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  What worked for companies less than a decade ago are no longer valid in a world that is interconnected and open to mass information.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.

online tracking Anyone who has ever purchased anything online knows what it is like to be tracked.  My recent TV purchase has resulted in weekly emails from Best Buy with messages telling me that, based on my recent purchase, I may also be interested in everything from surround sound systems to extended warranties.  Best Buy is not the only organization using consumer-tracking methods as a way to market and promote additional products.  Sports teams have even gotten in the mix.  I have never attended a baseball game live in my life, but because I recently purchased tickets online as a gift for my nephew, I receive numerous ticket deals in my inbox as well as ads for MLB products and promotions anytime I use a search engine.  With this being akin to online stalking, consumers, and even some technology companie, are questioning the ethics behind the practice.

dntA recent Forbes article puts the practice into a perspective that anyone can truly understand when they likened the practice to going to the mall and having a store employee follow you around making notes of every item that look at or purchase and whether or not you leave their store to go to a rivals store.  While as consumers we sometimes unwittingly allow sites to collect our data and in effect give them permission to use it to track us (surveys, privacy settings on social media, customer loyalty card transactions, etc.), the biggest ethical issues abound with the use of tracking software and use of third party cookies.  While the Federal Trade Commission has worked with companies and created a Do Not Track list to address tracking concerns of online consumers, there is currently no legal measures to ensure that companies actually honor the request.

The ability to track consumer patterns is invaluable to online marketing.  It allows organizations to not only package their products to entice their purchase, but it can also help with product analytics. However, the question many of us in the online marketing field are left to ask ourselves one simple question: When does simple tracking become stalking and cross the line of what is ethical?

Ipsos-Attitudes-to-Companies-Tracking-Individuals-Online-Activities-Jan2013In the aforementioned Forbes article, Alex Yoder, former CEO of Webtrends an online marketing company, makes the argument that a company has the right to monitor consumers if they are on their owned website, but that it is when they branch out and start to track all over the internet that violates trust and privacy.  While I can certainly see Yoder’s argument, and agree with him to an extent, I would extend that statement to include selling consumer information to third parties as a further violation.  As a consumer, if I provide an online site with my information, I do so because I trust them.  I trust that they will protect that information not hand it over with a smile to the highest bidder.

sminfluenceFor any sport marketing or PR professional, return on investment (ROI) data is imperative to helping determine whether or not a strategy pays off.  One of the hardest parts of determining the ROI for social media is the lack of a good tool to provide quality analytics.  There are several products out there that boast their premier services, but do they actually work? How?  Can either of these tools be beneficial to determining the influence of a sport brand?

One of the current ways in which organizations can determine how well their efforts on social media networks are paying off is through the use of programs such as Klout and Peerindex.  While these programs do not give a full scale analysis on how well a plan has produced in terms of revenue, they do offer a key aspect to social media ROI: social influence.  As the use of social networks has exploded in the world of brand marketing, so has the interest in “influence.”  Organizations has realized the influence that earned media (blogs, reviews, etc.) can have on their product sales, and they are increasingly looking as ways in which to reach out to these influencers as a way in which to get them to drive the communication about their brands.  To capitalize on this demand, products touting means for scoring your social media influence have cropped up, with Klout and Peerindex leading the pack currently.

So how do these products work?

kloutKlout came on the scene first in 2008.  Using the major social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Wikipedia and Klout itself), Klout measures the influence based on one’s ability to produce action from their social activity.  It measures “True Reach” (number of people who act on your message), “Amplification” (how many people respond or spread the message) and “Network” (how often people respond/share your content).  The program then assigns each “user” with a Klout Score that ranges from 1-100.   Positives about Klout?  They are a marketing tool that prompts you to be more content-rich because it is vital to your online persona.  The negatives?  The Klout Score does not help an organization to determine their true authority over their consumers.  It also does not look at the smaller social sites.  What about blogs?  Consumer reviews?  They lack an overarching insight into how to truly analyze earned media.

peerindexPeerindex, founded in 2009, is also a social media influence tool that measures “Authority,” or how others rely on your content in general.  The site bases your rank on the size of your audience compared to others and the amount of activity you provide.  The site charts your topic footprint to show your influence compared to others.  Peerindex has a huge positive over Klout in that it targets authority.  It is a bit easier to understand as well.  However, like Klout, they only focus on the major players in the social network.  While they do include some blogs and Quora, they still do not provide a full view of an organization’s influence.

While either of these products may provide some limited benefits to sport organizations in determining their influence on the major social networks, it is important to keep in mind that they are extremely limiting in the data that they can provide.  Because they do not provide a complete view, they should not be used in isolation.  Instead, they should be used in conjunction with other methods of analytics.