According to IEG, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in research and consulting related to event marketing, North American sponsorship spending totaled $20.6 billion in 2014 and is expected to reach $21.4 billion in 2015. Additionally, IEG’s 30th annual year-end industry review and forecast shows that the largest share of 2014 sponsorship spending, $14.35 billion, went to sports activities. Further good news is IEG’s projection that $14.98 billion will be used to sponsor sports-related activities in 2015.
At the same time, the IEG report cautions that spending by North American companies is projected to rise just 4 per- cent in 2015, which is lower than the 4.2 percent growth rate seen in 2014.
So, how can sports events planners tap into those sponsorship dollars?
It starts with understanding why corporations and other organizations sponsor sports events.
According to William Chipps, senior content editor at IEG, sponsoring entities view sports events as opportunities to connect with a large fan base. “Sponsors want to tap into the passion that players, families and fans feel for their team and get connected to that passion. They hope that positive feelings about the team will transfer to positive feelings about the product or brand they represent.”
As a result of that connection, added Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sport management at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., sponsors are seeking increased sales from this targeted market through brand recognition or through direct on-site product sales at the venue.
“Exposure is the key,” Chipps said. “Print and radio ads are great, but the exposure at an event is longer lasting and very effective, whether it’s signage, announcements or a sponsor’s unique rights to use a team’s logo and colors in its own promotional materials.”
Neirotti pointed out that sponsors often seek corporate hospitality opportunities, such as the ability to offer their clients tickets and special seats, especially for major events like the NCAA Final Four games or the NFL Super Bowl.
“There are also some sponsors looking to engage their employees in a cause, such as the Special Olympics, Wounded Warrior Games and other sports events for people with disabilities,” she said.
Identify The Right Sponsors
When trying to find a sponsor that fits with an event, planners should start by researching companies to learn as much about their business as possible, Neirotti advised. Find out how they make money, who buys their products or services, what other events they sponsor and try to ascertain their marketing budget, she said.
This background work is essential, Chipps agreed. “You should not just pick up the phone and make a call, asking a company to be your sponsor.”
He recommended planners look for companies that are moving into an area and might want to build visibility; are merging or acquiring a new brand and might find a sports event to be a good promotional tool; or are launching a new product that they can hand out at the event.
Also, he suggested finding out whether a potential sponsor is sponsoring similar events in other markets. For example, corporations that sponsor golf tournaments in one state might be interested in sponsoring a golf tournament in another state.
“The idea is to show sponsors what your event can do for them,” he said. “Do not focus on telling them what they can do for your event.”
For community events that don’t offer many benefits in terms of high numbers or visibility, Neirotti suggested that planners approach a corporate foundation or the community affairs office of a company as opposed to the marketing or sponsorship contact.
Make The Connection For Them
When the time comes to reach out to a potential sponsor, Chipps recommended starting with an email that is brief and to the point. “Give them an overview of your event and the opportunity it provides to sponsors,” he said. “Don’t overwhelm them with pages and pages of information. Just keep it short and sweet.”
When given an opportunity to meet with decision makers, planners should try to better understand their marketing needs and then customize proposals accordingly, Neirotti recommended. “Try to learn whether they are more interested in signage, sampling, on-site sales, hospitality or other promotional aspects of the event, then provide more information about the benefits they seek rather than other benefits you might feel are important.”
She also advised that planners should “clearly describe the number of people the company will reach by being sponsors of the event.” This can include demographics about players and spectators, as well as the number of people who will see or hear about the event and its associated sponsors through advertising and media outreach.
“Show sponsors how an event will be promoted through social media and how the sponsor will benefit from this expo- sure,” Chipps explained. “Show them the content you can provide for them to use on their own social media networks.”
Keep Their Needs Top Of Mind
According to Neirotti, many first-time sponsors will only sign on for one year or a single event to see how the relationship works. “If it’s a new property or event, sponsors may not feel comfortable going beyond a year because they want to see how it goes,” she explained. “Ideally, three years is a good length for a sponsorship agreement, so both the company and property can fully leverage each other and gain maximum benefit.”
The best way to keep sponsors is to always think about their needs, Chipps advised.
“Never take it for granted that a sponsor will come back year after year,” he warned. “Selling to sponsors requires a lot of work, and you need to give yourself a lead time of at least six months before an event. So, once you sign them, you can’t sit back and be done. This is the point where servicing the sponsor comes into play. You need to make sure they receive all that they’ve been promised and keep touching base to make sure that their goals remain the same as the ones discussed at the start of the relationship.”
Neirotti also cautioned that over promising and under delivering might lead a sponsor to drop the relationship. “Be sure they get more than what they were promised and if numbers are low offer them some extra benefits,” she suggested.