ncaa_ccp_print_upto7If you are a college hoops fan, March Madness is more than just busted brackets, hot wings and beer.  It is a tradition that is a part of who you are as a fan.  It is the near constant fix of your drug of choice: NCAA basketball!  If you are the NCAA, it is a time to bring in the green.  March Madness presents corporate sponsors and the NCAA with unparalleled access to fans, and fans mean money.  This year, the “Corporate Champions” will pay millions for their right to say that they are an official partner.  The return on investment, however, is huge.  Last year alone, the ads generated over $1.15 billion in revenue for sponsors.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of return on investment?  The only partner who didn’t cash in on overwhelming success of partnering with the NCAA?  The athletes.

While the athletes are the ones who are risking it all every time they step out onto the court (remember Kevin Ware in the 2013 tournament), they are the not the ones that are reaping the financial rewards of their efforts.  Is this fair?  That is the question that many courts will be deciding in the near future as the NCAA faces a firestorm of plaintiffs and lawsuits stating that it isn’t.  The biggest argument is that the NCAA is making bank on its sponsorship deals, while it creates one bylaw after another forbidding the athletes to do the same.

nwThe recent ruling at Northwestern that the college athletes were actually university employees, and not student-athletes as determined by the NCAA, has taken the argument to a whole new level.  Under this ruling, as employees, the players have the right to form a union and bargain over their working conditions.  Some people think that if the players can bargain over their working conditions, they will want to be paid, just as professional athletes are. And this may change college sports forever.

The argument for paying college athletes is growing, and it has some staunch supporters.  I am not buying what they are selling, however.  Let’s face it.  In most instances, only football and basketball are making any money.  What does this say to the soccer player?  Sorry, you are talented but not worth much?  Or do you have football and basketball footing the bill for all athletes?  Second, the players are already being payed to play.  They receive an education, as well as expert coaching and medical care.  cpMost are also provided with housing and meal plans.  In some instances, this could cost a university a tremendous amount of green.  I don’t really blame athletes for following in the footsteps of their high-contract mentors like Calipari and Pitino.  Athletes are simply following in the wake of their schools, coaches and governing body in the quest for more money, more money, more money.

big dataOne of the biggest buzz phrases in sport media and branding is “big data.”  If you haven’t been exposed to the term yet, you will.  Big data is quite simply…well…big data!  It is the collection, organization and analysis of huge data sets in  which to discover patterns.  Where sport marketers once simply looked at demographics to determine their strategies, many are now turning to technology and data sets to customize the fan experience and secure more applicable sponsors.  At the 2013 FutureM conference, Jeff Mirman, VP of Marketing for Turner Sports and Pete Scott, VP of Emerging Media for Turner Sports,  stated that they are using big data to see what consumers are doing in real-time.  Through knowledge of what fans are looking at, how they are re looking at it and why, sport marketers can use the behavior analysis that big data provides to customize the fan experience and build a loyal consumer base.

In the world of sports, data is huge game changer.  We no longer have to wonder how people are going through theirfans days because we are a part of their day.  Online and mobile media have provided avenues in which we can touch our consumers in ways which infiltration into their lives, the way that they spend their entertainment dollars, and capitalize on the ability to tailor offers, promotions and merchandise to their preferences.  Behavior data is what is happening in real-time.  It is not about where someone is, what they look like or if they are male or female.  It is about what they are doing now, instantaneously determining what works well and what doesn’t, and putting all of the data together to build a better fan experience.

While we are just on the precipice of the importance of big data analytics, and how that analysis can assist with sport marketing and sponsorships, one thing is for certain…it is a science.  The more data we can add, the more we can better plan event and broadcasts, create better products and promotions and tailor sponsorships to meet the needs and desires of consumers.  In the end, it makes us run smarter marketing plans and give a better overall experience to the fan.  That is what is comes down to at the end of the day…creating the ultimate fan experience!


Trends in sport sponsorships are as ever-changing as the players on rosters.  What worked for companies less than a decade ago are no longer valid in a world that is interconnected and open to mass information.  IEG’s Jim Andrews, the company’s senior vice-president, has narrowed down the latest trends in sponsorship to the top four that anyone in the field must know.

First, it is important to have a story.  Why?  Stories make us care.  Stories in the world of sport can make consumers care about a sport to which they may not have a true emotional connection.  Stories in the realm of sport sponsorships allow brands to not only help facilitate that connection, but to also nurture the stories told by others.  Let’s face it.  You no longer drive your company’s direction and brand message.  Consumers do.  Your consumers have become your brand storytellers.  The are networked through social media, and their stories are more than the traditional one-on-one conversation of traditional brand messaging.  In order to join in the conversation, your brand, and your sponsorships, must have a story that those consumers want to share.  Use the buyers of your product as your brand ambassadors.  Provide them with some sense of ownership in the story that you are telling.  Simon Mainwaring, author of We First and founder and CEO of brand consultancy We First, Inc., notes that today’s purpose-driven brand story must transcend technology and tell a story worth telling to be a brand worth sharing.  How well you tell your story determines how well your customers will tell your story.Nike has taken this trend and run with it for several years now.  No longer hanging tough to their iconic Just Do It motto, Nike has adapted to the art of storytelling and made it their own.  One of my favorite examples is in their 2008 “Fate” Leave Nothing commercial.  Directed by David Fincher, of The Social Network fame, the video does not bombard the viewer with brand messages.  In fact , you don’t even see the infamous swoosh until :45 seconds in…and that was merely on a pair of gloves.  Instead, the video centers around two NFL players and how they grew up to be superstars of their sport.  Instead of focusing on the brand and it’s story, it is sharing a story of two superstars in their field and how they started out just like everyone else.

Second, exploit your sponsorships by changing the conversation around leveraging the partnership to serve others.  Sponsorships in general are no longer just about creating hype for your brand.  Instead, they are now about the consumer.  One way in which companies can achieve this is to make their product purpose-based.  According to Andrews, this simply boils down to the company and their brand seeking to improve the lives of the people in which they serve instead of just consuming them.  Using the phrase “care for what matters,” Unilever’s Dove Men+Care brand shows various athletes staying in shape by doing what matters most to them.  In their current campaign, Dwayne Wade, NBA player with the Miami Heat, is shown playing with his children.  Using the images of family as what matters, Dove successfully leverages the product as a purpose-based brand.

Third, engage your consumers through belonging, not just through the act of sponsorship.  This is more than just handing out a couple of free tickets to the customer with the winning bottle cap.  Instead, companies must become a part of the community that surrounds their partnerships.  patriotsDunkin Donuts’ and the New England Patriot’s Facebook Pre-Game Virtual Tailgate experience is a shining example of how this can work successfully.   How does this work?  During the football season, a “virtual tailgate” is held two hours before each game.  Fans are able to access this pre-game experience free of charge on the social network and are provided a chance to interact and speak to other fans about the team, ask questions and post their game experience photos directly to the site.

Lastly, activate.  But don’t just stop there.  Go beyond just activation.  Think creatively about how to leverage, and promote the power of your sponsorship.  If you don’t innovate and just continue to do the same thing, it doesn’t tell a story or engage or serve the needs of the consumer.  Be first, be unique, be different...in what you sponsor, in how you use consumer insight and in the way you serve consumers.

We all know that when economic times are bad, one of the things that individuals and organizations cut back on is spending and giving.  The 2008 recession hit everyone hard, and the world of sport sponsorships was no exception.  Prior to the housing bust, sport entities were seeing annual double-digit growth in corporate sponsorships, but that fell drastically to a mere 2.2% growth for 2009.  Now, as the economy is continuing to rebound, so are the growth rates and dollar amounts spent each year by corporations on sponsorships.

NFL InfogramIt is no secret that the NFL is a beast when it comes to securing corporate backing.  And why wouldn’t it be?  Recent data shows that it still reigns supreme as that most watched sport in the US with 31 of the 32 most watched games in 2012 coming from the league and 98% of their available tickets being purchased by fans.  IEG, “the global authority on sponsorships,” shows that the NFL received over $1.07B in sponsorship revenues in 2013 alone.  That is a 5.7% increase from 2012.  While the growth is still in the single digits for most sport organizations, growth at that rate puts the NFL ahead of others who are fighting for the same budgeted dollars.

While the usual suspects are still giving a great deal to the league (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Budweiser), one of the shocking facts that IEG found for the 2013 season was that insurance companies are now 5X more likely to provide support than to the NFL than the average of all of the others combined.


Forbes may have European soccer dominating the top three spots in their World’s 50 Most Valuable Sports Team list, but the NFL had more league teams represented overall.  30 of the 50 teams ranked all came from the NFL.  No surprise, Forbes’ list of top NFL teams are also the same teams that IEG reports had above average corporate sponsorships…Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, and Redskins were the top NFL teams and in top 10 overall.

ultimatefourpack1The dollar amount that a brand spends on sponsoring an event is just the starting point.   Using that association and sponsored event to “leverage” your maximum exposure is imperative in order to maximize your return on investment.  TapouT, the “official lifestyle apparel partner” of the UFC, has used their apparel line and affiliation with the world’s largest mixed martial arts organization to boost their exposure and create excitement amongst their consumers for their entire product line.  As with the UFC, they have become the face of MMA.

The clothing line grossed roughly $30K in 1998, but topped out at over $100M a decade later, turning their small time t-shirt operation into the preferred MMA gear of fighters and fans alike.  Why?  Brand authenticity and leveraging their ongoing partnership with the UFC.   The term “tapout” alone signifies all things MMA.    Their brand name, logo, and product line all focus around the sport that they sponsor.  By tying their entire image and product to MMA, they are taking full advantage of their fighter and event sponsor dollars.


chael 2TapouT has sponsored UFC fighers (such as Chael Sonnen) since the late 90′s.  They have taken their fighter sponsorships to a whole new level.



chael 1Leveraging their sponsorship dollars, and using the UFC and personal brands of the fighters, the company has created individual fighter clothing lines, which are featured on the UFC website.



Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 6.46.20 PMSocial media has provided a large following and tremendous platform for them to continue to leverage that partnership.  TapouT consistently uses their Twitter and Facebook accounts as a means in which to promote items such as the “official” walkout shirts of sponsored fighters.


wweWWE: A Business Beyond the Ring

Described as ‘unapologetically un-PC’ and ‘low-brow entertainment’, World Wrestling Entertainment has been the pinnacle of professional wrestling for over five decades.  This case study explores the organization through its history of brand problems and challenges and how it championed those situations through remaining fluid, knowing its niche and consumer base and going to where their customers are nesting.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.