The Power of Sponsorship

The Power of Sponsorship

As we inch closer to normalcy and “post-COVID19,” we begin to think about the return of our sponsorship programs. Pre-COVID19, I often looked at sport sponsorships as being superficial, more about obligation, or even more self-centred than they should be. Too often, they are (or were… hoping for change) all about the properties and what they needed, or all about the sponsors and what they needed. They were not true collaborations and partnerships.

I am not talking about professional sports, which obviously led the pack in successful sponsorship, but rather the minor and recreational sport teams, the sport associations themselves, and their partners. For the most part, in my opinion, both the sport properties and the sponsors/brands have previously done a lousy job with sponsorship. There are exceptions, but the majority just don’t “get it.” Many of the brands are only looking at the room nights associated with the provincial or national sport tourism type event itself. Could there be more for that hotel, specifically with the local organizing committee, or the hotel ownership group that may have other properties in the region or country, or the flagship or overall hotel brand such as IHG, Marriott , Hilton, or others? What about the airlines? Could they do national annual deals versus just getting the business for the one event? Also, many of these “sponsors” are happy with the banner they get to display, the logo that is included on a web page no one visits, and the right to include a coupon or piece of information in a registration bag that most people throw away. It’s a pretty sad “sponsorship program” as far as I am concerned.

Then there are the properties themselves—the sport organizations, which sell their events instead of their audiences. They look at solo event sponsorship versus year-long holistic sponsorship programs that will deliver better results for their partners. They focus on selling packages to generate much-needed revenue for the event versus looking to see how they can help the sponsor succeed. They sell traditional banners, logos, and such versus digital, activation, and engagement. If these organizations want to maximise long-term revenue through corporate sponsorship, this has to change. I am hoping that, in post-COVID19, this will all change when we will have a clean slate if we choose to use it.

Both groups need to understand that sport is powerful, but I tend to think that sponsorship is even more powerful. It is truly the sponsors who can influence sport so all are more successful, or at least, ensure the sport organizations get the cash flow they need. But things must change, and the arrogance and ivory towers of many of these sport organizations must come tumbling down. For the leaders, it will mean partnerships. For the stubborn and last to engage, it will be detrimental. Perhaps it is up to the brands that sponsor these organizations to flex their muscles and create change.

Let me cite a few examples of the power of sponsorship in sport.

  • After free agency in major league baseball, the All-Star Game became unimportant. No longer were the bonus cheques needed by the players, and with all the trading between the American and National Leagues, the rivalry was not so exciting. FOX Television, which owned the rights, complained to MLB that the value was no longer there. By 1991, audience viewership was down 30%. No one cared about the All-Star Game. FOX said the league needed to do something to return the value to their sponsorship and make the All-Star Game important again. So, to keep the sponsor happy, MLB did just that. In 2002, it announced that each year’s All-Star Game winner would gain home field advantage in the World Series. That was important. 66% of World Series have been won by the team with home field advantage! A sponsor was able to get the MLB to change its rules. I call that power!
  • NBC holds the rights to the Olympic broadcasts through 2032. Up until 2016, NBC had spent over $15 billion on rights fees. That sort of spending yields a lot of power! At the Sydney Games in 2000, NBC required the Government of Australia to remove overhead hydro lines and towers to ensure better filming sight lines. This cost the Australian government over $20 million!
  • At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, NBC said it would not accept a September Olympics as China wanted. it was football season! When China moved it back to mid-August, NBC said no—that is the US Tennis Open. So they had to move it all the way back to August 8, 2008, which many thought was the selected date for opening due to the cultural importance of the number 8 to the Chinese (08/08/08). But no—it was because of the power that NBC held as a sponsor.
  • At those same Olympics, NBC required swimming and gymnastics matches to be moved from evening to morning. These were the top sports for US viewing, and by having early morning matches in China, they were in prime time in the USA. NBC connected with Michael Phelps (star of the USA team) to ensure that he was OK with the time change and that it would not affect his performance. Phelps agreed and the change was made. No other athletes were consulted. The Power of the Sponsor!

If you are a brand reading this and you cannot get an effective sponsorship program from a sport organization (or any organization for that matter, arts, charity… whatever), flex your muscles. And if you are a sport organization, be proactive and work with your sponsors and prospects before they force you to make decisions you may not like.

Whether you are looking for more content such as this or specific to the post-COVID-19 sponsorship world, the best place for insights, discussion, and learning is at the WSC® Alberta Forum in Edmonton September 29-30, the WSC® Ontario Toronto Forum (October 6-7) or WSC® Ontario Ottawa Forum  (October 20-21, 2020). Seating for all three events is limited, so register today to ensure you get the support you need to make your sponsorship program bounce back with success. Refund guarantees are in place, so there is no risk if you cannot attend. Register today for best pricing!

Please continue to practice social distancing when you can, stay home when you can, stay in touch with others, and stay healthy. We want to see you at WSC® 2020!

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  1. Why is Huawei still a sponsor partner of the NHL? The NHL needs to flex its muscles and severe ties.

    • Jane good question… perhaps it is because nothing they have done to date (including the downfall of Nortel) can be pinned on them. Perhaps because no one else has the 5G (not to mention 6G capability deliverable that they do and the NHL needs those for their online products? Perhaps it is because the NHL is actually based in the USA and not Canada… ah but that would be a reason for them to dump (as US tries to extradite their CFO and Canada under this government plans to still climb in bed with them… oops they did tat with WE too did they not…)

      Sorry… no answer… honestly.


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