By Steve Rivkin.
The Albuquerque Isotopes have come calling. Like so many sports teams, this Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers is seeking new sponsors. Should you and your brand be interested? Here are the questions to ask.
#1 What’s the connective tissue?
The best sponsorships have some logic and/or emotion to connect your brand to the team or facility. Sporting events and teams breed emotion, particularly at the local or regional level. That’s why the public will not only align itself with a team, but also with a venue and a sponsor. In this case, you might consider the origins of the team’s offbeat name: Los Alamos, located nearby, and other scientific/military facilities in New Mexico that deal with nuclear technology. Does that connect in some way to your brand?
Research from the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science indicates that the “sponsor-event fit” and the perceived sincerity of the sponsor are the top determinants in generating a favorable response from a sports sponsorship.
So here is an easy litmus tests: Will the average fan “get it?”
#2 If you’re not the lead dog, how good is the view?
Sports team are ready to sell you sponsorships for just about anything associated with their business – from stadium naming rights to your logo on the team bus, from major billboard placements inside the stadium to your logo on beverage cups and napkins. Ask yourself what happens once average fans are saturated with the big-deal, high-profile sponsorships and logo placements.
Do they have any mental storage space left to associate your good name when it’s only splashed across the second floor atrium?
#3 Do you have evaluation criteria?
Sports-related marketing opportunities are proliferating, as everybody from the new “extreme” sports to local colleges try for a piece of the action. (But wait, there’s more: An elementary school in New Jersey actually sold its gymnasium’s naming rights to a local supermarket.)
The point is, you should establish – and use – general criteria for evaluating any such deal. For example, here are six evaluation criteria that the Boeing Company uses:
(1) Positive exposure for the Boeing brand.
(2) Tangible benefits associated with the partnership.
(3) Ability to reach targeted audiences and build relationships with them.
(4) Opportunity to create long-term value.
(5) Potential to be leveraged with additional resource investment.
(6) Potential for a long-term and sustainable relationship.
#4 How will you measure the return on your investment?
If you can’t measure it, you can’t really manage it. So it’s always appropriate to look for ways to quantify your return, or even to build tracking and measurement tools into a contract’s renewal clause.
Sports links aren’t exactly new to marketers. Way back in 1926, the home of the Chicago Cubs was renamed Wrigley Field after the chewing gum folks. So one possibility is to look for literature in the marketing journals or other commentaries on how long-term sports sponsors have evaluated their investments. Yes, we know that ROMI tools are imprecise. But that’s no excuse for the complete absence of any measurement.
Sports Business Journal estimates that of the $16 billion spent annually by North American companies on sponsorships, only $20 million is spent on sponsorship research. That’s only 0.125%, about one-tenth of one percent.
Recommendation: Build a minimum of 2% into your annual sponsorship budget for tracking and evaluation.
#5 Will the tail be wagging the dog?
VIP tickets and reserved parking are dandy. And what’s not to like about those great views from the deck of a hospitality suite. And if the CEO loves to hold court in that luxury box – hey, we understand. But these should be secondary benefits for entering into a sports sponsorship. Don’t let the “sweeteners” sway your judgment about what should otherwise be a responsible marketing investment.
#6 Will you take heat?
Ponder the possible backlash before you commit to a big sponsorship deal.
One example. The United States Tennis Assn. had three choices when it named Arthur Ashe Stadium: Name it after the USTA, for one of the tennis legends, or sell the naming rights. Although many blue-chip companies were interested in getting their name on the venue, the USTA decided against a sponsorship for the stadium. According to the USTA’s chief marketing officer, they got the result they wanted: The stadium is viewed by the public as a venue for the players and not as a “corporate sellout.”
Another example. A nonprofit hospital in Indiana definitely took flak after it agreed to pay for the naming rights at a local minor-league baseball stadium.
Parkview Health operates six hospitals in northeast Indiana, including two in Fort Wayne. That’s where it agreed to pay $300,00 a year for 10 years to rename the local ballpark Parkview Field. (A Class-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres plays there.) Hospital officials said they would center community outreach work at the stadium, including blood drives, cholesterol screenings and tobacco cessation programs. Part of the money goes into stadium maintenance. So the hospital’s CEO described their decision as part of a larger economic development effort for that part of the city.
Critics were unimpressed. Some of the comments from community activists and health policy monitoring organizations:
- “All the beer and fully-loaded nachos sold during baseball games – tell me how the hospital is going to justify those as healthy choices at their stadium.”
- “There are better ways for a hospital organization to spend $3 million.”
- “It’s not going to drive new patients and revenues to the hospital.”
This flap in Fort Wayne suggests that in today’s economic climate, you need a ready, credible explanation on tap for anything that could be characterized as a non-essential promotional expense.
As always, the perception is the reality. Community support from a major employer is one thing. Your name up in lights on a stadium is a different animal.
#7 Do you have an exit strategy?
Budgets can crater. Managements can change. Sports teams can fall apart. Stars can be accused of cheating or drug use. Neighborhoods can deteriorate. Before you sign a multi-year commitment (and most are), try to engineer periodic renewal dates. And look carefully at the conditions and the penalties for bailing out early.
Steve Rivkin is the co-author of six books on marketing strategy and communications, and the founder of the consultancy Rivkin & Associates LLC (www.Rivkin.net).