Although sponsorship spending continues to rebound, the sponsorship sales environment remains as competitive as ever.

Properties ranging from international sports events to local fairs and festivals are increasingly facing more scrutiny over sponsorship proposals, a longer decision-making process and overall anxiety on closing deals.

So what are successful properties doing to raise the value of their sponsorship offers? What are they doing to secure interest from new prospects and build relations with existing partners?

One key takeaway: Rightsholders need to take a proactive role in their partners’ success by moving beyond packages that provide impressions and other standard inventory in favor of integrated, measurable marketing platforms.

Below, five ways that properties are adding value to their sponsorship offers:

Take the position of a consultant. For Madison Square Garden, adding value is about thinking like its partners, understanding their objectives and developing targeted marketing platforms that ensure sponsorship success.

That process begins by taking the view of a third-party consultant, said Greg Economou, MSG’s executive vice president of corporate sales and solutions.

“It’s all about being consultative. We’re constantly thinking about how we can create solutions for clients that will drive their business objectives.”

MSG has developed an internal team—dubbed the partnership strategy group—to brainstorm and implement activation programs, he said.

“They work like an agency. Their job is to figure out how our partners can achieve their objectives and move the marketing needle.”

Six Flags Entertainment Corp. takes a similar tack. The amusement park company positions its sponsorship department as a promotions agency by offering creative and other activation services.

The goal: help sponsors offset the cost of activation.

“One of the greatest challenges for sponsors is the cost of activation. If a sponsor doesn’t have in-house creative services, we’ll do it for them,” said David McKillips, Six Flag’s senior vice president of corporate alliances.

Six Flags also uses street teams to sample product, conduct intercept surveys and perform other tasks on behalf of sponsors.

“We package that in to help ease the cost of activation.”

Other properties also are taking a more proactive approach to activation.  The NBA Cleveland Cavaliers last year changed the name of its sponsor servicing team to sponsor activation to support its growing focus on helping partners brainstorm ideas.   

In addition to renaming the department, the team doubled the number of staffers from three to seven employees.

“In the past the service team was implementing assets. Now we put more responsibility on the team to measure, amplify and authenticate those assets back to our partners,” said Randy Domain, vice president of corporate partnerships and activation with the Cavaliers Operating Co., which owns the Cavaliers, AHL Lake Erie Monsters and other pro sports teams.

Help measure success. Knowing that sponsors increasingly need to justify their investments, a growing number of properties are investing in outside research and third-party analytics to help measure success.

“We’re hearing more and more from partners and prospects about the importance of measurement. We’re placing more focus on providing metrics and analytics to the overall partnership,” said Domain, who has hired a third-party analytics firm to track and report the value of courtside signage on a game-by-game basis.

Other properties also are doubling down on measurement. Case in point: Representatives from thirty-party research firms will speak at the MLB Kansas City Royals’ sponsor summit later this month.  

“The more data we can provide our partners to help validate their purchasing decision with us, the more likely we are to renew them,” said Wes Engram, the Royals’ senior director of corporate partnerships and broadcast sales.

Ten Tips On Adding Value
Provide business-building opportunities
  • Facilitate business among cosponsors
Carve out new inventory
  • Provide inventory for local and national promotions
  • Offer use of venue for sponsor functions
Demonstrate services in action
  • Promote products and services in a relevant setting
Promote sponsors through social media
  • Include sponsor-specific content in social media initiatives
Help enhance the fan experience
  • Provide platforms that resonate with consumers
Support community outreach efforts
  • Use property assets to enhance CSR programs
Provide turnkey activation platforms
  • Make it easy for sponsors to activate
Offer platforms that tell a story
  • Develop credible stories that engage the media
Provide one-of-a-kind hospitality benefits
  • Offer private receptions and access to celebrities
Offer business back
  • Purchase sponsor products and services

Provide audience research. Looking to gain insights into the likes and dislikes of soccer fans, The Football League next month will roll out The Changing Room, an online panel of roughly 15,000 soccer aficionados.

The English soccer league will use the panel to gain feedback on rules and regulations as well as activation ideas for new and existing partners, said Phil McKee, The Football League’s research and insight executive.  That includes feedback on what types of activation programs resonate with fans.

“Before our first meeting with a prospect, we’ll use the panel to come up with ideas on how a sponsorship should look.  There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time and effort developing an activation platform to find out there is no appetite with fans.”

The Football League is recruiting fans from its 72 member clubs and three leagues with the goal of having roughly 220 fans from each club. The league offers tickets, sponsor merchandise and other perks to incent participation.

The league plans to go live with the panel prior to the Feb. 24 Capital One League Cup at Wembley Stadium, said McKee, noting that Capital One (Europe) plc will have the opportunity to gain feedback on its sponsorship. The credit card company last year inked four-year title of the showcase cup competition.

Offer off-site extensions. Many properties have found success by offering platforms that provide reach beyond a sponsored event.

For example, Pitchfork Media created an integrated marketing program for Converse Inc. around the Nov. 1-3 Pitchfork Music Festival Paris. The platform afforded on- and off-site benefits that included a backstage artist gifting lounge, a kickoff party at local retailer and a branded shuttle bus.

To gain buzz in the digital space, Pitchfork leveraged its in-house production team to develop a Converse-branded video series. The videos featured Pitchfork artists performing acoustic performances in unique locations around Paris. Pitchfork posted the content on the festival’s Web site, while Converse posted the videos on its Facebook page and dedicated Youtube channel.

“The way I look at is ‘how can we enhance a sponsorship with digital extensions?’” said Matt Frampton, Pitchfork Media’s vice president of sales.

Offer cause overlays. Some properties have found success by aligning sponsors with cause marketing and other community outreach programs

The Marine Corps Marathon last year aligned DSW Inc. with its shoe donation program, an initiative that distributes gently worn shoes to local homeless shelters. The retailer supported the initiative with a promotion at the marathon expo that offered a $5 gift card for each donation.

The promotion generated roughly 750 shoe donations, up from 150 in prior years, said Marc Goldman, the marathon’s sponsorship/marketing manager.

DSW had to replenish its gift card supply twice due to the unexpected number of donations, he said.

“It was a nice way to enhance a component of the event by having a sponsor take ownership of it.”

DSW partnered with the event to promote two new stores in Washington, D.C.