The World Of Sports Shows How Effective Sponsorship Still Is

Sports sponsorships are worth billions for a reason


When companies spend eye-watering sums on sponsorship deals it’s only fair to question whether the return on investment makes them worthwhile. The challenge of calculating the effect of the sponsorship is difficult; both ’engagement’ and public opinion are fairly nebulous metrics, and sponsorship’s direct impact on sales is tough to quantify. But the marketing technique can be incredibly effective for companies of all sizes, and sponsorship options are more diverse and abundant than you might think.

A good way to illustrate the power of sponsorship is in the incredible fees companies pay to have their names associated with sporting events. From the NFL to the Olympics, sponsorship revenue grows year on year, leaving many to question just how much companies will be willing to pay for the rights to associate themselves with popular competition. From 2011 to 2015, for example, NFL league sponsorship revenue rose from $946 million to $1.2 billion and growth is expected to continue this year.

Much of the NFL sponsorship is intangible, though. Ford announced in September that it had struck a three-year deal to become the official truck of the NFL, drawn in by the competition’s ‘toughness’. But Ford isn’t the only auto manufacturer behind the competition - with Hyundai paying in last year - meaning that what the deal allows Ford to do is relatively limited. According to USA Today, it will create a fleet of F-Series Super Duty pickups for game tailgate parties; make the pickups available on game days to ferry potential customers, including a ticket giveaway; and hold a contest to give away tickets to the Super Bowl.

But no sporting competition sees deals quite like the English Premier League, sponsored by Barclays. The bank paid £120 million for three years of title sponsorship and piled further cash into exploiting the rights that came with it. German sportswear giant Adidas has paid £750 million for the privilege of designing and producing Manchester United’s jerseys, while Chevrolet signed a deal worth £51 million a year to have their logo on the front of those jerseys. The Manchester club is a special case, but brands will put up mouth-watering sums to appear on club soccer jerseys due to the wide international reach, particularly in otherwise difficult to reach areas in Asia.

It’s important to get sponsorship right, and in the corporate world this means direct contact with your audience. Just throwing money at it is by no means guaranteed to improve brand visibility, and only a hands-on approach can ensure engagement. Take Nike and Adidas at the London 2012 Olympics, for example. Adidas spent $127 million to be the ‘Official Sportswear Partner’ of the Games, but some shrewd marketing by Nike saw it garner by far the better engagement. Thanks to its ambush marketing techniques, Forbes notes that ‘more people identified Nike as an Olympic sponsor than Adidas,’ despite far less money having been spent to align with the competition. So it’s not just about having the rights and the official connection - it’s about engagement strategy.

For corporate sponsorship, particularly in the B2B space, few opportunities for engagement are better than at events. Where conferences tend to pull together high-level executives from leading companies, time to demonstrate your product and engage in face-to-face discussion with decision makers can be invaluable. Corporate sponsorship at events gives marketers the opportunity to gauge reaction to the product immediately and make adjustments to their pitch accordingly, and many now consider it a superior form of marketing. 


Image: mr3002 /

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