Looking outside of sports for sponsorship activation inspiration

Sports blinders are a real thing.

Sometimes we get so focused as to what works well in our industry that we start recycling things we see from other teams. There is NO problem with this. I believe that each team can put their fresh spin on things they see that works in sports.

But it is important for us to look outside of sports to gain new inspiration for activation. There are a few reasons this is important:

  1. They are our competitors in some sense. There are only so many sponsorship dollars out there, at some point we compete for them.
  2. If it is working for them, it will probably work for us.
  3. If a brand sponsors an activation in one of these adjacent verticals they most likely would sponsor it for your team.

This week on The Inches Podcast, Rich and I dive into some inspiration from a BIG winner in sponsorship & experience and how we can harness it in our stadiums & arenas.

You can hear the full episode HERE but see below for some key points.

The table & article that started it all

This episode started from an article in Forbes that caught Rich’s attention.

Revealed: The Theme Parks Beating The World’s Top Sports Leagues In Attendance (FORBES)

In short, Disney is absolutely obliterating everyone in attendance for their parks.

I mean, look at this chart.

Disney parks pull in more people than the next 3 sports leagues COMBINED.

And we can really revert this back to the brand they have built. Being one of the most known entities in the world definitely helps them out.

What was interesting in the article though was the sponsorship part. Disney does a masterful job of not letting sponsorships affect the experience of the park.

Again this is an episode on some ideas we can source from into our own arena…so here are some of Rich’s and my biggest takeaways.

Integrating into a great experience for brands…not just advertising.

If you’ve ever been to Disney parks you know it is all about the experience. They are fanatical about having the customer feel like they’ve entered a new world when they step foot into their parks.

Disney doesn’t let sponsorship affect that experience. Instead, they build it into the experience.

For example, Citizen watches don’t have giant billboards all around the park. Instead, the clocks are branded as Citizen. A perfect way to infuse the brand into the experience.

When you are an attendee at the parks you are hypersensitive to the experience and notice these details. Almost like a surprise

Another example comes with Coca-Cola at the Rise of the Resistance Star Wars experience. The beverage company infused futuristic bottles into the park to build upon the feeling that you are in the true Star Wars world.

So why is this so important? Because the customer doesn’t feel like they are being sold to. It builds recall on the brand without the traditional plastering of message and call to action.

We can take a similar approach to our stadiums and gameday. We can think like Disney and infuse the brand & sponsor into our experience on gameday without it being a rink board or stadium sign.

One of the best examples I know is BEVEL’s integration into Barclay’s in Brooklyn. BEVEL is a men’s hair & grooming company that primarily sells razors and trimmers.

Instead of plastering billboards up in the arena, they built a barbershop experience in the arena.

Yes, you can get your haircut at a Nets game. How awesome (and different) is that? This is a perfect example of infusing your brand into the experience. I will remember BEVEL without being sold to.

These are the assets and activations that we should be looking to add more of into our packages as we move forward and strategize.

Achieving more with fewer brands

Another key thing that Disney focuses on is being selective with which brands they let into their parks with brand messaging.

They know how important it is to protect their experience to ensure visitors keep coming back, the last thing they need is a sponsor activation hurting their golden goose.

With this, they have fewer sponsors in their park and ones that really make sense. Ones that really sync well with how a visitor sees the park.

We can take a page from this book in sports. There is definitely a bit of logo overload in our stadiums & arenas.

What logo overload does is prohibits anyone from really standing out. Sponsor logos & messaging get drowned out as we become more conditioned to ignore them.

As we look into a strategy for the new year, are their assets we can shave off that may cost us money in the short term…but will ultimately give us more value in the long run.

Recently the Golden State Warriors were able to pull this off with their new Chase Center. Fewer sponsors…but higher revenue. they have ultimately brought more value and visibility to the partners they do let into the stadium.

This is a key we can steal from Disney. Let’s focus on creating more value for fewer partners and be selective on whom we let into our experience of gameday.

Hospitality to drive employee engagement for sponsors

Many of the Disney sponsors come on board for the hospitality packages to offer their employees.

We’ve chatted about this on the podcast before. There are buckets in company budgets that we can tap into other than just marketing/advertising.

HR is a bucket to tie into our packages. Employee happiness is paramount to retention, so sponsors will gladly spend to help send them to the happiest place on earth.

The same goes for our packages, but we can take it a step further.

Instead of just offering great seats send them courtside pre-game to see the players warm up before anyone else.

Maybe tie into your local broadcast and have them watch a live recording of your cable TV show.

These are all items that infuse into the experience of your gameday.

Overall, sponsorship can push your in-game experience higher while pulling in the cash

I think the overall key that I took from Disney was sponsorship doesn’t need to be only billboard sales.

In fact, we should be pushing toward the opposite. What if we could craft sponsorship to be a curated set of activations that elevate the game experience beyond all else?

As we look forward to crafting how a sponsor fits into our gameday let’s put more emphasis on how it affects the experience OVER how much we can get for a stadium sign.

And most importantly, keep looking into other industries that handle sponsorship for inspiration on how we can add to our sponsorship strategy in sports. If it works for them, we can make it work within our gameday.



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