How to Find Value in Sports Sponsorship

What’s true about the evolution of marketing tactics, just like in publicly traded stocks, is their value (or impact) changes over time.

Just 50 years ago the most valuable companies were department stores like Sears, industrial businesses like US Steel, and low-tech pioneers like Polaroid and Kodak.  

In the marketing world, the daily newspaper used to be the dominant source of information, and the most popular solution for advertisers.  

Today the most valuable companies are in technology, they make software like Oracle and Salesforce, or run digital platforms like Amazon and Uber — connecting people with information, products, and services.  

In the marketing world, the value (and popularity) of digital and social marketing has exploded, while the value of print marketing has plummeted.

But there is one marketing tactic that is seemingly timeless, because its value has never diminished, and today may be at its pinnacle — and that is — sports sponsorship.  

Why?  Because there has never been more demand for content — and there have never been more ways to consume content.  

What I mean by content is the entertainment you watch, and listen to, or read in various kinds of media like TV shows, movies, sporting events, concerts, viral videos, music from the radio or from streaming services like Spotify, articles from websites, blogs, apps, and other news providers.

All of it consumed on a growing number of devices and platform like our smart phones, TV’s, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and even watches.

Therefore, the amount of money invested in content has never been greater, Netflix alone spent over $6 billion on entertainment for their subscribers in 2017.

ESPN, a part of Disney, spent about $6 billion on just the rights to air live sporting events — the most valuable of all content.

The Value of Live

Live sports are the most valuable of all content because it’s rare now for people to share the same entertainment experience at the same time.

Most of us are plugged into our personal (on-demand) feed of entertainment, delivered by our favorite device.

Intelligent marketers covet reaching folks sharing experiences at the same time because it’s a more efficient and effective way of engaging customers. 

Think about the Super Bowl in 2018, advertisers paid over $5 million PER thirty-second commercial (in part) because over 100 million people were tuned in at the same time.  

Live sports, especially Football, Basketball and Baseball, translate well to every media — they are safe for anyone to watch —and they elicit an emotional connection unlike any other type of content.

Sports work well in TV, Radio, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and are ideal for streaming.  Also, they provide compelling content and analysis for printed publications like magazines, newspapers, and programs.  

This means flexibility in creating effective and affordable campaigns for sponsors.

Sports are also safe — meaning when a business invests in sports sponsorship, they don’t have to worry about being associated with anything obscene or politically offensive — a growing concern especially in the digital marketing space.

A Shortcut to Making Your Business Unique and Compelling

One of the biggest challenges facing business owners today is figuring out how to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

How can your law firm, furniture store, HVAC company, or auto dealership stand out from your competition?

Most businesses say the same things in their advertising: How long they’ve been in business, how well they serve their clients, and that they’re locally owned and operated. 

Rarely are these features unique, and rarely are they compelling enough (on their own) to attract customers.

Sponsoring a pro or college sports team is a shortcut to the hard work it takes to develop a unique selling point.  

You gain access to a team’s most valuable asset — their intellectual property.  This means you can proclaim your business an official partner and incorporate their logos into your own advertising.  

This creates instant credibility and a connection to their fan base, the community, alumni, university leadership, faculty and students.  

Nobody understands this better than the beverage industry.  

Pepsi may not taste like Coke, and Miller may not taste like Coors, but they are similar. 

That’s why these savvy marketers engage with college programs and professional franchises in just about every city — because it makes them stand out AND it instantly connects them with a large pool of customers.

How to Market Your Business to Other Businesses

If you’re a business selling products or services to other businesses (a B2B), sponsorship is an especially good idea. 

B2B’s have a smaller target audience — other businesses. And there are fewer ways for them to advertise — which is why they often employ salespeople.

Ads in business journals and trade publications can only be as effective as the message or offer in the ad.

So, if you’re an official partner of a respected athletic program, and cleverly weave this into your marketing, suddenly you have a more compelling message.    

Ice Miller is a law firm based in Indianapolis, IN. And they work with many colleges in the state of Indiana.  

The ad below ran in a local business journal — but I modified it slightly — I inserted the logos of four prominent universities above their headline “build partnerships.” 

Which version of this ad do you believe would have more impact? The one with or without the implied partnership and logos?    

If you sell services or products to a college or university, you’d be wise to invest in an athletic sponsorship.  

Why?  Guess who attends games and pays close attention to their athletic programs?  

University leadership, administration, trustees, influential alumni, and decision makers within each school or department.  Also, students, their parents, visiting teams, visiting administrators, fans who are business decision makers, and the community.  

If you want to do business with the college or university, you’d be wise to invest in an athletic sponsorship.

Why? A sponsorship with a college athletic program is the single most impactful and efficient way of engaging these decision makers.  Period.  

Furthermore, you can invest in hospitality opportunities where can meet and interact with these leaders and decision makers. 

Universities also have ENORMOUS economic impact on their communities.

If you operate a business in a college town, you’d be wise to invest in some kind of sponsorship — or risk having a direct competitor gain this advantage — and risk losing out on a large source of existing and potential clients.

How to Get a Return on your Sponsorship Investment

All it takes is a little effort, and some common sense.

If you buy a sign and put your logo on it — and that’s all you do — it will be tough to measure the response.  

I’m not saying it won’t work, people will see your logo. Some will buy your product or service just because of that sign — but it’s still tough to measure.

Now, what if you add a clever little offer just below your logo?

What if a customer could download a coupon or some helpful research from your website? Now we have something more measurable!

Here are some other ideas (and there are many more) you can use to help develop a sponsorship likely to generate a measurable return on your investment:

Create a branded product, for example, Toyota has an Indianapolis Colts branded truck.  Ford has a Texas Edition truck.  

The Indianapolis Colts Toyota Tacoma Truck

You can brand anything with an athletic team. A furniture dealer could develop a branded recliner with logos and beverage holders.  Fans love to buy stuff with their team’s logo on them.

Have a coach or current or former player endorse your product or service.  Before Peyton Manning ever threw a touchdown pass, Indianapolis auto dealer Bill Estes signed him to an endorsement contract, and reaped the rewards of that partnership as Manning’s career took off.

Not everyone can afford a celebrity spokesperson, but you can probably afford a former or current player or coach, and this instantly distinguishes you from all your competitors. 

Offer a discount on your product or service with a win  or a loss — or some specific score.  The more you gamble the more interesting this becomes to fans. In many cities where Papa John’s operates, when the local colleges or pro team wins, fans win 50% off their next pizza!

Put your name on it!  Let’s say you own a lawn services company — name the football field — call it LAWN PRIDE FIELD! 

Lawn Pride Field @ Ball State University’s Scheumann Stadium

If you own a professional services firm and want to entertain clients and rub elbows with business leaders — put your name on the suite level or premium seats, or even create a special section for VIP’s.

Share Content — as I explained earlier, sports content is valuable, so become a sponsor of replays, or the play of the game, or a special video feature. Then SHARE IT on your own social media feeds.  

Ball State Sports Link is a student run program that produces video series and reports on Ball State’s athletic programs

Watch your audience organically grow by being the source of great content from a respected athletic program or franchise.  

One of the Best Ideas Ever

Many years ago, an NFL executive named Jim Steeg was inspired by a Wilson tennis racket.  He noticed a giant “W” on the strings signifying the Wilson brand.  

Steeg took that idea and emblazoned the NFL shield on the nets behind the goal posts at the 2003 Super Bowl and in Pro Bowls from 2002 to 2004.  A few years later Allstate picked up the idea and now sponsors over 100 colleges and football events each year.  

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This an example of an awesome idea we know is influential but may be difficult to measure.

How to Recruit the Best Talent

Historically low unemployment is a great thing for our country, but the number one complaint I hear from business owners is finding and keeping good people to work for them.

This is not just a white collar problem; it spans the entire spectrum of employment. From local retailers and restaurants, to shift workers and truck drivers, all the way up to professional service firms.

And the greatest untapped resource of talent is at colleges across our country.  From students who need part-time work to fund their college education, or find work because college is not working out, or the future salespeople, doctors, lawyers, bankers and accountants.  

An intelligent and efficient way of introducing your company to these potential recruits is by engaging with them through their collegiate athletic teams.

Sure, there will always be career fairs and on-campus interviews. And just like a needle in a haystack — you won’t be memorableespecially to the graduates who truly do have choices.  But what if these recruits knew about your company BEFORE they met you? And they thought of you in a different way, as someone who supports their beloved basketball or football team and might be cool to work for?

Chances are, most of these student have never heard about your insurance firm, or bank, or software company, or whatever … unless you’re with a big national brand with lots of name recognition. 

Something as simple a sign in an arena will put you on the radar of more potential qualified candidates than just about any other form of recruitment marketing.  And it will be less expensive. 

This is pro-active recruitment marketing.  It’s about the long game. Because by the time you’re forced to spend money to fill your talent pipeline, it’s already too late.

A sports sponsorship won’t flood your HR department with a pile of resumes. But in the long term, it will align your business with something near and dear to the hearts of thousands of future adults who will need jobs.