That was the question I had to address at a conference a while back. My opinion? Of course sponsors can help teams sell tickets. Great sponsors are not only adding value to the fan experience, but they’re engendering advocacy for that experience, and bringing that fan experience to their own markets – all critical factors for developing and growing an audience.
That said, I think most teams that want to go down this track are doing themselves no favours, when it comes to helping sponsors nurture fan relationships. There are three key reasons:
Let’s be honest here. More often than not, teams are happy to put a price tag on all manner of intrusive, disrespectful sponsorship “benefits”. You want to scream at our fans during play? Sure, if the cheque’s big enough. You want to insist our fans use your credit card to buy their season tickets? Absolutely, but it will cost you. You want to put lit up, moving signage right next to the field or court during play? Of course – as long as we can make a buck out of it, we’re happy to allow our sponsors to diminish the fan experience!
Like the Hippocratic Oath says, “First, do no harm”. If you want your sponsors help you to build your audience, don’t allow, or encourage, them to diminish the experience.
For more on why you shouldn’t sell benefits that sully the fan experience, read “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux“.
I could write pages and pages on all of the times I’ve gone with a corporate client to a team with some amazing leverage ideas – ideas that would benefit the sponsor, the team, and the audience – and been met with either a “that’s not how we do things” or the request for an inordinate amount of extra money for the one or two, usually modest, benefits we needed to make it happen.
If you want a sponsor to go the extra mile and help you to achieve your marketing goals, you need to be flexible. Don’t charge extra for a couple of benefits that underpin an idea that is good for everyone. Don’t tell a sponsor they can’t implement a big leverage idea that achieves their marketing objectives, and then ask them to help you with yours.
Many teams have become maestros at fan engagement. As our industry fought back from COVID, the creative ideas for engaging all of those suddenly remote fans have been amazing. This kind of thinking will serve teams well, as they’ve now developed a comprehensive menu of engagement for both in-person and the remote fans that have always been there, but have been largely overlooked by teams, pre-COVID.
My question is simple: Where were the sponsors? Why were so many of those great ideas used exclusively by teams, for their audience. They were aimed at people who were already fans and bought-in enough to engage with the team. In other words, they are preaching to the converted. And sure, that audience needed to be nurtured, as the fan experience was suddenly thrown into chaos. But that hoarding of great ideas isn’t new. It’s been happening for years.
I couldn’t help but think how much more powerful many of those ideas would have been if some of them had been flicked to sponsors, who were also struggling with investments thrown into chaos, and leverage plans thrown out the window. And in all the years past, how great it would be for the teams to put their fan insights and creative brainpower into leverage ideas for sponsors – ideas that would achieve brand objectives, nurture fan aligment, and bolster the fan base and ticket sales.
There are even teams and major sporting events that cross the line, requiring sponsors to submit their leverage plans for approval, and then they steal the best ideas for themselves. (I’ve now been involved in two of these – one quadrennial sporting event, one major team. What a headache!)
Sponsors can absolutely help teams engender interest and loyalty, ultimately selling tickets. But teams can be their own worst enemy, and until that changes, sponsors will have neither the interest nor the ability to make any real dent in any team’s ticket sales.
You may also be interested in my white papers, “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.
Rightsholders, for all you need to know about sponsorship sales and servicing, you may want to get a copy of The Sponsorship Seeker’s Toolkit 4th Edition.
If you need professional assistance with sponsorship, I offer sponsorship consulting and strategy sessions, sponsorship training, and sponsorship coaching. I also offer a comprehensive sponsorship capacity-building service for large, diverse, and/or decentralised organisations.
Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.
© Kim Skildum-Reid. All rights reserved. To enquire about republishing or distribution, please see the blog and white paper reprints page.