How Corporate Partnerships are Evolving and How You Can Prepare

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AB recently launched a new incentive-based sponsorship model that has many teams changing their strategies. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Years ago, sports sponsorships were, by and large, a feel-good expenditure: The SVP of Marketing loved seeing his company logo on a big sign in your venue or the CEO was enamored with the VIP access her company received as part of their agreement. More often than not, measuring the effectiveness of a sponsorship was done through an annual recap serving as proof of performance that the team delivered the five assets (signage, autographs, an in-game feature, etc.), and seven activations in a brand’s sponsorship agreement.

But now?

Brands are increasingly focused on quantifying the Return on their Investment (ROI) or showing that their partnership provided some level of Return on their Objectives (ROO). This shift is occurring because marketers are much more likely to have to demonstrate the business results associated with sponsorship spending.

The increased scrutiny on corporate partnerships means that now more than ever, sports and entertainment properties need to have a good understanding of why sponsors are spending money with them and they need to be able to quantify the value their partnerships create for their partners’ businesses. And if properties can’t demonstrate the value they create? Well, then brands just won’t renew their partnership agreement. Or if they do, it will be at a sizable discount on last year’s deal.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into eight of the most common objectives companies have as they enter corporate partnership agreements and some traditional activations used to accomplish them:

Driving Consumers to Retail

One of the best ways to create value for your corporate partners is through your ability to get your fans (and their potential customers) physically into their stores where they can walk the aisles and see your partner’s entire product offering. Similarly, any partnership element that offers salespeople an opportunity to interact and build rapport with potential customers can be equally valuable for your sponsors.

Whether you’re a sporting goods store looking for a boost in merchandise sales or a car dealership interested in consumers getting exposure to the latest model-year cars, one of the best activations for driving traffic to a specific location is a player appearance and/or autograph signing. This particular activation can accomplish multiple goals simultaneously and can be a great fit for a variety of sponsors (e.g., Banking, QSR, Retailer) who are concerned with creating traffic in their store.

Driving Sales

What’s better than getting fans to your partner’s store? Helping them actually sell their products or services.

Every company, no matter how big or small needs to continuously ring the cash register to stay in business. As such, the overwhelming majority of corporate sponsors are looking to leverage their partnership to drive sales for their organization.

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There are numerous activations that can be employed to accomplish this objective. For example, a B2C company (e.g., Auto Services, Consumer Goods, QSR) might place a coupon on the back of your ticket stock. Meanwhile, a B2B firm (Financial Services, Food Distribution Company, Law Firm) might leverage a suite to entertain potential clients and close that big deal they’ve been working on.

Lead Generation

A list of leads is one of the most valuable assets you can provide for your corporate partners; the more qualified the better. Many properties are pitching brands on the premise that their fans are more likely to conduct business with a sponsor. As such, there are a number of corporate partners that are interested in a list of leads to which they can reach out and sell their product or services.

There are several types of partners for which lead generation is their top priority but some of the most common are banks, car dealers, publications, and telecommunication companies. One of the most common partnership assets that result in a list of leads are on-site activations where your sponsor has a prize to give in exchange for your fans providing their contact information (think concourse tabling). Alternatively, this can also be accomplished online through enter-to-win sweepstakes.

Increasing Brand Awareness

It’s not uncommon for your smaller and/or local sponsors to view your partnership as an opportunity to increase their aided and unaided brand awareness in the marketplace. You also may find that some of the largest brands in the world are looking for assets that are a pure branding play. Be it a well-known brand or a small local company, brand awareness is critical as it sits at the top of the purchase funnel.

Some of the most common assets leveraged to enhance brand awareness are those with some sort of media value attached to them such as stadium signage or commercials during your radio and television broadcasts. That being said, the biggest (and most expensive) asset your team has for this objective is the naming rights for your venue.

Brand Engagement

Once your fans are aware of your sponsor’s product or service the next step is to get them to try it. To that end, corporate partners frequently ask teams for activations that encourage fans to engage with, or sample, their products. Whether it’s an interactive game day activity in your stadium or a non-gameday event where select fans participate in a VIP experience with your sponsor; the goal is to leverage their affiliation with your team to move fans one step closer to product adoption.

Generally speaking, this objective is most applicable to B2C companies (e.g., CPG, Food & Beverage, Electronics, QSR & Telecom) and the types of activations vary based on the company. It’s not uncommon for an electronics retailer to seek exclusivity for all of the TVs in your stadium or for a CPG company to request an opportunity to sample their product outside of your stadium on game day.

Increasing Brand Sentiment

Corporate partnership with a professional sports team is a great way to change attitude towards a brand. This is particularly true in instances where a company or firm doesn’t offer a consumer-facing product or service.

Often times, companies or firms looking to increase the perception of their organization view their partnership with your organization as their platform to amplify their ability to give back or do good. Typical activations can range from renovating playgrounds or fields to player appearances at a local non-profit organization.

Increasing Brand Preference

Increasing fans’ willingness to purchase is a top priority for many corporate partners, as it’s the step right before purchase. Brands are doing everything they can to become consumer’s brand of choice and their sponsorship with your team provides them ample resources to accomplish this objective.

Increasing brand preference is one of the objectives that can live both in and out of your stadium. Two of the more popular assets designed to enhance consumer willingness to buy are any activation where fans can purchase your product and receive a discount on purchasing tickets to an event at your stadium or an activation tied to a VIP Experience (e.g., Player Meet & Greet or participation in an in-game feature). The great thing about these sponsorship elements is that they work both for your B2C clients (think, enter-to-win contest) and your B2B clients (as a gift to a current or potential client).

Increase/maintain employee morale and engagement

The importance of this objective cannot be understated. Employee morale and employee engagement is critical for success and your corporate partners know that their partnership with your team can be a tremendous source of pride for their associates.

Accomplishing this objective can happen in a number of ways. For instance, your partner may purchase the naming rights to a particular landmark inside your venue (as a source of corporate pride). Alternatively, they may include a ticket element in their deal (e.g., season tickets or suite nights) so they can raffle off tickets to their employees.

Final Thoughts

More often than not, these objectives do not live in isolation from one another. It’s becoming increasingly likely that your partnership has a variety of elements designed to accomplish multiple goals. Corporate Partners are looking for an integrated sponsorship strategy in which your team has a clear understanding of their business objectives and then leverages the necessary assets to drive meaningful and measurable business results.

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