Sponsorship post-pandemic is all about re-building habits, old and new.

Humans are creatures of habits. It is extremely hard once we’ve entered a habit to change it.

In reverse, it takes a lot for us to build new habits. But there was a pandemic that rewired a lot of our actions as humans in the way we go about our daily lives.

Some are for the better, some for the worse.

But, what if you could help re-wire your fans to go back to some of the habits they had before this pandemic hit? What if through our assets we could build habits into the daily lives of our fans?

In this article, I’m diving into habits. How do they form? And how can we in sponsorship form positive habits that benefit both our fans and sponsors?

Let’s dive in.

First, why do we need to create habits?

In short, you may not need to. But I think there are plenty of cases where it is beneficial to start creating those habits around. As we are a year into this pandemic, our fans have totally created new habits in their lives.

For example, many of us aren’t flying as of now. Maybe we’ve found road trips to be more comfortable. We’re ordering our food through an app, maybe that is a good thing for some sponsors…but it could be a bad thing for others.

Overall we should look at each of our sponsors and find the positive habits that have been created with their consumers. Are they good for the sponsor? Great, let’s build assets to reinforce them.

Are they bad for the sponsor? Let’s build packages that can re-build the habits that are profitable for them.

I am not suggesting that we fight major trends like digital access etc. Some habits like that are so far pushed forward that it would be impossible to jump back. But we can identify the new habits that affect our clients and find ways to either change or reinforce them.

The beauty of habits is if you build it…it can be repeatable value with little work each game by you or your sponsor. Our goal in sponsorship should be to build reinforcing habits into our packages.

Ok, but what psychologically makes a habit?

Before we can dive into how we can create habits through our assets, we have to understand the psychology behind how we create habits as humans. How do we re-wire our brains to create a habit?

After diving into a few places, this article from NPR was a great resource.

“It turns out that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a ‘habit loop,’ which is a three-part process. First, there’s a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.

“Then there’s the routine, which is the behavior itself,” Duhigg tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “That’s what we think about when we think about habits.”

The third step, he says, is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the “habit loop” in the future.”

What a perfect set of steps that we can start with to build into our assets.

The Cue or Trigger — The Routine — The Reward

These are the foundations we need to look at if we plan to build our assets and activations into a habit for our fans. Let’s individually break those down

The Trigger

On our podcast, The Inches, Rich and I have gone into this idea which Rich calls the stunt.

In order to start a new habit, we need a trigger. Something that breaks your pattern of our fans and changes their current habit.

Rich gives an example that he had in his radio days with a young Jimmy Kimmel starting a morning show on KZOK in Seattle. Most people are in the habit of their own morning radio show, they’ve been tuning in for years.

If Jimmy Kimmel had just come onto the show, maybe they get a few listens…but they needed to have a trigger or stunt to break the pattern of listeners to listen to something new.

So they had Jimmy and his co-host drive down the highway in downtown Seattle on a giant steam pipe organ while doing some segments of their show on the organ.

Could you imagine seeing a giant steam pipe organ headed down the major highway at rush hour with a radio guy on the top? That is enough to get anyone to tune in and try it from their previous radio show.

As we think through our campaigns, we have to have a Trigger that breaks our fan’s habit of what they are currently doing. You can’t just casually announce the activation, you need to make it unique enough to grab their attention.

The trigger is the foundation for building a habit. If you can’t land the trigger, fans will go back to what they were doing before.

Get creative with the trigger. The crazier the better. You need something that is worth my intrigue as a fan to change my current habit. How can you grab my focus and get me to try something new?

The Routine

The next step is consistency. In order to get fans to truly build a habit, you have to make it operate like clockwork game in and game out.

We get conditioned to do things usually chronologically. Think about when you’ve scheduled your workouts all over the place as opposed to every M-W-F at 7 PM. In my experience when you don’t have that set time…you fall off the wagon in keeping your routine.

This is no different with our activations. You can’t just do it every other game when you feel like it. You need to condition fans that the activation comes on every day at a certain time. That could be the second media timeout of the second period in a hockey game (as we have with our Toyota Trivia with the Portland Winterhawks). That could be every game when the team enters the court for a warmup.

Maybe it isn’t around a game. Maybe it is a day of the week (Freebee Fridays) or even building into the routine of the day (when you have breakfast, you have to eat X food). These are routines that we can build into the outside of the confines of our gameday.

No matter what it is, if you build a routine you help cement the new habit you have a much better chance of it succeeding. You have to be persistent and committed to it.

The Reward

We see this a lot at SQWAD with our activations. As fun as activations are…fans like to win stuff. If they are going to spend time engaging with your activation…it needs to be worth the reward.

An example from today, Why do people wait hours on the Top Shot waiting line to get a pack…even when it seems impossible that they will get a pack?

The reward is worth the time spent waiting.

Can you build a habit without the reward? Maybe…but the experience needs to be CRAZY fun so the reward is that experience.

99% of the time in order to have fans come back each week or game you need to have a reward worth it enough to come back.

The reward helps solidify why the fan comes back on the routine side of things.

Ok, so I have the steps. How does this translate to sponsors?

These 3 steps will build a habit loop with your fans. The more times they come back and go through that loop…the more likely they are to continue the habit.

There are very real activations that we can build into packages that can change the habits of our fans. There are categories that we can really zone in on to drive the value through habits. Here are a few below:

Building a habit in travel

As I said above, habits don’t have to come around our game day. We can absolutely insert our sponsors into certain habits in daily life.

For example, when we travel, we usually have very specific ways we purchase our tickets…and even the mode in which we travel for that matter.

Maybe we like to take the train over flying….maybe we choose a certain airline for different attributes. Those are habits that we are comfortable with.

In this instance, if we are an airline that fans don’t usually use…we need to find ways in which we can insert the brand into the routine to change the habit.

One of my favorite examples of this is the activation between The Portland Timbers and Alaska Airlines. Alaska has been the kit sponsor for the Timbers for many years.

It’s one thing to pay for the jersey sponsorship with the goal of building awareness…but why should we stop there.

Assuming that the goal was to drive more travelers to book with Alaska, the team added a masterful piece to the deal that would change the travel habits of Timbers fans with an easy campaign.

If you wear your Timbers gear at the airport when boarding you get to board early. Simplicity at its core and a beautiful way to help change a habit.

Think about it, when we travel the boarding process is anything but pleasant….and other airlines even charge money if you want to board early. With one simple tweak, the club is giving fans a reason to fly Alaska.

And think about it from a fan’s perspective. As you are in the habit of booking a flight with another airline…and you see the early boarding fee…immediately you think to how you would be able to get that for free if you flew with Alaska and wore your Timbers shirt.

This is changing the habit for fans in how they choose to purchase flights…the power of this is sponsorship gold.

And all you have to do is get them to take advantage of it once. Once they do it…they have the incentive to build it into a routine of doing it every time they fly.

And the reward? Getting something for free that other airlines charge for to make for a more pleasant flight experience.

This is a perfect example of how activation can change a buying habit for your sponsors. The more fans take advantage of it…the more likely that Alaska becomes THE airline they choose while traveling.

This case study will be KEY as your airline travel picks up. How can you build those habits back for your travel partners into your fan’s buying process?

Happy Hour…and your restaurant partners

Happy hour started as a way to break the habit that you didn’t go to the restaurant until it was dinner time. For many people getting off work, when you were done you headed home and waited for dinner to eat.

This meant a valuable hour was missed by bars and restaurants. With few customers…it was a lost opportunity to drive sales.

Happy hour was built to change your habit. It was inserted into life to get you to go to happy hour drinks with co-workers after work with the reward of cheaper drinks. Once we as society adopted it…there was no turning back. It was ingrained into our culture.

And really this came with restaurants understanding our migration paths after work. We finished our work and headed home…but we walked by restaurants with no incentive to stop. The trigger of lower-priced food and drinks (also a reward) took us out of our migration routine and

I bring all of this up because we have similar migration patterns on game day. Fans come from all parts of the city…and sometimes state in order to watch our games. How can you build a habit of eating at a location before the game… or after the game?

If you can build in a program that helps build a habit of an after-game dinner… you bring repeatable business to that sponsor. The fan is already headed home on a certain route

For example…imagine that one route is extremely packed with traffic after games. People are going to be sitting in their cars…why not have them sit in a restaurant eating?

If you had the Traffic Hour restaurant sponsor that offered 20% off food during the high traffic hours, you will get fans to break the habit of sitting in traffic and redirect them to sit in a nice restaurant continuing the game experience.

This example helps bring value in two ways. First, we give the fan the lower-cost food, which the restaurant doesn’t care about because their sales were probably slow due to most fans just sitting in traffic.

Second, you are rewarding the fan with a better experience than sitting in a car. They were going to get home at the same time anyways…why wait in a cramped car? Why not spend that time continuing the great night at a restaurant?

I would bet that this even could lead fans to not leave a game early. If you really burn this habit into a fan’s game experience, you could make the offer only after the end of the game. If you left early, you would miss it (and let’s be honest, you probably would still sit in traffic with other fans leaving).

This habit may be a slow start. But maybe you have a celebrity show up at the Traffic Hour…maybe a band plays. Maybe a post-game live show. Now it is something fans need to be a part of.

All the while, you are building the overall habit that this restaurant is THE best experience for entertainment events. As my grandpa loves going to Denny’s because of the senior deal…you can build a habit that whenever a fan says “it’s a special night…where should we eat?” the first thing that pops into their head is that restaurant.

And it all started with understanding the migration habit of fans and offering a better option…

Do fans visit your sponsor car dealership lots anymore?

During the pandemic, there was a huge shift for car dealers as they had to sell a car without the car lot experience they had relied on for decades. Sure, you can buy a car online…but how do you make it so it isn’t a commoditized sale?

How can your team help build a habit of visiting the dealership lot again? Better yet, can we build a new habit of connecting with the dealers directly in parts of our game in order to drive purchases?

What if instead of pushing fans to the dealership to start that relationship, you built the habit of building a relationship with a dealer through other mediums?

What if every pre-game a new salesperson came on to give a game recap for the past game…or some color commenting on an upcoming game? What if fans could compete in a prediction game against that dealer on a stat?

Now we are building a new habit of fans building a relationship with a dealer before they even step foot on the lot. When they think in their head “where should I buy a car?” That salesperson that went on a 5 correct streak in the prediction game comes to mind.

With the example above we may be throwing aside a previous buying process habit that isn’t as relevant today for one that better fits how we consume as fans.

The dealership’s goal is usually to connect fans with salespeople…we are just changing where that relationship is built.

Sometimes the habit will come with understanding the goal and rethinking how a new, more successful habit can be formed.

This process will become extremely important in your assets post-pandemic

we have gotten into some habits that aren’t great for our sponsors. Maybe we aren’t eating out as much…or traveling as much. Those new habits have real consequences for our sponsor’s businesses.

As always in sponsorship, our goal is to help solve our sponsor’s problems. Changing habits will be critical in that goal. If a restaurant was driving in-person traffic before the pandemic…but not as many in the pandemic….how can we help them revert the habits back to purchases?

And really sometimes it can come as a simple reminder of old habits. What can you do to get your fans back in the habit that they may have abandoned during the pandemic? How can you, for example, trigger fans to get back into traveling?

In the new sponsorship era, the teams that understand the habits of fans that help their sponsors thrive and can create assets that solidify those habits will be bringing repeatable value to their sponsors. When we talk about items that get our sponsors to come back week in and week out…this is the golden ticket.

If you can reinforce these habits…you can make it so sponsors can’t live without your partnership. If they do…they risk a shift in habits that are profitable to them.

In this new age of sponsorship…the teams that become obsessed with fan habits will win deals.



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