Sponsorship gives you the privilege of connecting with people through something they care about. This is about nurturing real, lasting relationships with fans, and if you’ve got the opportunity to create those meaningful, mutual connections, don’t use that opportunity to shoot them in the guts with a t-shirt cannon.
I wore neon at university. Everyone else was wearing it, too, so I thought it made me cool. But it didn’t. The colours were so bad on me that my face took on sort of this greenish death-pallor, resulting in a look akin to Zombie Wham.
This is me-tooism at work.
But many sponsors have done the same thing with esports. They’ve rushed into a trend without putting the strategic nous and rigour into determining whether the trend is right for them and, frankly, whether they’re right for the trend.
Although I’m sure esports will continue to enjoy healthy growth for some time, eventually the trendy marketing sparkle will wear off, sponsors will stop losing their minds over it, and the next trend will come along.
A sponsor’s best defence against sponsorship me-tooism (and any other knee-jerk investments) is to set up your decision-making process now, and commit it to your sponsorship policy. This should include:
And if it’s still looking promising…
Importantly, you need to do all of this before making any commitments. It’s no good being first into a new category or trend or sport, if the fit and leverage are all wrong.
The old model of sponsorship goes something like this:
“If people love this property, and we sponsor the property, and we make it really obvious we’re a sponsor, they’ll transfer some of that love to us.”
Often combined with:
“That property has some attributes that our brand doesn’t have, so if we sponsor that property, and make it really obvious that we’re a sponsor, some of those attributes will transfer onto our brand.”
This model is outmoded, disproven, and relies on the assumption that fans are stupid. But fans aren’t stupid, and they can spot a sponsor’s bloodless manipulation a mile away.
Still, many sponsors are so bought into this model of sponsorship that they continue to trot out this tired approach across jaw-dropping tech, paradigm-shifting properties, and fans that live very comfortably in a hyper-connected world.
They’re so bought in, they bypass entirely all of the authentic and meaningful opportunities to bond with these fans, in favour of hyperactive branding, intrusive promotions, and product endorsements that look like hostage videos. It’s better not to spend the money, if that’s what you’re going to do with it.
My previous points are all valid – they’re all things a sponsor needs to get right – but they all pale in comparison to this one.
Esports isn’t just a sport. It’s a culture, a community, an entire ecosystem, both enjoyed and created by its fans. Their fan experience is multi-platform, infinitely customisable, and they’ve got direct channels to the teams and stars that were unheard of not long ago. This makes esports different from all other kinds of sponsorship, and more difficult for sponsors to get right.
Actually, that’s not true at all.
Virtually all fan experiences – sport or otherwise – are multi-platform, infinitely customisable, with direct channels to the movers and shakers. All fan experiences have a tribal, community component. They all have their own cultures. They’re all driven by passion. The difference is that in more established categories, fans just ignore terrible sponsorship, while esports fans actively work against it. Let that sink in.
If that’s what you’re prepared to do with your sponsorships, then the best you can hope for is to be ignored. And as fans across the spectrum continue to exert more power in the sponsorship equation, selfish, tone-deaf sponsors will see nothing but more backlash.
The way to avoid this – whatever you sponsor – is to put the effort in and get the focal point in the right place.
Do this, and the result will be a degree of alignment that no amount of inauthentic messaging, flashy stunts, or short-term product promotions will ever match.
Bad esports sponsorships have had a lot of coverage, not least because of the spectacular and ignominious fan backlash against them. It would be easy for the rest of the industry to regard this as an anomaly, but we should instead be seeing it as the canary in the coal mine.
Pay attention. Pay attention and, and if you’re not on top of best practice sponsorship, you need to raise your game, and do it now. If you need somewhere to start, I suggest you download and read, “Disruptive Sponsorship: Like Disruptive Marketing, Only Better”.
You may also be interested in my white paper, “Last Generation Sponsorship Redux“. Want to build your sponsorship skills and strategies fast? I’ve got comprehensive online sponsorship training for both sponsors and rightsholders. Get the details and links to course outlines and reviews here.
If you need additional assistance with your sponsorship portfolio, 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 decentralised organisations. Please feel free to drop me a line to discuss.
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