One of the most complex and intriguing forms of marketing over the years has been sponsorship. The industry has evolved massively from logos and egos to rapidly advancing technical partnerships on a global scale. There is no longer room for passive sponsorship management.
Executive teams are demanding clear ROI formulas to be delivered regularly to ensure maximum value is created with every dollar of investment. We believe there is no "silver bullet” in sports marketing that boils everything down to one number because there are too many extraordinary ways to activate sponsorships with your most important stakeholders. The storytelling, the emotion, the passion and some of the other more intangible elements sponsorship brings to your brand is a healthy balance to the data-heavy traceability of digital marketing.
Simplifying the whole formula
There are some key pointers your team will need to keep in mind to extract the most value out of your program in a sustainable way. The first is a solid understanding of what it means to activate your sponsorship since this is where the majority of your ROI will be coming from during your agreement. We can define sponsorship activation as “the process of maximizing the utilization of assets in a manner that generates awareness for your brand and engages with the target consumer.”
In other words, it's what you do with what you have bought. This doesn't mean just dropping your logo on a race car and calling it a day. What happens when the event where your logo is displayed everywhere gets canceled? Or, there are no fans allowed to interact with your onsite display? Are you happy with someone simply seeing your logo (impression), or is it a connection with that person that you seek (engagement)?
Without a strategy to support the assets you have acquired rights to, often we see sponsorship programs fall flat after as little as 2-3 years. Contrary to most of our competitors, we advise brands to begin their sponsorship journey with targeted property spends and grow organically through activation. Purchasing a property with a smaller cost leaves you with the budget for your business units to use the property, integrate with the property, and drive business from the property.
When you spend 100% of your budget without considering activation programs, you are left with an expensive billboard and your team on the sidelines praying for results. Once the glamor wears off, you might not be so happy with that.
Unfortunately, many companies over-invest in the property and lack adequate funding to support activation programs which are the real drivers of return on investment.
-Todd Stonis, President, Sport Dimensions
To maximize your program ROI, start with your activation and work from there to build the right mix. Because the sponsorship platform allows for a great deal of flexibility, there is a lot of value to be found in diversifying your investment to match your business objectives exactly.
This calculator offers a high-level starting point for you to explore the leading areas to work from. Scroll over the different headers to learn about the different access points. We have two examples started for you to see a breakdown, but jump in with your own percentages in the boxes by your slot to see your asset mix come to life.
We recommend applying 66% of your budget toward activating the property you acquire. For example, if you have a $1m budget, you have $333k to spend on a property.
Best served to support one of the other properties for max effectiveness.
Going from understanding the value formula to delivering it
Sponsorship provides a unique space for your marketing team to shine. There are opportunities to build programs around live events, digital content, and even remote workers and customers.
There are numerous elements to sponsorship when it comes to physical, on-site activation. Sponsorship turns the key for you to access experiential and live-event marketing. What you do onsite will all depend on what you are looking to achieve with your investment. For brands most interested in B2B work, sports fans might be one of the last priorities to capture. These partnerships focus on the behind-the-scenes and innovation that takes place in sports. Motorsports specifically is a dynamic proving ground for highly technical companies looking to develop their products in extreme conditions. This is most interesting to tech companies, energy companies, manufacturers, and others who focus on engineering. The value is found through rapid product development along with product and service superiority. The stories you can tell about your brand operating at this level is what allows for an elevated perception.
If your brand is more B2C-focused, your strategy to maximize ROI will look quite a bit different even if you have the same set of tools available to use. You will want to spend extra effort in understanding the audiences and demographics of the properties you are looking to sponsor since this is ultimately what you are paying to access. Sporting series, teams, drivers or other properties have already done the heavy lifting of building and curating audiences of a similar worldview. The value for a B2C brand is to come in, pay the property for the right to engage that audience, and organically integrate into the scene. Your product will come off much more authentic than any traditional advertisement if you nail this part. It also will position your brand as one that is looking for an authentic connection with that audience.
If you want to ratchet up your reach beyond the live event you are part of, combine your onsite activation with creative digital content. Bringing on influencers with another layer of an audience with a similar worldview will significantly broaden your reach. You can capture the excitement of the live event and then repackage it amongst your other campaigns to integrate your work across business units or departments.
Put the cherry on top of your event weekend by engaging the audience that may be more remote from you. The most approachable way to go about doing this is to first focus on the surrounding market where your event is happening. If it is a NASCAR race in Daytona, know that the entire town comes alive with excitement in anticipation of the big event. By sponsoring the series or the team competing, you are part of the excitement and the rest of the town is eager to see what you are up to.
For customers or retail partners in the area, you could bring a replica showcar right to their site to bring the action to them. If you have office space in the area, something like a driver meet & greet in a business setting is a great way to reward high-performing employees. The metaphors that can be taken from the sports world to the business world can engage your team in new ways. It’s one thing to see professional athletes on TV sporting your brand’s logo, but for them to see their favorite driver in-person singing the praises of your partnership, now that’s something special.
In marketing, it is all about audience engagement. That principle applies no matter if you are directing budget to digital properties like LinkedIn or TikTok or out-of-home advertising like billboards. Your sponsorship investment ultimately unlocks a platform to engage your customers or audience, and that can prove to be priceless. You can make your audience feel part of the team, and it's that element of experience and feeling that will grab your audience right from minute one.
Unexpected areas to find ROI
If you have just added sponsorship property to your marketing asset inventory for the year, take a fresh look at what you already own and see what ways you can go about integrating the old with the new. This might offer unique ways to showcase and celebrate your brand that never existed before your sponsorship program. Note that gaining value from your involvement in sports doesn't have to be all about selling stuff. Some of the unique ways to leverage sponsorship assets are by engaging your employees and enhancing your company culture - two hot topics today as the battle for top talent and inclusive places to work rages on.
Sponsorship assets are often leveraged with sales, marketing, and leadership. These are excellent places to start and often have the best business cases for access. That makes sense, but when the usage for those groups shifts you can find new value in these same assets you already have access to by delivering them to departments such as HR, engineering, maintenance or admin. Or in general, departments that might not always see a line of perks coming their way.
For example, your engineering and admin teams might not get the chance to interact with outside elements of your organization as much as they might like. Leveraging assets at an event you are the title sponsor of might be the perfect opportunity to treat the high performers on an experience that showcases your brand externally. Hospitality assets you have access to works nicely here, as do personalized driver appearances. Any chance for these internally-facing teams to see your brand on a larger stage will be a massive perk.
Don’t let the shift from external to internal communication dissuade you from putting in your best effort to market your program. Since sponsorship agreements offer you a selection of assets to leverage in varying degrees, a solid first step to take is to document them and set up a proper stream of communication of those assets to your team. Employees will not know or understand the marketing and business development assets available for them to utilize with their customers without the critical aspect of internal communication. They certainly don’t know how to use those assets to acquire new business streams or maintain your existing business - both essential elements to proving ROI.
Employees make a powerful emotional connection to the products and services you sell. Without that connection, employees are likely to undermine the expectations set by your advertising.
-Harvard Business Review
A more intentional level of communication and experience will connect the importance of your external efforts (creative, events, content) to what your brand is doing to support your employees. As you evolve your program, you can leverage your assets in ways that both educate and engage your staff, adding layers of value to the entire program.
Support is out there if you need it
Start with your team and own processes. Maybe once per quarter or more, depending on your time frame and objectives, it is worth making sure your tactics and investments are still compounding toward your broader goals. Marketing teams must zoom out often so that every dollar of marketing investment can be attributed to positive ROI. The faster pace of the market shows that this practice will only become more valuable as time goes on.
Otherwise, the biggest challenge of getting started with a new project is fighting the unknown. When you don't know what you need, you don't know how to get started. In sports marketing, this can be especially frustrating for the different parties that make the whole environment work. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to support your brand and maximize the opportunities to succeed. Contracting with expertise is a surefire way to reduce, and sometimes eliminate, learning curve time taxing your internal resources.
If you are feeling stuck, entering a new market, going through a changing partnership, or anything else noteworthy and are interested in learning more about what it takes to maximize the value of your sponsorship program into the new year, then this page is for you.
Updated for added value.