is even more vital today, with consumers of all ages, not just younger ones, demanding it from the brands they will buy from.


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Jim Andrews

About the Author

A 30-year sponsorship industry veteran, Jim is responsible for developing and sharing thought-leadership content based on ESP Properties’ groundbreaking work in the areas of sponsorship strategy, valuation, measurement, digital content, data-driven marketing and fan engagement.

In addition to identifying key trends and delivering his unique insights into the critical issues facing rightsholders and their commercial partners, Jim is the chairman of the Annual Sponsorship Conference, responsible for the program and speakers, as well as hosting and delivering the event’s opening address. He also is responsible for the company’s annual report and forecast of overall sponsorship spending, as well as its compilation of biggest spending companies and annual industry surveys.

A frequent media commentator and guest, Jim has been a featured speaker at hundreds of sports, entertainment and marketing conferences around the world.



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