Surviving a Recession in Sports Sponsorship

I’d like to say I’ve had a fair amount of experience in the professional sports and tourism world. But the other day I was reminded that I was graduating high school during the last recession…

At that moment my mind jumped back to a scene from the Dark Knight Rises where Bane reminds Batman that he had merely adopted the darkness…Bane was born in it, molded by it…

It was at that moment that I realized I had been selling my entire career in what some have called the greatest economic environment we’ve seen in decades.

The shadows betray me…as Bane so eloquently reminded Batman.

My brain then jumped to the fact that an entire generation of sports & tourism professionals have never encountered the downturn of an economy and how it might affect our dollars.

We probably would come at the problem like a toddler in a candy store…not understanding any of the consequences of eating all the candy.

So I went in to ask a vet, Rich Franklin, who has been selling in both radio and sports for sponsorship for longer than I’ve been alive.

We did a segment on The Inches Podcast in hopes of preparing the young ones (me) so that when the next recession hits (which it will) it doesn’t hit us in the mouth.

You can listen to the full episode HERE, below are the key points from Rich on how to survive a recession

#1 Fans don’t stop being fanatical about your team

This might be one of the most important leverage points in this process. We as teams will always have a massive amount of influence on our fans.

Will they buy fewer tickets…maybe. Will they buy less merchandise…probably…but the power & reach of our influence on them will maintain no matter the economy.

Rich and I chatted about this a bit in length…and his point was a great area we can focus on when we may get the rebuttal of “Fans are going to fewer games so you have less reach & power”.

This is especially important in today’s digital age with social. No matter how hard they are hit economically, people will still consume on social as a way to pass the time. This is the leverage you will have on other advertising outlets.

As a pre-cursor…it is vital TODAY to build up your digital reach and following. Brand dollars follow fan eyeballs. If you needed a reason to finally kick that into overdrive… use the reason that you don’t want to get your ass kicked during a recession because you didn’t do this.

#2 Brands who double down on SMART marketing during a recession historically come out on top.

When Rich brought this up… my sales brain immediately jumped into the pitch that I would give in this environment. Although the common thought for brands is to cut marketing dollars, those that spend smartly historically come out stronger on the other end

This is straight from the mind of HBR (Harvard Business Review) in their 2008 report of how to market in a recession:

Maintain marketing spending. This is not the time to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at a lower cost than during good economic times. Uncertain consumers need the reassurance of known brands–and more consumers at home watching television can deliver higher than expected audiences at lower cost-per-thousand impressions. Brands with deep pockets may be able to negotiate favorable advertising rates and lock them in for several years. If you have to cut marketing spending, try to maintain the frequency of advertisements by shifting from 30-to-15 second advertisements, substituting radio for television advertising, or increasing the use of direct marketing, which gives a more immediate sales impact.

The narrative that you will want to drive home to your brands is that companies that advertise during down economies gain more market share on the other end…and that the assets you have give them the ability to gain a massive amount of market share with the influence you have over your fans.

You want to tell the story about how you and they will work together during the downturn to come out on top with this deal. It’s not just you and them, this is a team effort.

#3 Lock in long term deals to drive the narrative

Rich brings up this is an amazing time to lock in some long-term deals to secure your cash flow. As brands are looking for lower prices…don’t just drop your price..instead offer a lower price on a long-term deal.

This fits in with your narrative and story about how you and they are going to thrive in this downturn and come out on the other end on top. Having a discounted one-year deal doesn’t help either of you.

This goes back to a post I did on creating a fan journey to the connection with their brand. you want to create an environment where they can build a relationship with your fan…not just a one-year plastering of ads.

If you pitch that you and they are on a journey with the goal of getting them through this on top…you will be able to help build the relationship.

On the operational side, you will be able to lock in cash flow that is vital throughout the process. Gaining new customers is already harder than retaining new ones…imagine how much harder (and expensive) it is during a recession when dollars are dried up.

#4 Be flexible with your packages to fit the goals they have

This may seem like a no-brainer and what you already do…but it will be more important than ever in a downturn.

Remember competition will be fierce for marketing dollars, more so than they had before. If you are the offering that can be flexible to what they need AND guide them through this recession…you will come out on top as the best option for their dollars.

#5 Empathize with and empower them to be successful

In a market where the brand manager has just had its budget cut in half… with a new environment where consumers will spend less…understanding their challenge and being the tool that gets them through this will be key.

It may sound simple, but with all the “hard” sales tactics that go on today in outbound sales (I need you to buy NOW attitude)… the salespeople who go to their customers starting with “I understand this is going to be tough…I understand your budget has been cut in half and customers are not spending…but I’m here to help you DESTROY in sales in this market and we’ll get through it together” will win.

In short:

  • TODAY build up your social & digital following as large as possible. This influence will be your leverage as fewer fans may come to your games.
  • Use the sales narrative that brands who market during the recession come out on top & you have the perfect packages and influence to pull this off where others can’t.
  • As brands will be looking for lower prices, make the deal a long term with a discount to ensure you have revenue and cash to ride out the recession.
  • Adjust your portfolio offerings to match their needs. By adjusting some packages you give them flexibility in how to spend the marketing budget they do have. This will help you build a relationship with them.
  • Empathize with your clients. They are about to go through a road & environment that many of them haven’t been through. Be the rock-solid option & support they need to be successful.

Lastly, for the young ones in sponsorship sales who are in the same generational boat as me and have never been through a recession in the professional world…talk to your vets on it. I’m blessed to have a vet like Rich Franklin to chat & work with.

We may have the tech knowledge on our side…but our tools are useless if we don’t understand the environment we intend to grow in with those tools.



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