How to Position Sports Sponsorships for True Success

Ask more questions and get the right stakeholders involved

sports balls
Throw a lot of curveballs; ask a lot of a questions. iStock

Over the years, articles, webinars and conference panels dedicated to strategies and tactics for selling sponsorships have mostly focused on how a property secures investment from a brand. There’s an entirely different aspect to selling that happens internally—and selling doesn’t finish when the agreement is inked. 

An internal framework and change management strategy required to engage stakeholders, not only from the beginning of the sponsorship, but all the way throughout its lifecycle.

Align and communicate

It’s on sponsorship professionals to take ownership of the educational component.

First, you may need to debunk some of the myths about sponsorship being the fun department, or that it simply involves a logo placed on the outfield wall. Go from that “sponsorship person” to a trusted business partner. Instead of being defensive on the topic, provide case study examples and speak the language of the company and its overall business strategy. 

Ask questions to understand that stakeholder’s objectives and challenges: What are the key metrics that determine success? Connect it to an element of the sponsorship. Optimize accordingly, depending on business unit or function. Communicate acceleration of goals and explain why the sponsorship is better than other options. Help them evaluate you and prioritize their investment.

Determine ROO

Everyone wants that one exact number; I put in x and I get y in return. But with sponsorships being multi-dimensional, it’s increasingly hard to land on just one dollar figure output. Instead, you’ll need to change the conversation around returns on investment (ROI) to return on objectives (ROO).

One aspect that tends not to be a major focus is media value from impressions, which too often seems to be a leading asset for properties.  This requires an overall philosophy change that many properties need to make from asset provider to business solutions partner.

Here’s an example of how a b-to-b hardware technology company leveraged a racing sponsorship and landed on one number: influenced sales with customer/manufacturer relationships; introduced new performance products in the car (and tested them as R&D on wheels), changed perceptions with earned media, launched a DTC online store, developed a VR experience, created exclusive digital games for employees, etc.

Segment stakeholders

Our natural tendency is to keep company with like-minded people who are in favor of our programs. A one-size fits all approach won’t work to convert people to move up on the spectrum. Instead, understand where key stakeholders fall along the Champions-Supporters-Challengers spectrum:

  • Champions vocally advocate and share their support, unprompted
  • Supporters remain relatively quiet when it comes to sharing their perspectives, despite belief in the program
  • Challengers expressconcerns and issues with the program

Chart each stakeholder on the spectrum and then answer who they influence as well as who influences them. Have the Champions influence Challengers for credibility and buy-in. It’s also important to hypothesize and identify the next generation of leaders as you’ll want to spend time educating them on the investment to ensure a smooth transition so your program doesn’t risk getting impacted.

Share success

You need a more frequent communications strategy that enables you to share success stories in a more real-time fashion. Try quarterly infographics, video recaps for more emotional/visual connection, invites for first-hand experience, even ask Supporters to become Champions.

In this state where budgets are increasingly questioned, sponsorships are evolving and virtual operations ensue, it’s more important than ever to develop an internal framework and communications plan.


@jaredmelzer Jared Melzer plays at the intersection of brands and fans to drive successful partnerships for teams and Fortune 500 companies.
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