With the ever growing need for ROI validation when it comes to digital marketing efforts, sports teams need to remember that when trying to derive measurable results, that ones brand shouldn’t be pawned off to potential sponsors to make a profit. Rather, teams should focus on building a comprehensive strategy that will allow them to build long-term, sustainable partnerships with sponsors rather than turn themselves into an advertising network.
After speaking with several sports professionals recently, it’s apparent that there are two parts to this equation. The first part of the equation are sports teams.
The Sports Team
By now, most, if not all sports have dedicated resources toward opportunities in the digital space. While digital opportunities initially started out as advertising space on portions of a teams website, the shift is moving toward exploring new ways to maximize team created digital content. The opportunity for a sponsor to buy ad space on a teams site still exists, but with poor ROI and ad revenue sometimes shared with the league, teams are adapting to the behaviors of the digital fan.
Borrowing from Seth Godin’s basic principles of the Purple Cow, fans and online users in general are growing oblivious to traditional display-ads. comScore research conducted in conjunction with Starcom in 2010 showed that only 16% of all Internet users now click on a display ad in a month, down from 32% a year earlier.
Another aspect that teams need to be conscious of is the impact that their decisions have on their fan base. For example, having a sponsor blast an advertisement for body soap to an MLB team’s social network isn’t a partnership. Partnerships need to provide added value to the brand and its fans, not exploit it.
While it may seem like a difficult balance to find as most sponsors partner with the intent of marketing their products/services, it can be done. From content with sponsor titlement to creative approaches for contests and unique experiences, partnerships without the obvious sales pitch are possible. Sometimes, it just takes a little creativity. Some teams that are moving the creative needle include the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco Giants, and New York Jets.
We find ourselves now at the other part of the equation: The Sponsor. The difficulty in building a long-term partnership with sponsors doesn’t lie in finding an actual sponsor. If your goal is to get your team’s website sponsored, you’ll have no problem accomplishing it. The difficult part is finding a sponsor that shares the same goals that your team has in terms of long-term sustainability and branding.
For sponsors, this can be difficult. Among the reasons for this, one big reason is that sponsors as well as agencies that represent sponsors are driven to hit metrics. From impressions to leads, generating ‘value added’ metrics comes first, with increasing sponsor awareness and identity often taking the back seat. Because of these reasons, ad space on a teams website is often what sponsors target. Aside from the fact that it’s easy to negotiate, more importantly it’s safe from a sponsor perspective. Sponsors are used to buying ad space and watching click-through rates. They know what there getting and there is little unknown.
The Final Product
At the end of the day, sports teams will continue to sell ad-space. It’s a proven business model and it works. There is no doubt about that.
The goal is not for sports teams to do away with ad-space. Rather, it’s to begin looking forward to spending more time on developing engaging content and unique experiences/opportunities that would be attractive for a long-term sponsor, as well as looking for ways to maximize their fan network on Facebook and Twitter in ways that extend beyond the standard Facebook or Twitter update.