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How to Get the Most Out Of Your Sports Sponsorship

Advertising Age, January 20, 2014

By E.J. Schultz

Marketers are expected to spend $14.35 billion on sports sponsorship deals this year, a 4.9% increase from 2013 when spending grew 5.1%, according to a report from IEG. While the rate of increase is forecast to slow, sports still dominates the sponsorship business, accounting for 70% of all dollars, the WPP-owned sponsorship, research and consulting firm found. (Entertainment sponsorship comes in at 10%, causes at 9% and arts at 4%.)

But how should corporate sponsors make the most of that money? Ad Age recently caught up with IEG senior-VP for content Jim Andrews for some tips.

Individual sports teams are collecting more data from season-ticket holders than ever, from personal information to concession-buying habits, with some of it collected through smartphone-enabled ticketing, Mr. Andrews said. Sponsors should ask for some of that data, which consumers are more willing to give to their favorite team than a corporate brand.

One execution, for example, Verizon Precision Market Insights was able to tell the NBA's Phoenix Suns if fans went to a specific fast-food franchise after a game, thus testing the effectiveness of a sponsorship. "We're able to track the activity of the folks who are at the stadium on qualifying events, what they do the day afterward," Zaheer Benjamin, the Suns' VP-business planning and basketball analytics, told an audience at the 2013 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

In the past, sponsorship deals prioritized brand exposure at events. But today the top priority is social-media activations. Brands should ask: "How can I, as one of your corporate partners, access your audience through your digital tools and how can you give me content that I can use on my digital platforms?" Mr. Andrews said.

One example: Taco Bell and the NBA recently expanded their partnership in a deal that includes a digital and social program showcasing game-winning shots. Among other things, fans will be able to view clips of "Buzzer Beaters" at a Taco Bell-branded section on

It used to be that sports properties had only a couple people on staff to service sponsors. But the trend is moving toward more robust support, including specialists for each category, from business-to-business sponsors to fast-food marketers. "Make sure your partner, especially if you are spending a lot of money, can deliver and give you a dedicated servicing person," Mr. Andrews said.

Sports properties should be flexible as marketers' needs change. And if they aren't, sponsors should demand it. Ask for a regular review of the contract, for instance. If a sponsor's objectives have changed, such as launching a product or seeking a new audience, it should have the ability to renegotiate rights and benefits.

"In a long-term agreement, brand objectives change, corporate objectives change. And that flexibility is vital to the sponsors," Mr. Andrews said.