What is the Greatest Sponsorship Innovation of Modern Times?

A while back, I saw the following, excellent question on Twitter and was asked to put in my two-cent’s worth:

What is the greatest sports marketing innovation of modern times?

While most of the respondents addressed innovations in the sports themselves – the games, the coverage, the technology and analytics – which led to increased marketability, I’m going to take a different approach. Rather than addressing innovations in the marketing of sports, as a sponsorship professional, I’m addressing the greatest innovations in marketing through sports and other properties – through sponsorship – and as far as I’m concerned, there have been two major, game-changing watersheds.

The One-to-One Rule

I started in this business in the mid-eighties. It was far from the halcyon days of sponsorship accountability and effectiveness, but there was one very bright spot – The One-to-One Rule. It went essentially like this: For every one dollar a sponsor spends on a sponsorship fee, they should spend one dollar leveraging it.

Now, I’m the first to point out that there are many flaws in this premise. The amount is arbitrary and it does nothing to encourage integration of sponsorship across already budgeted marketing activities. (See my blog, “How Much Should You Budget for Sponsorship Leverage?“, for more on leverage funding.)

What this rule did do, for the first time, was to make it clear that, in order to get a return, sponsorship had to be leveraged. That was a revelation, at a time when sheer visibility and hospitality ruled the game, and the wildly inaccurate assumption was that simply seeing a logo on a sport was enough to engender love for a brand. Even though the manner in which sponsorships are leveraged, and the appropriate level of funding, has changed a lot since The One-to-One Rule, the overarching premise has remained exactly the same:

When you invest in sponsorship, you are investing in opportunity.
It is leverage that provides the results.

For that revelation alone, we need to acknowledge this terribly flawed innovation as one of the greatest in the modern history of sponsorship.


Turn the clock forward a couple of decades, and the other greatest innovation in sponsorship emerged: The idea that sponsorship is no longer win-win, but win-win-win, with that third “win” going to the target markets.

Prior to win-win-win, the target markets – inarguably the most important party to any sponsorship deal – had more often than not been the losers. Rightsholders sold them out, putting price tags on a myriad of intrusive, disrespectful sponsorship benefits, and sponsors gladly paid for those sponsorships, going on to leverage them in ways that did nothing but disrespect, interrupt, and diminish the experience those target markets were trying to have. The tone was oblivious and self-serving and the volume was loud.

The concept of win-win-win was a revelation for sponsors around the world. The starting point for win-win-win is the acceptance that sponsors are not going to achieve their objectives with people who feel disrespected and abused by them. Sponsors realised that sponsorship provides them with the privilege of connecting to people through something those people have already decided they care about. And that adding real value to that experience – amplifying the best parts and ameliorating the worst – would make them a natural, invited, and appreciated part of the fan experience.

With brands desperate for ways to align, and deepen relationships, with their target markets, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Every day sponsors join this best practice movement, translating customer-centricity to the most powerful tool in their marketing toolbox. And as our world changes and media changes and the fan experience changes, the way best practice sponsorship is implemented changes, but the concept of win-win-win remains a constant. And thank goodness for that.

For more on best practice sponsorship, and where on the spectrum your organisation fits, these reads are a good start:

Need more assistance?

You may also be interested in my white paper, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“.

I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses for both sponsors and rightsholders. Get the details and links to course outlines and reviews here.

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 Systems Design 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.

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