The end of seasonality in sports sponsorship

I’ve always been intrigued with seasonal businesses. Summer beach restaurants, pumpkin patches, Christmas stores…they have a 3-month window to sell 90% of their inventory.

If they hit big, they hit big. If they have a slump, they have to wait until the next season.

In many ways, sports sponsorship is the same way. Each year we activate with partners for 3–6 months (depending on the league) and then re-negotiate toward the next season.

If they hit, they hit fairly big and we look for more value the following year with a renewal. If the campaign does not do well…or it gets off to a slow start…we only have a season to bring the promised value.

Well with the pandemic…we have had a tough season. It has exposed us to the fact that we rely on a season with live games to make money.

To battle back the industry pushed toward ways to connect with our fans despite the loss of fans in our stadiums and games.

I believe we have seen the last of sports sponsorship being a seasonal advertising platform. Here’s why.

This pandemic exposed us…but set us up to create a sponsorship world where you can drive revenue all year.

This pandemic has been terrible on all ends. We’ve had to shift everything that we do in order to survive.

With the huge reliance on live games…we in sports were exposed.

In most cases, 60% of our revenue came from ticketing & concessions. This is too much of a reliance on live games to happen in our stadiums in order to survive and pay the bills.

The same can be said about our assets in sponsorship. The majority of them relied on in-stadium signage and on-location activation. Both of these lose their value when we don’t have fans in the stands.

As an industry, we’ve been amazing at adapting. We’ve built new digital assets, campaigns, and even uses for our stadium spaces to recoup the value lost.

This has, ultimately, set us up to make more money when this ends. It has forced us into creating assets that have no reliance on live games.

This shift has given us the keys to billions of dollars…if we can see it and take advantage of it. We can take sponsorship from seasonal to year-round in the value we drive.

Teams are influencers…The Kardashians don’t only make money when their show is airing. They make it all year.

One thing I think we forget is we as teams are influencers in the purest form of the word.

We built, over decades, a captivated community with a common love…our teams. The influence many times is generational, which is the next level of the influencer process.

With this, we’ve built something that can sustain itself without live games. In the past, we relied on our stadium experience and broadcasts to carry our sponsorship assets. It used to be the only time we could reach fans on a large scale.

Then the internet came to be. All of a sudden we have access to multiple channels (email, social, video streaming) in which we can reach our fans at any given moment.

I liken this phenomenon to the empire that the Kardashians built through their reality show. What started on E! as the only way to consume the life of this family, they have all built an empire from their social media channels.

If The Kardashians show was canceled…it would have little consequence to their ability to make money.

The reason? They have diversified their attention channels. If the above happened, the family would simply post their content onto their own channels and integrate in brands.

That’s right…they’ve essentially built their own network with a built-in advertising platform ( promoting brands, etc.)

I say this with hesitation but in order to take sports sponsorship to the next level…we need to be like the Kardashians.

That is to say, we must build out our distribution channels and following so that if games are taken from us we have the diversified assets to still drive revenue.

It is no different from diversifying your stock portfolio. You can’t put all your eggs into one basket, nor should you as in an amazing market you make twice the money.

As we look at the end of seasonality in sponsorship, it hinges on our ability to build our own following so we can monetize all year long.

We must now be 24/7/365 because digital ads are.

I’ve written about this before, but sponsorship was at a disadvantage by only activating during the season.

The main reason? Digital ads are 24/7/365.

That is to say that a Facebook ad can make a partner trackable revenue all year long. In some cases, they make money while we sleep.

With our assets, really they were the most effective during the season…then dulled out when it ended. We threw in a few off-season golf tournaments to bring value.

If we plan on continuing to compete with digital ads, we must build the assets that make our brand’s money while they sleep.

And here is what I mean by that. If immediately after the season ends we launch the following digital campaigns:

-Top 10 videos for each star player

-Season recaps with individual players

-Rookie to sophomore reports

We’ve built assets that have long-tail consumption. We have content that the brand will see real value while they sleep as fans will literally be watching while the CMOs sleep.

By building a library up of content on digital platforms we become the Kardashians. We can reach our fans at any moment with our content…many times while we sleep as a team.

In order to really turn this corner and come out more powerful at the end…we have to build our assets outside of live sports to monetize. This is the way to do it.

This is how we dig out…but also how we go from $24Bn to $100Bn industry.

The North American sports sponsorship market is $24Bn. Our live games have built quite the market.

And we have content for the off-season to keep that attention all year…but have we really doubled down on it?

Let me put it this way. If we could double our partnership revenue with more inventory…would you hire a sponsorship & digital team with the sole purpose of monetizing off-season assets?

I think to turn the corner we need to totally re-think how we structure our departments.

Imagine if we were able to create a digital sponsorship department of our teams. A department whose sole purpose is to monetize our digital assets.

We could absolutely double, triple, and beyond our revenue.

In sports, we are on the verge of a transformation. A massive metamorphosis that will define our industry.

If we can push our monetization to not rely on live games. If we can recycle our content, give it new life, and understand the power and following we have online…we can take our industry to the next stage in its life cycle.

But ultimately, it falls on us.

As creative sponsorship industry people, we must understand that our organizations need to make this shift and take the steps today to build it. We have to make the scary, massive shifts to take advantage of what we have in front of us.

Sponsorship is no longer seasonal. It can’t be if we are to grow as an industry.



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