The One Critical Skill Most Sponsorship Professionals Lack

The One Critical Skill Most Sponsorship Professionals LackSponsorship isn’t easy. It’s complex and sophisticated and it requires many very specific skills to do it well. But there is one skill that I have found to be the most consistently lacking across sponsorship professionals on both sides of the equation:

They have forgotten what it’s like to be a fan.

They haven’t forgotten about the fans. Not at all. Sponsors want to connect with them and influence them. Rightsholders know their fanbase is their most valuable asset. But valuing the fans as customers or commodities is not the same as understanding and valuing the fan experience.


Forgetting what it’s like to be a fan is epidemic in our industry. We can’t go to events without paying more attention to the sponsorships than to the band or the game or whatever. And when we do go to events, we’re more often than not ensconced in some private hospitality suite or otherwise getting the VIP treatment. And while we are unbelievably privileged to get that kind of access, it can also be our undoing. Fan-nesia is our industry’s greatest malady, and it underpins some of our industry’s greatest failings.

Fan-nesia is our industry’s greatest malady, and it underpins some of our industry’s greatest failings.

How does a rightsholder keep selling visibility, when as a fan, he knows the audience doesn’t pay attention to signage? How does a rightsholder propose intrusive sponsorships over and over, when as a fan, he knows it’s detrimental to the fan experience?

How does a sponsor disrespect the fan experience in the name of brand goals, when as a fan, every time a sponsor is overbearing at an event she cares about, her response is, “Oh, would you just piss off!”? How does a sponsor insist on a degree of exclusivity that borders on draconian, when as a fan, she’s outraged when a sponsor suddenly has control of her rights? If you’ve ever had to turn your t-shirt inside out because it had a sponsor’s competitor’s logo on it, or been told you can’t buy tickets unless you are using the sponsor’s credit card, you have experienced that fan outrage.

But sponsors and rightsholders alike sell out the fans over and over and over again. Why? I think Upton Sinclair said it better than anyone:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

The way sponsorship has historically been done – the way far too much of it is still being done – relies on the players ignoring what their business deal means (or doesn’t mean) to the fans. Some have been doing sponsorship so long that they’ve simply become disconnected from the fan experience. Others are so jaded, they just don’t care. And some simply don’t understand how fans fit into the modern sponsorship equation.

Best practice sponsorship professionals know that the sponsor’s starting point is “interloper”, and that the most important party to any sponsorship deal is the fans. They know that diminishing their rights, their passions, and their fan experience is counterproductive to both sponsor and property. They know that understanding, respecting, and adding value to that fan experience is a prerequisite to achieving sponsor objectives. They also know that they can look at a stack of research and get a sense of the experience, but that it’s only by being a fan that the picture becomes complete.

How to cure Fan-nesia

Easy. Get your arse out of the skybox and into the cheap seats. Go to events with your family and friends, not your work associates. Ditch the champagne reception and take your kids to that museum on a Saturday morning. Cheer and sing and dance with the abandon you can’t show in a sponsor function. Take public transport, stand in lines, buy your own beer. And wherever you are, pay attention to what you’re there to see; don’t overanalyse what all the sponsors are doing.

By allowing yourself to be a genuine fan, your approach to sponsorship can’t help but move significantly toward best practice:

  • You’ll know what sponsors fans love, because they offer meaningful added value to the fan experience.
  • You’ll know what sponsors do that’s overbearing or disrespectful to the experience.
  • You’ll also know what fans ignore.
  • You’ll know the best parts of the fan experience, every one of which is something a sponsor could amplify through leverage.
  • You’ll also know the worst parts of the fan experience, many of which can be improved through sponsor leverage.
  • You will never again buy or sell a sponsorship package that disrespects the fans or treats them like commodities.

There is no question that you need more skills than just this to maximise results. But if you don’t embrace this one, critical skill, none of the other skills matter.

Need more assistance?

You may be interested in my white papers,  “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux” and “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better“. I’ve also got self-paced, online sponsorship training courses, covering the whole sponsorship process, with lots of inclusions. Interested? Check out the Corporate Sponsorship Masterclass for sponsors and Getting to “Yes” for rightsholders.

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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