In the most competitive sponsorship marketplace that has ever existed, every rightsholder—from international sports properties to local festivals to nonprofits—need to do all they can to raise the value of their sponsorship offers.

While tickets, exposure and other traditional inventory remain fundamental components of most sponsorship packages, properties must go beyond standard benefits as they jockey for position in front of corporate partners whose standards are higher and litmus tests more rigorous in an age of increased accountability and focus on return.

“Adding value is absolutely more important than ever, said David Lehanski, group vice president of integrated sales for the NHL. “Everyone is trying to justify return on investment from sponsorship, and providing packages that go beyond impressions to what a prospect is actually trying to achieve is critical in getting a deal done and developing a long-term relationship.”

Scott Paddock, president of Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway—and former Gatorade director of sports marketing before moving to the property side earlier this year—points to a primary driver of the growing importance of adding value: the recent economic downturn.

“What a company paid to a property increased year after year until the economy reset. That made every sponsor say, ‘What are you doing to deliver value to me?’ At Gatorade, our charge wasn’t to cut budgets, but how we were challenging our partners to provide more value.”

As a sponsorship seller, adding value for Paddock equates to enhancing the fan experience.

For example, Chicagoland Speedway plans to enhance GEICO’s new title sponsorship of its camping area by having the company provide daily newspaper delivery in conjunction with the Chicago Sun-Times, one of the track’s media partners.

“Instead of putting GEICO’s name on more signage, we wanted to exploit other opportunities to deliver value for fans that are camping,” Paddock said. “We want to make sponsors look good in front of our customers and enhance the guest experience at the same time. That’s a win-win.”

For the MLB San Francisco Giants, added value equates to over-delivery and is touted in sponsor recap reports.

“We never say, ‘You asked for these ten assets, and here are the ten assets you received.’ There is always something we do to over-deliver,” said Jason Pearl, the team’s managing vice president of corporate sponsorship and new business development.

For most sports marketing veterans, adding value starts at the beginning of the sales process. For many, it means sitting down with a prospect to uncover needs before making an actual pitch.

“I was always perplexed when a property made a pitch without a discussion of what Gatorade’s objectives were,” Paddock said. “The approach we have taken at the speedway is to have a discussion with a potential partner to understand their business and what’s important to them. Then we will come back with a custom package.”

The ability to craft a tailored proposal—and offer the necessary added-value benefits—often boils down to a key skill: listening.

“Adding value is not about providing additional impressions or more tickets,” Lehanski said. “Those are benefits that anyone would accept, but they may not be valuable to the partner. It all comes down to being a good listener and understanding what they want to achieve.”

Below, eight key ways that pro sports teams, entertainment attractions and other types of properties are adding value to their sponsorship offers.

Provide additional reach. Offering relevant exposure beyond signage can go a long way in adding value to sponsorship offers.

Knowing that Honda North America, Inc. was interested in additional on-site exposure and presence in TV broadcasts, the NHL found a way to integrate the automaker into the newly modified All-Star Fantasy Draft at the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover. The NHL and NHL Players’ Assn. this year changed the format of the draft to let the captains from each team select players.

“In our internal meetings, we realized that one player would be selected last,” Lehanski said. “The player is still an all-star and the best-of-the-best, but we needed to do something for them.”

The league officials came up with the idea of giving the player a Honda vehicle and a donation to their charity and including it as a segment of the All-Star Weekend TV broadcast.

Rightsholders also can give sponsors broader reach by incorporating them into social media efforts.

For example, the Arena Football League this month will tout the Army National Guard’s Home Town Heroes Salute campaign on its Facebook site and other social media channels.

“Social media might not have made sponsors top ten wish list two years ago, but now it’s a major consideration,” said Brian Corcoran, president and owner of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, a sponsorship sales agency that represents the AFL and other properties.

Carve out new sponsorship inventory. Looking to enhance its partnership with PepsiCo., Inc., SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. will align the company’s flagship beverage brand with the documentary Turtle: The Incredible Journey.

The film, which opens June 24, is being distributed to theaters by SeaWorld Pictures, a new SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment division.

The partnership gives Pepsi a platform for national and local promotions, as well as the opportunity for in-theater screenings, said Barbara Karasek, SeaWorld’s vice president of corporate partnerships and licensing. “We are bringing more assets to the table for Pepsi to activate,” she said.

In a slightly different twist, the Milwaukee Brewers are adding new ways for sponsors to use Miller Park.

For example, General Motors Co. now has the right to host a regional dealer meeting in the stadium’s board room and also uses the venue to introduce area dealers to its latest vehicles. The company displays the vehicles on the outfield warning track and gives keys to dealers to drive the cars back to their showrooms.

Provide business-building opportunities. Many leading properties are emphasizing efforts to help their partners with direct sales to others within the rightsholder’s sphere of influence.

For example, Madison Square Garden in 2009 created the Garden Presidents Organization to establish relationships and business opportunities among its corporate partners and other stakeholders.

MSG held its most recent GPO event in conjunction with signature partner Delta Air Lines, Inc. at a hangar at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport.

“The goal is to join together our top supporters with an emphasis on buying and selling goods and services, and shortening the sales cycle while creating compelling experiences for our executive members,” said Greg Economou, MSG’s executive vice president, revenue performance. “This gives them the opportunity to cut through the clutter and get to decision-makers in a one-on-one setting.”

The GPO events build on MSG’s annual sponsor summit, he added. MSG plans to host two GPO meetings this year with the goal of hosting up to four annual gatherings in coming years, he said.

Demonstrate sponsor products and services in action. The NHL adds value to its sponsorship offers by using and showcasing sponsor products in a relevant, setting.

“If we can authentically use their products and services in front of fans, it’s usually a home run,” Lehanski said.

Case in point: The NHL used Cisco System, Inc.’s TelePresence technology to allow reporters to interview Commissioner Gary Bettman after the season’s first Board of Governors meeting.

“Cisco was absolutely thrilled. It demonstrated the incredible value of their technology and what it could mean for other companies.”

Support partners’ community outreach efforts. The MLB Milwaukee Brewers are augmenting a new partnership with industrial materials manufacturer Brady Corp. with a tie-in to the company’s Academic All-Stars high school scholarship program, which awards a $1,000 scholarship to 45 students from four counties in Southeastern Wisconsin based on their performance in the classroom, on the playing field and in the community.

The Brewers supported the program by hosting an awards ceremony on top of the home team dugout at Miller Park. Former Brewers player and youth outreach manager Larry Hisle served as the event’s keynote speaker and assisted in the award presentation. The Brewers Community Foundation also provided a $15,000 grant to the scholarship program.

“Identifying a means to enhance the Academic All-Stars event through our corporate partnership provides a great example of how we can build value through our sponsorships,” said Andrew Pauls, the team’s senior director of corporate marketing.

Offer benefits gratis with the goal of building a relationship. Some properties have found success by including at no cost additional benefits that are not typically part of a package, with the goal of building the relationship over time.

That was a tactic employed by Madame Tussauds wax museum in New York City, which gave J&R Electronics Inc. on-site signage and other exposure at its Washington, D.C. location to sweeten the deal.

“Our thinking is, let’s start a relationship, and once we gain traction we can re-assess and make a decision on how to move forward,” said Daniela Gorelov-Elasbat, experiential marketing & strategic alliances manager with Madame Tussauds NY & D.C. The venues are part of the Midway Attractions USA East unit of Merlin Entertainments Group.

Gorelov-Elasbat has used new events as a gratis hook to attract larger partners. For example, she added a tie to last year’s first-time After Dark Halloween event at Madame Tussauds New York to a partnership package she was pitching to a liquor company.

“When an event is new, there isn’t much traction to show what it has yielded in years past, so let’s both take a calculated risk,” she said.

Share unsold inventory. Not all properties agree with using extra benefits as a sales tool, reserving them for existing sponsors only.

The Giants’ Pearl, for example, believes rightsholders should only toss in extra inventory once a deal is signed, not before. “You have to be careful not to devalue a property by throwing in too many assets before a deal is done. Once it is done, use added value to show your appreciation.”

The Giants and others make available to current sponsors promotional platforms that have not been sold or might not be used because a sponsor missed a deadline.

“Rather than having something go unused, we will go to an existing client and say, ‘We are excited and appreciative of your support; this will be your promotional day.’”

Add VIP-level benefits. Properties are going above and beyond the direct experiences tied to their venues and events to offer additional VIP opportunities to sponsors.

For example, The 2012 Ryder Cup—which takes place at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago—offered sponsors the opportunity to attend a private reception following the announcement of Davis Love III as U.S. Ryder Cup captain. The event—hosted at Chicago’s Spiaggia restaurant—was attended by Scottie Pippin, Ernie Banks, Dan Hampton and other sports celebrities.

The Ryder Cup capped the event at 200 attendees, said Michael Belot, the event’s director. “We could have sold more tickets, but we wanted to keep it small and intimate.”

Sponsors of the 2012 Ryder Cup also receive the opportunity to visit Medinah and play its championship golf course.