How Should Sponsors Approach Sports Digital Partnerships?
As the Premier League 2019-20 season hits its stride, so too does another season of valuable commercial partnerships. This blog takes an end to end look at the way in which a sponsor can maximise the benefit of their partnership, and ensure that the impact of valuable assets are optimised fully.
(Liverpool X BT Sport)
While digital is now an expected component of a sponsorship agreement, too often inventory is mis-valued, poorly defined or not as sophisticated as in the wider digital market.
Having spent time both consulting and executing sports digital partnerships, this blog mixes learnings from both the theory and the reality from the standpoint of a sponsor beginning a new partnership or partnership renewal:
What should I ask for? How can it help me reach my organisation’s objectives? And am I getting value for money?
Here are some key questions that, chronologically, a sponsor should ask.
1. “Does this sponsorship help us hit our objectives?” 2. “What assets are we being sold?” 3. “How much is this worth to us? Are we getting a good ROI?” 4. “How do we work together?” 5. “Can we make this more effective?” 6. “Could we combine our sponsorship assets more effectively?”
So, let’s consider each in turn…
1. “Does this sponsorship help us hit our objectives?”
To start, ensure you have a clear understanding of the role of sponsorship to your organisation and – specifically – the role of this particular team, league, athlete or governing body.
Does your business have digital objectives? Without clearly defined objectives, it’s unlikely your sponsorship will drive the desired positive benefit.
And what is the objective of this specific partnership? Improved awareness in a specific market? Improved lead generation from an engaged audience? Strengthening of brand through a mix of brand association and amplification? The generation of traffic to a specific point in your sales funnel?
Unless both you and the business you’re sponsoring have a clear understanding of the objective of the sponsorship, it’s unlikely you’ll reach your goals.
Know your digital objectives, and agree those of the partnership with the business ✓
(Manchester United X Deadpool)
2. “What assets are we being sold?”
Product inventory, partner pages, social media posts, branded content, native advertising, brand campaigns… the contract clause for “the digital bit” has been in flux for a number of years and shows no sign of settling just yet.
Classic inventory offerings such as ‘logo in the website footer’ or ‘three solus emails a year’ are well understood, their perceived value trusted, and have been contract mainstays for a number of years. However, they're often untargeted and with an audience target of "everyone". Modern inventory can be tailored to communicate your message in the most effective ways possible to multiple audience groups, increasing ROI.
Don’t just ask for more, ask for better ✓
(Man City X Hays)
3. “How much is this worth to us? Are we getting a good ROI?”
The first real challenge.
Some proposed assets may not yet exist yet (eg a brand-new weekly content thread). Some assets may already exist (so you could request top-line data for a season’s worth of post-match interviews, for example) but teams win and lose, platforms dial reach up and down, and so digital performance isn’t guaranteed. This is the nature of sports sponsorship.
However, there’s a solution.
By using a valuation methodology (such as Seven League’s own valuation process), you can understand the commercial value of the assets offered. By combining publicly available data with top line figures offered in the sales process within Seven League’s algorithm, you can get to a figure from which you can negotiate.
You should also consider other positive impacts of the sponsorship; brand awareness, direct revenue from the promotion of products, the value of an email database opt-in etc.
Of course, in order to understand the ROI, you’ll also need to understand the value to your business of the benefits driven. This should include visibility from a new audience, awareness in a target territory, association with a (hopefully) successful sports business, fan engagement with your brand, and – with any luck – sales.
Get an independent valuation of the sponsorship for comparison with the ROI ✓
(Chelsea X EA Sports / FIFA)
4. “How do we work together?”
One of the hardest parts as a sponsor can be the feeling of distance between you and your assets.
You can’t just post what you want, when you want. You can’t activate your limited athlete access whenever you want. These deceptively simple things involve numerous people, layers of sign-off, and therefore need to be planned well in advance.
…even the reactive stuff.
So, agree your objectives. Understand at the beginning of the sponsorship broadly how you’ll be using the inventory. Then map the key moments in your year against that of the business you’re sponsoring. By planning campaign activity against this timeline, you can secure the athlete access you may need and work in plenty of time to agree creative execution and strategic publishing plans.
Planning doesn’t make a bad campaign good, but it can make a good campaign amazing.
Even reactive activity can be ‘planned’. Develop case studies and situation planning to give all parties a sense of what you might try to do if X, Y, Z situation arises. Define a slick communication and sign-off route and prepare both sides for how things may play out.
That way, when X situation arises, everyone is 50% prepped and on board.
Clear objectives > clear communication > clear plans > successful campaigns ✓
(Dude Perfect X Pringles)
5. “Can we make this more effective?”
So, we have been offered a suite of digital assets. They’ve been valued and we’re happy that the benefits they offer deliver a positive ROI. But can we make them work harder?
Paid media support, influencer and media syndication, and traditional PR outreach all form the wider publishing strategy that Seven League has been creating for clients for many years.
A sophisticated publishing strategy can be the difference between a successful campaign and a failure.
For example, combine the influence of the content’s stars, the influencers you invited to the shoot, the sports business itself, and the media partners with whom you made pre-arranged syndication plans and watch your content spread across the globe.
Ensure success for your inventory by defining and developing every available lever ✓
(Tottenham Hotspur X Hotels.com)
6. “Could we combine our sponsorship assets more effectively?”
Sponsorship packages can be made from all manner of valuable assets.
The digital inventory, of course, but also athlete and legend access, stadium ribbon and screen time, competition prizes, hospitality access, the ability to activate on your own channels, special access, permission to licence products featuring the team or league’s logo / players, and more.
These don’t have to be distinct executions. For maximum effect consider how these assets can be combined to create augmented results.
For example, creating a special content piece featuring (i) a legend and (ii) competition winners, in which the winners get a (iii) special prize, such as a limited-edition t-shirt. This product is then (iv) licensed for internal distribution to the sponsor’s employees, and the resulting content campaign is (v) distributed across owned, earned and paid content channels, including stadium screens.
Strengthen your campaign concepts by combining available assets and agreements ✓
(Rosenborg X Scandic Norway)
In conclusion, this barely scratches the surface of the thinking, valuation, negotiation, and creative execution required to create a mutually successful sponsorship of a sports business.
Seven League’s role and experience is in guiding global clients through this sometimes-challenging and costly process by correctly valuing the assets in which they’re investing, evaluating the likely ROI, and assisting step-by-step to get to a positive, valuable result.
This helps to not only strengthen digital sponsorships, but the wider expectations of digital in the sports industry.
If you’d like advice or guidance from Seven League regarding any of the topics covered in this blog, drop us an email at email@example.com
Other blogs we've written on the subject of digital content & sponsorship: