Sponsorship vs. Advertising

Sponsorship vs. Advertising

There is a huge difference between sponsorship and advertising. I have always said that, and over the past decade, have written several Tuesday Morning Commentaries on the subject. Both work. Both are forms of marketing and communication. But advertising is a push medium. It pushes out a message like a good price offer, or a “new and improved” or even a non-sales message. It is about pushing out a message. A sponsorship or partnership is an engaged medium. It may include components of advertising, such as commercials, to promote the sponsor’s alignment or a rink board within the hockey partnership that provides brand visual. But it goes farther. Sponsorship creates emotion and engagement. Without emotion and engagement, it is just advertising. So, when a company buys a rink board in an arena and a pair of season tickets, it is not a sponsorship. It is a media or advertising buy, and a ticket purchase. A sponsorship would have an authentic tie between the brand and the property to create a value-added opportunity for the fan or audience.

Before the onslaught of COVID-19, a long-time colleague and a client of ours (and a huge baseball aficionado) Guy Yerama forwarded me an article about the Savannah Bananas Baseball Club going to an Ad-Free Ball Park. He wanted to know my thoughts. I suggested that, rather than reply only to him, I would share it in a TMC. So, here are my thoughts on the article and concept.

  • If sold as a stand-alone, outfield signage is advertising—not sponsorship. I am cool with eliminating “advertising” and creating more engaged sponsorships.
  • I also fully agree that the “stadium needs to belong to the fans.” Without the fans, there are no gate admissions, concession sales, merchandise sales, or audience for the sponsors to reach with their messages, samples, and engagements. So, bring on the historic messaging of the stadium on one outfield wall and focus on fans on the other. It’s just that, in my world, these are two great assets that can be sold to a sponsor who can integrate the history story into its sponsorship and local place of business, or focus on the fans with a fan appreciation at their local store or facility.
  • If you eliminate all the sponsorship programs, you’d better have a #1 team every year to fill the stands, and sell merchandise and concessions. Typically, sponsorship and advertising can comprise up to 35-50% of the club’s revenue. If you are eliminating that revenue, what is backfilling for it? You only have so many seats to sell!
  • Also, when sponsorship is done right, it is authentic and engages the audience. It creates promotions with prizing, activities, and sampling (OK, not any more). Now all those costs have to be borne by the club and not the sponsors, because they have gotten rid of all the sponsors and the accompanying revenue.
  • I like the idea of eliminating the outfield signage. The Olympics do this very well—no sponsor rink boards, no sponsor logos on race bibs, etc. Without signage to use as a crutch, sponsors will need to engage and activate. They will need to create fan-applicable activities to make the experience and “who brought it to them” memorable. You still need the sponsors to do this.
  • So to recap, eliminate the signage and increase sponsor engagement—I love it. But if getting rid of sponsors altogether is the plan for the Bananas, then I think they are bananas!

For insights, feedback, and tips on managing your sponsorship program during COVID-19, during the recovery, and post COVID-19, check out our videos page on the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists® website. There are several short clips, some longer ones, and full-blown webinars on COVID-19 and your sponsorship programs. Access is 100% free.

Please continue to self isolate, stay home, stay in touch with others, and stay healthy. There is a very exciting New World coming our way and we will need all our energy to experience it.

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  1. Hi Brent,
    I love the idea of giving back to the fans in any way that you can! I also believe that some revenue can be made if you add NON-INVASIVE branding to the bottom portion of each wall panel or with each “moment/event” of the team’s history. Again, I do appreciate the idea, however there are ways to generate revenue, while being subtle about it.

    • Josh, you are so right. There is subtle ways… and it does not even have to be signage…. well said my friend.

  2. Hi Brent,

    This is a rare occasion when I have to take issue with one of your posts. But it’s just a relatively minor terminological matter.

    Advertising is ALWAYS a “push” strategy in marketing theory. Anytime a business is communicating directly to its target market, the objective is to push consumers to seek out the firm’s products or services.

    “Pull” marketing, on the other hand, is directed towards the firm’s distribution chain. The idea is to create opportunities for warehousers, distributors and retailers to generate extra profit for themselves in the hope that this will in turn motivate them to devote greater effort to “pulling” customers towards the products (e.g. by offering volume discounts to retailers). As such, a manufacturer’s pull strategy may in turn motivate a retailer to implement its own push strategy involving direct communication with the target market.

    To tie this in to the very valid points you make with regard to advertising versus sponsorship, when I’m teaching marketing management courses, I like to differentiate between “active” and “passive” marketing communications. Advertising is the most ubiquitous passive strategy – it’s strictly one-way communication directed towards the end consumer, with no built-in opportunity for dialogue. But advertising is often most effective when it is combined with active marketing strategies. One of my favourite examples of this is the Doritos campaign where consumers were encouraged to make and share their own television commercials. Not only did this motivate a relative handful of viewers to go out and produce their own ads, it also prompted a much larger proportion of the target audience to actively seek out those homemade promotional clips.

    Properly leveraged sponsorship is almost by definition an active marketing strategy, where the relationship with the property provides the opportunity for the firm to interact with one or more segments of the target market. It’s the interaction that’s the key to success, not only in sponsorship but in marketing communications in general.

    So, my suggestion would be that you explain to clients that advertising in and of itself is strictly passive, with a relatively low probability of provoking consumer engagement. It needs to be combined with (or even replaced by) an active promotional component in order to produce the best results for the firm, for its consumers and for the property.

    Keep up the great work, and stay healthy!

    Shaun G. Lynch, CFRE
    Department of Marketing, John Molson School of Business
    Concordia University

    • Shaun,

      Lol… hey most importantly, thanks for reading and sharing. And I love your feedback. And this time I agree with you “taking issue” with me!! I would very much jump on that bandwagon and differentiate the two as the fact that advertising is passive with low consumer engagement while sponsorship is active and consumer engaging. I love that description.

      And during this time… Stay HIPS! (Healthy, Isolated when possible, Physical distancing from others and Safe!)


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