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Rethinking Minimum Spend Limits In Sports Sponsorship

Since I started in the sponsorship industry…we’ve always had a minimum spend. I was always told “We need a brand to commit to our value.” or “the smaller deals take too much time.”

Both are valid points…but also dangerous ones. Whenever we have blanketed statements about an industry…it creates a situation where someone can undercut us for business.

Honestly, when I sold restaurant ads…I killed competitors by being an option without minimums.

Beating the competition with “no” minimums

When I sold restaurant ads for a travel publication I knew we had ad inventory that went for $495 for the whole year (That’s only $41.35 a month! 2 meals and the ad pays for itself!).

I also knew that our largest competitor had a minimum spend. You had to buy packages with multiple photo listings in multiple publications.

So I walked down to the travel center, grabbed all of their publications, and went down the list of restaurants that advertised there. The outreach message was simple “Hey I can get you in front of the same audience for a portion of the ad spend, we have no minimums!”.

In short, this strategy worked every time. I stole a ton of business from the competitor simply because I had no minimum spend.

The opportunity came with smaller clients that competitors couldn’t close

So I stole some clients. It happens in sales. That was great. But the bigger opportunity came with the sales that my competitor couldn’t close.

You see a $2,000 minimum is a breeze for bigger restaurant groups. They can drop that in a year…sometimes even a month.

But when you look at the larger customer base, most restaurants are cook-owned. What do I mean by this? It means when you call to chat about advertising the cook/owner says to call back at 10 PM when they are done cooking and sitting down with a glass of wine and looking over bills.

$2,000 to a cook-owner is the mortgage. It’s soccer cleats for their kids.

That ad spend is a HUGE risk for them as it is all on their shoulders. That is hard-earned income from waking up at 5 AM and making 500 doughnuts before dawn

This is where I thrived. I would actively find smaller businesses that competed with the bigger ones I couldn’t close and approach them with the $495 package. 

Now I know what you’re thinking “but Nick…you got less money than the competitor on that deal!” This is true.

$495 can work. It de-risks them. 

There are a larger number of smaller individual restaurants than bigger restaurant groups in the city I was selling in. I was swimming in interest. We had to literally add more pages to our guides to fit people in.

The big thing? Most of the time my competitors never called these restaurants. They knew they wouldn’t spend the minimum so they left them alone. I was one of the only people calling them.

It seems like a no-brainer…but in the 3 years that I sold these ads the competing travel guide never dropped their minimum. They stuck to their guns. I even had a customer say the sole reason they switched was that there was no minimum with us. 

That customer eventually spent the same amount as the competitor minimum with us.

Is that crazy? I would say yes. Money is money and if there is an opportunity…there is a solution to the answer “it is too hard to make a profitable process”. 

This worked because it played to our psychology of being risk-averse

You see humans are inherently risk-averse. It’s in our biological survival mechanism. Anything that is risky we struggle to pull the trigger on.

The reason why restaurants said yes was that there was very little buy-in risk ($495). 

If it worked, amazing the marketer looked like a rockstar. If it didn’t, it wasn’t a huge cost in the marketing budget. 

That cost-benefit analysis is done every time we approach a prospect. When we add minimums, it puts up a red flag in their head.

“This is a big investment, what if it doesn’t pay off?” Whether consciously or subconsciously, this will hinder any deal.

We can combat this by showing other sponsors that have had success…but still, there is a wall we are fighting as salespeople when we add minimums.

In sales, if we can remove this wall, we can win more deals. Our goal in sales should always be to remove walls that keep the prospect from buying our product.

In my opinion, minimums are an unnecessary wall.

Building targeted & efficient inventory is the key

The key to the small restaurant no minimum strategy success came with setting up specific inventory that was easy to set up and maintain and an onboarding system to add them.

The $495 item was a listing with a photo. The selling point was rather than the regular listing…you would get a photo to stand out as visitors browsed the page. The value add was worth the extra money.

But the implementation was easy. In asking for the regular info (Restaurant name, blurb, and address) we simply created a new form with an image upload. The editor then adjusted the page by adding images.

That’s it. This is what allowed us to grab multiple new customers and pull them in. Could our competitor have done this? I am sure they could….but they didn’t for whatever reason. This lost them money.

We see this all the time in small businesses. I once read that a landscaper took over a market with huge competitors by dropping his initial price by 10%. Why could he drop his price by 10%? He set up a self-schedule and pay website where customers could set up a mowing in seconds.

When people referred others to him, they simply sent the link. People signed up instantly.

The 10% came from not needing someone on the phone to call and schedule appointments. Less overhead, he passed (some) of that savings onto his customers.

Where he thrived was the upsell. Now people were scheduling appointments for bigger ticket items like tree removal.

Could the competitors have done that to keep up? Yes. Did they before he took a large amount of market share?

Nope.

Look we are all problem solvers (hopefully) in sales. If there is a revenue opportunity…there is a way to tweak a process to make it easy.

As we look at this through the lens of sponsorship, there are always ways we can make the process to implement easy so it makes money sense. If the landscaper can do it…we can too.

So how does this link to sponsorship? You can steal deals by dropping minimums

As I stated, there has always been a sticking to minimums mindset. My beef with this is technology has changed since this idea was put into place. We have evolved to make processes easier. You can shave time off almost any process with a technology solution.

For the vast majority, we haven’t challenged it. We have assumed that the work it would take to fulfill a $695 sponsorship would not be worth it.

Let’s start to challenge it. Here is an example.

Let’s say you wanted to take my experience and go get restaurants. Perfect. Let’s set up a landing page called the “Your Team” Menu. It’s where fans go when they struggle with what to order.

The first thing you do, send an email to every restaurant in the city to be a part of it FOR FREE.

I know you think this is crazy, but this is the honey. It will pull in initial interest. 

Say there are 500 restaurants in your city. 250 say yes. You now have relationships with 250 restaurants.

Once the 250 say yes, you have an automated email that sends to them letting them know that for the entire year they can add a photo to their listing to make it pop. All for the low price of $695 for the year.

Let’s say the first year, 60 say yes. We are looking at $41,700 in additional revenue you wouldn’t have gotten.

The time it will take to update the page for the season with 250 restaurants info….probably a full day’s work if formatted correctly. Let’s take another day to add the photos. 

2 days worth of work, $41,700 in revenue you didn’t plan on getting.

But that is just the introduction. If they buy a photo, they are prime customers to buy other assets. You can now upsell all 60.

If you are a smaller team, this can be your silver bullet

Look if you go head to head with big teams and play their game…most times you will lose. Fighting for scraps of a big deal against a big team is a lot of sales work with a high likelihood of failure.

But if you change the way you think about minimums you can create programs & systems that are easy to implement and manage to pull in big returns for years to come.

As with the landscaper, digital platforms have made the world easier. We can automate processes to shave off hours of work (which usually lead to thousands of $ in savings).

It may take a bit of initial time investment (I am sure the landscaper’s setup of the scheduling and payment system took a whole week) but the payoff from there is worth the work to maintain (update prices, etc.). But this extra work set up a foundation for HUGE growth in the future.

If you build a list of restaurants described above….and each year grow the number of images bought for listings… You are sitting on a gold mine of revenue. When restaurants talk to each other, they will mention the project.

The best part, the other team you compete with will be asked if they can spend just $695 on inventory. Their answer most likely will be NO for a long time.

Start small, one program at a time, and then build from there

I am not saying take any business at any price. That would create chaos (the last thing we need in sports).

Here is the process I would follow:

  • Find an underserved customer base that has scale (restaurants are probably the easiest).
  • Build an asset that is easy to service and brings value (Restaurant list, restaurant of the week post on social, etc.)
  • Go sell, set up an automated” email that reaches out to all restaurants at scale (you have to nail this email with value, but that is for another article)

Test it in the first run. Will it be the most efficient. Absolutely not.

Will you be able to make tweaks to make it efficient? Yes.

If you do 3 programs per season, you could easily add 6 figures to your revenue. Even better, that is 6 figures that your competitors can’t get.

I hope this got you all thinking about where you’ll start. But overall…we as an industry need to challenge the mindset that brands have to have a minimum spend with our team.

Are we headed for a sports BOOM….then BUST?

There are cycles in almost everything in life. Nothing ever grows exponentially forever.

This can be seen in nature, our economy, and countless other places in our lives. No bull market lasts forever. No Bear market does either.

How you navigate those peaks and valleys comes down to how well you understand the factors that affect the system your industry is running on. What are the levers that increase success or drive failure?

If we can understand the system and levers, we can effectively navigate to success where others fail. We see it time & time again with companies in the market.

The sports industry is no different. We have very clear dynamics that affect attendance in our industry. Many times, we found band-aid solutions to cover them up. And somewhat..they worked.

But before the pandemic, sports had an issue with getting fans into the stands. We heard it non-stop, fans enjoyed watching at home.

We had prominent sports figures complain that the Smart Phone was the enemy, giving people access to sports content so they would stay home.

We saw 10%+ drops in attendance each year. This was a HUGE issue in sports. Then a pandemic came our attendance went to 0. We had to get creative in keeping fans engaged, connected, and ultimately monetize them without live games.

As an industry, we did an awesome job of being creative to solve these issues. But, we may have only ignited a larger issue.

Today I want to jump into some factors that concern me for sports. I believe in asking ourselves the hard questions in order to create tangible solutions to solve them. This is the first step to that.

The BOOM

Look, live sports being back in our stadiums will bring a boom. Many of you, in fact, are selling on this in with your clients.

I’m sure everyone in the sponsorship industry reading this article has used the line “When we do get sports back in our stadiums, the viewership will be astronomical. You will not want to miss out on that when it happens.”

I do think there will be a boom. If we look at the return of people to restaurants and bars in states where they are opening up, there is a pretty steady return. Here in Portland, OR some restaurants have a line to eat when pre-pandemic you maybe saw a handful of people there.

I am, though, skeptical on how big of a BOOM we will see. We haven’t seen the BOOM we expected on television ratings for watching key games in the playoffs for many leagues. You can mark it up to not counting streaming as well as they should and an oversaturation of all the sports happening at once.

It is important, unequivocally, to maximize whatever boom you see and be prepared. Have a plan for it and make sure you are maximizing it. You will need the cash from this boom to capitalize on the bust that I believe will follow.

The Bust

As with any boom, there is a carrying capacity for that upward trajectory. There are factors that will begin to eat away at that rise if not seen and understood properly.

I see three main factors we have to take into account as we look to navigate the next 5 years (and honestly 5 months) that will drop our attendance numbers.

The battle pre-covid for attendance wasn’t won

It is VITAL to understand that our problems of the past have not gone away. We were, for the most part, losing the attendance battle at our games.

Most of us in the industry don’t need proof of this as we lived this problem, but to put into context here is a quote from a 2019 USA Today article:

“But fans are now less inclined to go to games in person. Each league saw a decline in total attendance from 2008 to 2018. Fans are often unwilling to pay high ticket prices, and teams don’t seem to care, as an increasing amount and share of their revenue come from lucrative TV contracts as opposed to ticket sales. But not all teams are losing fans at an equal rate. Some have seen average attendance declines of more than a third over the last decade.”

Why was attendance dropping? Well, there are many answers to that question. But a few that stand out are:

-Comfort of watching at home

-Terrible Parking

-High ticket price

-High food cost

I’ve talked about it before, but our experience in the stadium ultimately wasn’t doing its job in matching the price of the ticket. This was a long-standing problem in our industry but was magnified when we gave fans the option to watch

We employed terrible tactics to solve it. Instead of addressing the problems above, we tried to solve them with TV blackouts and restrictions in watching to force fans to pay for an experience we knew was not up to par with what we were charging.

Ultimately the foundation of my thesis of a bust comes from the fact that we did not solve the issues we had pre-pandemic.

If we haven’t implemented major tactics to solve them, why would we expect the results to change?

To double down on that, we’ve educated and trained our fans on how to consume at home

Not only have we not solved the problem that plagued our industry pre-pandemic, but we’ve also made it a bit worse.

Before the pandemic, although fans were streaming our games, the adoption of platforms like ESPN+ had not reached the maturity stage in the tech product lifecycle. In short, while a lot of fans were using these platforms to stream…MOST fans were not.

Further than this, we’ve also digitized our gameday experience. Pre-game camera angles into warm-ups, ways to view the game from home, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I will be the first to tell you that this is a HUGE step forward for our industry. The amount of inventory & engagement we’ve open up here will more than double the revenue we bring in as an industry in the next 5 years.

A common saying in the business & tech world is the pandemic accelerated the adoption of tech for many industries. There is no difference in the sports industry. We now must implement these digital initiatives (digital programs, streaming, digital engagement, etc.) in order to keep up with the situation we are in with no fans.

But a side effect of this is we have now gotten fans familiar with the very platforms that were eating into our attendance. We have trained fans on how to engage in their own homes.

With an in-stadium product that has had its issues, why would fans leave the comfort of their own home now that they have every access to experience it at home?

This is a major question we have to take into account as we think through this issue. This is, in my mind, an accelerant that will only expose our issues with getting fans into the stadium further…in some cases bringing it to a tipping point for most organizations.

We can’t expect the situation to be the same. We have to understand that we will be in a bigger uphill battle than before.

Incoming recession, will we price out our fans?

However, the presidential election goes this week, with the pandemic crippling our economy we can assume that our fans will have less disposable income than they have had in the past.

Much less disposable income. The honest truth is some fans will be thinking about how they will be able to pay rent. Your game experience won’t even be in the realm of any spending consideration.

Before the pandemic, in one of the strongest economies of all time, we had an issue with fans being priced out of tickets. The cost for a family of 4 to attend a professional game was astronomical.

To further add salt to the wound, the high price in many cases didn’t match the value that most fans felt the game experience held. By that, I mean many fans opted to stay home in large part because the cost was not worth the problems that they would face at the stadium (parking, traffic, high food prices, etc.).

If this was a problem before the pandemic, in a great economy, we can assume that it will be an even bigger issue when fans are allowed back into our stadiums.

Sure, at first I think we absolutely will see this affecting purchase rates less often as fans make an emotional purchase to attend the game after being neglected of it for so many months…but over a sustained amount of time it will be harder & harder for a fan to part with their

Ok, this sounds like a ticketing problem…how does it affect me in sponsorship?

In so many ways ticketing & sponsorship are inherently linked to each other. In sponsorship, we rely on eyeballs in our stadiums to make the high-priced signage worth the money to sponsors.

If there are fewer and fewer fans in the stands you will have to subsidize the lost views with something else or lower your price.

We never want to lower our price, but if you cannot report the same value as in the past you will have to adjust or watch as your sponsors spend less and less with your team.

We all know as well that in sponsorship, perception is reality. As our prospects & sponsors see empty seats they perceive it as a loss in influence. If fans aren’t coming to games to watch the team…do you really have enough influence to help successfully vouch for a sponsor through your sponsorship packages.

It is vital that we understand that empty seats in our stadiums will do major damage to our sales in sponsorship. How your ticketing, marketing, and game ops departments solve this is absolutely critical to your success in bringing in sponsorship dollars.

How can we fight against the bust? A plan of attack

I think the first step is to realize this is coming. We are all good at scenario planning at this point in the pandemic, this is a must scenario to plan for.

Unfortunately, I am hearing and seeing in the industry the opposite. There has been a lot of selling on the idea that there will be a boom when sports come back and you will want to be a part of it.

And as I mentioned earlier, I fully expect somewhat of a boom coming back. I think the timing of how long that boom is will depend on the state of the economy, but we will see an impassioned boom.

But we have to make a game plan to combat the bust period. How can we ensure that we sustain that BOOM over the entire season?

First, we have to fix the sins of our past. Sponsors can help us do that

This a somewhat of a blanketed statement. There are many teams that have solved most of these problems to create a truly seamless game experience. For those teams, I salute you.

BUT, for the majority of us, we’ve swept these problems with our game day experience under the rug.

We’ve lived a lot on the nostalgia, emotion, and power of our brand to cover up the issues with our game days.

Luckily, our sponsors can help us solve many of these issues. Mainly through funding.

Do you have long lines at your stadium to get in? Creating a sponsored entrance is a great way to alleviate the line. For example, at Barclays in Brooklyn NYC if you have an American Express card you can skip the line with an MVP entrance.

What this does is take the pressure off the overall line, as those American Express customers use the MVP line…there are inevitably fewer people to crowd the main entrance line.

Staying on lines, is there a technology out there that can alleviate long lines at concessions & bathrooms? Absolutely…but many times we can’t afford it.

Having a sponsor “fund” that technology with specific integrations into the experience is a great way to add it to your stadium experience.

If we are strategic, we can fund the alleviation of our stadium issues with sponsorship dollars and add them to the package.

In order to have a chance to come back stronger, we have to solve the sins of our past.

Parking, long lines, outdated chairs, high food cost, and countless more issues are solvable now. We can use sponsor dollars to help fund the solutions to these issues if we can link them back to the sponsor’s goal.

Sponsorship can help drive ticket sales, and sustain them if done correctly

As much as we are a pain in our ticketing department’s butts when it comes to discounting tickets etc….we do have ways that can help them drive sales through our packages and sponsorship assets.

A key example comes with bobbleheads. Sponsors love to be the presenting partner on a bobblehead. Their logo is tied to that item forever.

If you didn’t know…bobblehead giveaways are a great way to drive ticket sales. In fact…

“Bobblehead giveaways, it turns out, increase attendance by around 25 percent on weekdays and 9 percent on weekends, Graduate School of Management student Mai Nguyen found.” via UC Davis (Go Aggies).

You can increase ticket sales by 9–25% by giving away a bobblehead. That may not seem like a lot…but when you are staring down the barrel at only 50% attendance…boosting it to 75% looks a hell of a lot better.

But more important is the buying psychology it brings.

When a fan is deciding whether to buy a ticket to a game and are short on disposable income they are looking for value. They need to have the value of the game match what they can spend.

A bobblehead immediately adds value. Since they are receiving it for free, the price of the ticket in their head drops as they are receiving more for the dollars paid.

Notice that this does not drop the price of the ticket, it only adds context and value for the fan. This needs to be the gameplan. We can still preserve the value of our ticket price…it just is more easily justified to the fan with the free item.

What is further on this example though is we now have broken the seal for that fan buying tickets. We have broken through the hardest part to the system, getting them used to and comfortable with buying tickets.

One sponsored bobblehead has just turned a one ticket sale into multiple without dropping the price of your tickets….all the while bringing value to your sponsor. It is a win-win.

This is a prime example of how sponsorship can help during the bust. Funding the bobblehead helps your team not have to take a hit OR pass the cost onto the fan while simultaneously preserving the value of your ticket price.

A bobblehead is just one example of how this can help, there are many others. Having a sponsor subsidize a ticket price if you make a purchase is another great way to preserve the value.

There are countless other ideas, many we haven’t thought of yet, but it is up to us in sponsorship to understand the bust is coming and get creative on how we can help.

In essence, when the bust comes…don’t drop your price. Add value instead. A sponsored item will work wonders here.

Timing on both of these points will be key

WHEN you launch these campaigns will be the difference to keeping fans rolling in during the BUST phase.

Again if we can expect a BOOM, we don’t want to waste the

Think of these tactics like the bobblehead like our NOS. For all you non-street racers out there, Nitrogen Oxide is used to give the case a boost of speed for a few seconds to gain an advantage.

Press it at the wrong time, you will have wasted it as your opponent drives by.

Probably a terrible analogy, but my point is you don’t want to waste these tactics too early.

If you give away bobbleheads when the fans were already coming, you are wasting that tactic and won’t have it when you truly need it.

If you can time a bobblehead launch to when you think the drop will come, you can sustain the attendance for many weeks after most teams see a drop. You can break that seal in a fan to get them comfortable buying tickets at a moment when they are ready to cut that off their spending list.

In my mind, there will be somewhat of a feedback loop here. If your stadium is full while others around the sport start to empty…fans will psychologically link your game as something that is a “can’t miss” event.

As you plan your tactics, understand that timing is so important in this process. Save your best tactics for when things get really bad. It will pay off as others see a slump.

With whatever you do, you have to have a plan

My biggest fear for the industry is that we don’t recognize these issues and don’t have a plan to solve them.

Not that we could ever see a pandemic coming…but the results were so much worse for the sports industry because our revenue-driving assets were over-leveraged on the physical side of the game. We HAD to have butts in seats.

The fact that we were over-leveraged in the physical part of our game was predictable. I wrote about it HERE.

And really it came down to us not asking the hard questions about our industry. We didn’t want to think about the worse because…well…we were making money. We relied on a great economy, brand name, and TV revenues to sweep our real problems under the rug.

There is no excuse now to ignore them. We have to have a solution to these issues. We have to solve the reasons fans hate our game days in order to create a product that can survive the coming years.

The teams that see this. The ones that see their issues, solve them, and create a strategy to thrive while others survive will win out in the end.

In the sponsorship industry, we can…with our sponsors…be the catalyst for these solutions. Our sponsors can help fund the solutions to our game day problems.

If we define our sponsors as truly our partners, we can create assets that help both ends grow. It has never been more important than now to think about how our sponsors can help us thrive in the bust while helping them do so as well in the process.

A bust is coming…how prepared is your team when it does?

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The new era of prospecting in sponsorship comes in your social feeds

One vital thing to understand is brands are still spending dollars in this pandemic. Despite what we may hear from them about budgets being tight or locked, a massive amount of money is being spent on digital ads.

So how can you know who is spending and what they care about?

It may sound simplistic, but today we can actually find out everything we need to know from our social media feeds (and a few tools I will point out).

The beautiful thing about social media ads is we can see what our sponsor’s goals are…but more importantly we can see how they wish to convey them AND where they spend their dollars.

In this article, I will dive into how you can successfully prospect for sponsorship dollars on social media platforms to find out who is still spending

Brands tell us their goals by what they spend on

Rich Franklin, my partner in crime on The Inches Podcast, has a great saying on this. He asks “Why do robbers always rob a bank? Because that’s where the money is.”

A lot in this pandemic I constantly heard “We are targeting industries who are doing well during the pandemic, like cleaning supplies companies, as they will actually have budgets.”

This though is a flawed way to go about it. There are two issues with this.

  1. This is making an assumption about brands and how they spend their dollars. It isn’t backed by data or proof. We as an industry are making a pretty horrible generalization about how brands will spend their dollars. If we do this, we will lose out on a large amount of revenue.
  2. Everyone has this strategy. If everyone starts hitting up Clorox…it will be hard to stand out as a team. Ultimately we’ll create a buyers market with these companies we’ve dubbed “high pandemic budgets” which will commoditize our assets and create a war on prices.

Instead, we should be looking at data and examples. We should be looking at who IS currently spending money right now on advertising. If they are spending on advertising…they have budgets.

If they have budgets open, we have the opportunity to work our assets and packages into those budgets if we approach it correctly.

But how do we do this? Well, it’s a bit different for each platform, but if we know where to look we can gain vital information.

Here are the three I go to:

Twitter

Twitter is more of a receiver than a search platform. By this I mean we can’t search for a company and see their ads like you can with Facebook & Instagram.

What we can do though is see who is spending on the platform. How? Simply by scrolling through your feed. Yes, it is as simple as scrolling through your feed and looking for what ads pop up.

From about 2 minutes of scrolling, here are the ads that popped up on my feed.

First, let me start with the first pushback I always get when mentioning this as a prospect tactic, “Big brands aren’t spending money on Twitter, it will be a lot of smaller e-commerce companies.” I think the above dispels that.

These are MAJOR brands spending pretty sizable money during a pandemic. More importantly, they are all in categories that are prime for sports sponsorship.

The second issue I always get is “These are national campaigns, my local franchise doesn’t spend on these campaigns.” You are correct, they don’t make these decisions. BUT they will have the same goals.

If you can approach your local State Farm branch with “I noticed you all were promoting your ‘get you back on the road’ campaign on social media. I know you all aren’t spending these dollars but did you know our team has over 30,000 local followers on Twitter? I would love to help get them engaged with this campaign locally to drive customers.”

What looking through these Twitter ads will do for your sponsorship team is be able to bring context immediately to why they should spend their dollars with your team. This will single-handedly help you close deals, sometimes over your larger competitors.

If you are stuck and looking for brands to reach out to, jump on Twitter and see who is running ads.

Facebook & IG

Facebook and Instagram are a bit easier to find ads. Unlike with Twitter, you can actually look up all the ads that brands by looking them up.

Yup, you can literally see every ad that your target car brand is running.

With Facebook’s push toward transparency, they added the ability for users to see all the ads that company pages put onto both Instagram & Facebook.

Yes, you can see ALL the ads that your prospective brands are running. For absolutely FREE.

HERE is the link to the tool, it is run by Facebook. Simply type in the company you want to see.

For fun, let’s do Burger King (I really like how they have been marketing).

As you can see, Burger King is dropping a substantial amount of money into Facebook Ads. They currently have about 150 ads running. That is quite a bit of investment. They believe in grabbing their customer’s attention on this platform.

The most beautiful thing here though is you can see the actual ads they are running. You can see what they care about and, maybe more importantly, how they are telling that story.

As you can see here, the 2 for $5 for a PS5 is a campaign they are really pushing to drive sales. If you read the copy, you can see that they are pushing for orders on their app.

We have just learned 3 vital pieces of information with just these 3 ads;

  1. They want to push the 2 for $5 meal.
  2. They have a PS5 giveaway to drive it (we’re pretty good at that in sports)
  3. And the end goal seems to be driving BK App purchases for delivery.

With this information, we can approach and build a perfect package that speaks their language. Before we even jump on the call we have real information on the prospect. This will help us sell packages to them.

But, we don’t have to just search for national brands. With this tool, we can see the ads being run by EVERY Facebook company page.

Yes, that means if your local sponsor has a Facebook page, you can see if they are running ads.

We just bought a Toyota from Toyota of Portland this year…so I will use them as an example.

Now, it isn’t a HUGE amount of spend…but they are spending on Facebook & IG Ads. We can see here they are testing 3 different cars and ad copies.

Overall though, they are pushing 3 models and focusing on 3 value adds; Large selection, exceed expectations, and incredible savings.

With this information, we can bet that if we created a FB Live pre-game show and had a segment of the best saves of the season…they would be interested in sponsoring it.

Or even an Instagram pre-game post that focuses on the player they think will exceed expectations, brought to you by Toyota of Portland.

Again, these are the pieces of information we can thrive on by understanding WHERE they are spending their dollars. We can absolutely use this resource as a way to prospect for who is spending dollars during the pandemic and what their goals are.

Snapchat

I’ve said this multiple times, I think Snapchat is the most underutilized tool in sponsorship & sports media. The usage, attention, and dollars being spent on this platform is INSANE. It is underutilized by 99% of teams & organizations in sports.

Obviously, the first tactic here needs to be building a following on Snapchat. In sponsorship, we are monetizing our influence. We can’t monetize our influence on a platform if we don’t have any.

With that, there are a lot of dollars being spent here by brands.

I think we can all agree that these brands are in our targets for sponsorship prospecting. The same way we saw what brands are spending on through Twitter, we can scour Snapchat for these same ads.

If your team created a Snapchat pre-game show and got enough local reach (noticed I said local…you don’t have to have a ginormous following) all of these brands would be in play for a package.

Again the first step here is to build your following on Snapchat with great content. From there though you can prospect by looking at who is spending on this platform.

YouTube

Much like Twitter & Snapchat, YouTube is another place brands are dumping revenue into to buy ads.

How much…a lot. See below for the ad spend for a company like Liberty Mutual…a company very much in our sponsorship category.

Yes, you read that correctly. In 90 days Liberty Mutual spent $66M on YouTube ads. I hope this is enough to convince you that you should be taking this platform seriously.

With that, this is a great place to prospect for leads. As you watch content (preferably sports) see which ads and pre-roll ads pop up in the videos. You will see companies that are in your realm of sponsorship categories spending major dollars here.

The most important item is these ads tell us the packages we should create for them

It’s one thing to make a list of all the brands spending here. It is a whole new ball game to understand WHY they are promoting here.

The beautiful thing about seeing these ads is you can understand what is most important to the brand running them. You can create a package around that need WHILE knowing that they believe the platform is worth investing in to drive sales.

For example from the Twitter ads, Pabst Blue Ribbon has a new beverage. They are selling Hard Coffee now as a product offering. It is their main priority right now. This is key information in prospecting.

When you build your package for them, you know 2 things; 1. They have a new product they are looking to promote. 2. They believe Twitter is a good platform to reach their customer.

In this Hard Coffee ad, someone is using the beverage to bake a new creation. Creating a package around one of your players making this recipe with the product for fans has a huge advantage over coming in cold.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, building CONTEXT is what makes prospecting through social media for brands so important. You aren’t really cold calling, you are warm calling with great research.

This is why it is so important to build an engaging social following & digital assets on all platforms.

It’s one thing to know their goals through these tactics, it’s a whole different ball game if you can shift some of the spendings here over to sponsoring YOUR digital assets.

Back to Rich’s saying, you rob a bank because that is where the money is, the main argument for why building digital sponsorship inventory is this is where brands ARE spending a massive amount of money.

We should, now more than ever, be absolutely obsessed with building out digital sponsorship assets. We need to have assets that will shift some of these dollars from Facebook ads into our digital following & content.

As I’ve mentioned before, the sponsorship industry is MASSIVELY over-leveraged into our physical assets. This pandemic brought us to our knees as an industry, it took

While our sponsor’s marketing goals have not changed, the platform in which they look to achieve them has.

While the tactics above can tell us those goals, if we cannot prove we can more efficiently reach their sponsorship goals…we won’t survive. Why would they shift their dollars from social media ads to us?

We’re entering a new era in sponsorship, one that has been accelerated by this pandemic, one that is seeing dollars shift to digital platforms. If we are not a part of that shift, we are doomed to fail as Blockbuster and Toys R’ Us have.

In the next ten years, we’ll look back at the teams who won and lost. The winners will have successfully shifted those brand dollars to their digital initiatives.

How to successfully market your digital activations & contests with your fans (after launching…

If an activation is promoted, and no fan is there to hear it, does it even exist? Well…yes…but it wouldn’t be very successful.

Marketing your activations are a HUGE part of launching a new campaign with your fan base. At SQWAD we’ve helped launch activations for over 35 clients across sports and have seen what works & where activation marketing falls short.

We’ve compiled some of our key findings into a plan that you can follow to help drive success in launching your activations.

We always say you know your fans the best and how to market to them. These are simply foundations in a marketing plan that you can tweak based on your fan’s behaviors and habits.

Our goal is always to bring value to your team in the realm of sponsorship. Whether you are using SQWAD with your activation or another company, we hope this helps your team launch your most successful activation yet.

It’s a bit of a novel, but it is well worth the read. Power through.

The Foundations In Marketing Your Activation

As with anything in strategy, there are some foundational tactics you can follow for success in your activations. Here are the foundational steps we’ve found in launching a great campaign for your activation to drive users.

We’ll dive in deeper below, but these are the foundations you’ll want to follow.

1. Create an educational promotion video

The first step to a great campaign is creating a video that educated your fans about the activation and why they should play.

2. Send an announcement email to your season ticket holders

This is one of the most productive tactics we’ve seen across the board. You have a list of season ticket holders, why not send them an email to let them know about the new activation?

With one email send you can build a massive list of fans who play to create a great baseline of accounts created.

3. Post to ALL your social media accounts AND during commercial breaks in your stadium

Your fans follow you across multiple channels, posting to one channel means you risk not reaching your full potential on engagement. When teams have seen limited usage it has been because they only post to one channel.

4. Consistency builds habits

Your goal should be to build a habit game in & game out of engagement. If you can build a habit of playing this activation you can ensure usage numbers each week. To build a habit you have to be consistent with your marketing promotion each week. You can’t post once and expect fans to remember the next week. Consistency is the key.

Building Your Announcement Video

The first step of any successful activation is education. If your fans don’t get excited…or even know about your activation…how can you expect to drive large numbers of engagement?

As you start your marketing campaign for your activation, creating a video that educates the fan on what it is and why they should play is a must.

Here are the key components of this video:

Show don’t tell

While showing an image of the scratch & win screen is great, it’s our job to grab our fan’s attention. An image doesn’t do it justice.

When you create the video, actually show the activation. Take a screen recording of the activation (answering questions, scratching to win, confetti falling, etc.). This shows the fan what they will be missing out on if they don’t play. It gives them a preview of what they will experience.

Think of it as a movie trailer. Make it intriguing, show them what they will get experience-wise, and this will pull them in.

Promote the Prize

Look, when it comes down to it…fans like to win stuff. They are constantly engaging with our team, many times they want a reward. And really it comes down to what they get in return for the time they give you.

We’ve talked about this before, but implementing the Prizing Triangle is an absolute must for success. In short, the Prizing Triangle strategy is the idea that if you promote your largest prize you will drive more users…even if less than 1% of fans who play will win that prize.

In fact, it actually increases the redemption rates of the lower prizes and offers won.

A key example of this is lottery games. They never promote “You could win $3!” on their scratcher cards…that return is not worth the $1 and doesn’t sell the dream. The promotion is always “YOU COULD WIN $10,000!!” to sell the dream. If a user sees that much of a return, it is worth their time to play AND brings them back next time for another chance.

When you promote your prize in this video, make sure it is the grand prize. Make sure fans know exactly what they are playing for. Put it front & center to promote the dream.

A great in-stadium example with the OKC Dodgers

One of the best in-stadium examples of this video comes with the OKC Dodgers. When launching our scratch & win initiative they did an amazing job with their video to promote.

Notice a few things here that we touched on earlier. FIRST, they followed the Show, Don’t Tell with a screen recording of the activation on the left-hand side of the video.

You can see how this pulls fan’s attention IN with what they could be missing out on by showing the action of scratching the card. You can’t take your eyes off of it. It grabs your attention.

SECOND, it Promotes The Prize. Fans see the bobblehead and backpack fans could win if they play. One thing to note here, the sponsor prize was a percentage off heating & cooling services. They did not promote that prize, but many fans won it as an “auxiliary” prize.

We always want to promote the big prize, not many fans will play for the % off heating & cooling service…but when they do win it, we have seen an increase in redemption rates. I dive in deeper on this with our article on the Prizing Triangle.

A great social media promotion example with the Dallas Cowboys

Another great example comes with the Dallas Cowboys. As we can see they did a great job in both of the cornerstones with that promotional video…Show, Don’t Tell…and Promote the Prize.

I can’t stress enough how the Show, Don’t Tell side pulls fans in. It grabs your attention and promotes how great the experience is to build FOMO.

If you just post an image, it doesn’t sell that vision as well as a video.

Action Steps

  • Create your “education” video
  • Show, Don’t Tell & Promote The Prize

Pre-market via email to your most loyal fans

This is probably the most under-utilized, but highest returning platform of all. You’ve already built a following of fans and gained their emails, why not let them know about this new and great activation?

Create a promotional email to send them that announces the activation (with the activation video above) and let them know it will go live in the upcoming game. This builds anticipation, curiosity, and starts to build that familiarity with the activation.

It’s like a soft opening at a casino. You want to get your fans familiar with the game, but fans whom you know will play.

Why email? It has a longer shelf life than social media. Obviously how many opens you get with your email campaigns matter here, but that email can be opened 2 hours…heck even 2 days later and still interacted with. On social media, you have about an hour to capture the attention of your fans.

We’ve seen smaller teams get more sign-ups than teams 10X their size with this simple tactic. It is, again, the number one way to ensure the success of your campaign.

Sending an email should absolutely be in your marketing plan. Even if you’ve already launched your campaign, this is a perfect way to drive new life into it.

Action Steps

  • Put together your email list
  • Create a promotion email that announces your activation
  • Click send 5 days before your first campaign

Post on ALL your social media accounts

When you market your activations social media has to be a part of your marketing plan. You have built a HUGE amount of following on your social media platforms, why not leverage that following?

One common mistake we see with social media promotion is focusing on only one platform to post.

If you only post to one platform (say Twitter) you miss out on the opportunity of reaching fans who engage on the other platforms. Imagine if you only had billboard signs on one highway into town…would you expect the commuters who use the other 3 to see your sign?

Adapt to the different social media platforms

Luckily, we have our promotional video from above to make it easy to post on these platforms…but we need to make sure that we are matching the video to the correct platform.

For example, you will want to make sure that your video can be adapted to IG stories. Portrait vs. Landscape orientation plus the action is different. You want fans to “swipe up” to play…so make sure you are posting that CTA on IG Stories.

Your marketing team will know which tactics work best for your team at grabbing attention on these platforms, but be sure you are covering promotion across all your channels.

When creating a plan for promoting your activation, be sure that ALL of your social media platforms are being utilized to grab the attention of your fans.

Action Steps

  • Adjust your promotion video to match the specs of EACH social platform
  • Set up a plan to post across ALL your social channels

Timing is always key, whether on social media or in-stadium

This is really a make or break for many campaigns we see. The timing of WHEN you promote your activations is just as important as WHERE and HOW you promote them.

A common saying we use here at SQWAD is “If you promote an activation, and no one is on social media/ in your stadium to see it, does the activation even exist?”

It is vital that you think through the WHEN part of your marketing campaigns for your fans.

So, what is the best time? Well, it really comes down to cadence at key times. Here’s what we’ve found to be the best cadence for your activations (this is all AFTER you’ve emailed your loyal fans).

Pre-game

Pre-game is a perfect time to educate your fans about your activation. Before your game starts, there will be a flood of engagement on your social media channels and attention in your stadium. This is an absolute prime time to help educate your fans about your activation.

From what we’ve seen from other team’s success…

On social media, you should be looking to post 30 minutes before your game starts to promote.

This is a golden time when your fans are connected and engaged with your team accounts. You should absolutely take advantage of it to drive usage.

In your stadium, the best time to promote this pre-game is during warmups.

If you post earlier than this, you risk your fans being out of their seats and distracted. If they aren’t in a place where they see the promotion, how can you expect them to play?

Pre-game warmups are the prime time to post your educational promotion video to capture their attention. You’ll want to play the video with a scoreboard read to let them know about the activation when they are in their seats.

During The Game

During the game, the key breaks in your game will be VITAL to grabbing a fan’s attention. For most stoppages in our play fans will stay in their seats in the stadium AND jump on their social feeds.

Your halftime, breaks in quarters & periods, etc. are the best times to promote your activation once your game starts.

On both in-stadium social media, the best times to post are your “commercial” times. Any media timeout or break is the best time for you to post your promotional video.

From what we’ve seen from other teams, you will get the best results in driving users if you match your promotions with the TV breaks in the game. These breaks, for the most part, are when fans look to their devices and jump on their social media platforms.

This is also why it is so important to post to ALL your social media channels. Each fan will have different habits & favorite social media platforms they like to check. If you ONLY post to Twitter, you will lose the chance to grab fans who check Facebook more often.

As we look at our stadium promotion, the commercial break time holds true as the best time to reach fans just as it does with social media posts.

Fans during those shorter TV Timeouts (not your halftime or in-between quarter breaks) normally stay in their seats. This means that they will tune into your scoreboard when you promote the activation.

From what we’ve seen with successful launches, during the game, the best time to post on both social networks and in the stadium comes during those commercial breaks.

Should I do both on social media & in your stadium?

It depends largely on your campaign (does the partner want it done exclusively in-stadium?) but ultimately if you want the most reach…YES. Your fans in the stadium may be on their phones looking at their Twitter feed etc. The more places you post the promotion, the more you increase your chances of them seeing and engaging.

Should I post multiple times during a game?

In short, yes. As always the more promotion you give an activation the more likely you are to grab a fan’s attention and convince them to play.

This many times is not an option. If this is the case I would look at your breaks and think where the best one will be to post/ announce in the stadium.

For example, the Portland Winterhawks found that the 2nd media timeout of the 2nd Period was the best time to run their in-stadium promotion for Trivia. Conversely, for their social media post, they have it scheduled for the break before the 2nd Period starts.

As you look at your game day, I would set out a time to post on social media and a separate time to promote in the stadium. This tag-team tandem allows you to cover a lot of promotional ground.

BUT you should definitely promote in both channels during pregame AND during the game. How you space those out is up to you. And don’t forget on social media to post across ALL channels.

Action Steps

  • Set up a plan for when you post pre-game both in your stadium AND across ALL your social channels
  • Look for the commercial breaks during your games to promote after the game starts

Consistency builds habits

Probably the most important part of your plan in marketing your activation comes with consistency.

We as humans are creatures of habit. We like to get into routines with our gameday experience, things we do game in & game out for the entire season. If we can build these activations into the game-day habit of our fans, we can ensure engagement in each game.

The cornerstone of building a habit is consistency. If we only post the promotion for the activation for one game or sporadically change the timing of that promotion for each game, it will be hard to build a habit for their fans.

We’ve seen this tactic drive success with many of the teams we work with. As mentioned earlier, the Portland Winterhawks run their SQWAD Trivia activation each game during the 2nd media timeout of the 2nd Period of the game. Each game the promotion for the game is during pregame warmups and right before the 2nd period starts in the stadium AND on social media.

They run the same promotional game plan for each game. Game in game out. Their fans now know that the 2nd media timeout in the 2nd period is the time for Trivia.

This means they have to do less marketing each game as they build a fan habit with those promotions. It is now a part of their game day.

When you make your marketing plan, give it time, and be consistent with your postings. Obviously, you will have more success if you follow the advice above…but if you don’t build consistency in your promotion you will see users fall off rather than grow each game.

This may seem very simplistic…but it is one of the most important aspects of your success with your activations. Once you make your plan, be sure you are consistently posting them each game.

Action Steps

  • When you create your plan for promotion, ensure you are committing to a consistent posting each game

What about my app? You haven’t done a deep dive there?

Yes, you are right. we’ve left out how your team app plays a role in this. Let’s be clear here. Your mobile app is a key tool to drive usage if you have successfully built a following here.

So why haven’t we given it as much love? We’ve seen a lot of teams lean on it as a crutch and disregard the above tactics.

If you have built a huge following on the platform and your fans have a high engagement rate you should absolutely utilize it. Well-timed push notifications are key in leveraging this marketing platform. You can’t just put the activation in your app and expect fans to find it on their own.

This is the key problem we see with relying too heavily on your mobile app. You still have to do the marketing work to push fans to engage. Your mobile app will be somewhat of a pull on its own…fans will go on your homepage on their own and may see the button. But you absolutely still need to educate your fans on the activation.

The same with social media posts, timing is the key to push notifications. You’ll want to send them to the same cadence as your social media posts. Pre-game & commercial breaks will be the key times to grab the attention of your fans.

A great example is how the Chicago Bears promote the Dunkin’ Race. They have done an amazing job building a following on their mobile app and really get the timing perfect on the promotion.

The race goes live before the game, which they remind fans during pre-game with a push notification to choose their racer on the app. Then right before the race goes live they send another push to pull fans back in right before the end of the first quarter in the game.

Two very subtle push notifications at the right time that drive their app users to the activation are perfect for this implementation. This has worked extremely well for them.

Again, let me be clear here. Your mobile app is can be a VITAL part of your promotional process. BUT if you have not built the leverage there (most of your fan base is utilizing it) then it will not return the results you want.

My last point here is when you rely solely on your app as a way to promote your activations you are missing out on any of your fans who do not have it downloaded. Most of the time it is only our most avid fans who have downloaded your app. If you pigeonhole yourself to only promoting on your app, you miss out on a large portion of your fanbase.

If you have a large following on your mobile app, absolutely utilize it to drive users to the activation. BUT you should not solely rely on it. If you want to see total success, you have to have both.

But what about my website? You haven’t talked about that either?

Again, as with your app, the reason why we don’t have this in our plan fully is we see this be a crutch for many campaigns.

Should you post these activations on your website…yes. Sure. Why not have the ability to grab fans who are browsing your website.

But a common problem we see here is a reliance on this as the sole way to promote. Fans do come to your website, they do view your home page, BUT they usually are doing so to find specific information over browsing.

So you should absolutely post these activations on your website. I will drive traffic. BUT don’t think that you don’t have to promote in other ways.

Should I do a paid promotion for my activations?

My answer to this question is always that you should follow the above tactics above before doing that. You have already built your following and can reach them for FREE without spending on paid promotion (FB ads, etc.). Paid promotion should always be, in our opinion, and what you push on only AFTER you have exhausted the above tactics with not enough usage.

Paid promotion is a great way to boost usage, but it should only be a factor when you either don’t get the desired results with the above tactics OR you are plateauing on usage and need a boost.

Finally, be patient with your activations

As we’ve said multiple times here, humans are creatures of habit and slow to adopt new things. While the tips and structure above will massively increase your chances at more fans playing, you have to be patient with your tactics.

Sometimes we see teams that see a low user number in the first game and think that the activation is a dud, three games later they see a BOOM of users. Sometimes it takes 10 games.

We’ve seen teams give up after one implementation and it crushes us as we know that humans are slow to adopt new technologies and campaigns.

If you launch a campaign we highly recommend you stick with it for at least 3 months worth of activation. After 3 months if you’ve applied & exhausted the above tactics and still see a low usage that is the time to think about it whether it is a fit for your fan base.

When you launch these campaigns you have to have patience. Give it the marketing love it needs and follow the steps above. From what we’ve seen if you can do that, you will be successful.

You made it to the end!

Thanks for reading through this entire document. I know it was a bit of a marathon BUT these tactics will massively improve your usage.

As always at SQWAD, if you need help with ANY of the above or have questions please reach out to me, Nick Lawson, so we can help. Our goal is to be a part of a successful campaign for you AND your sponsors.

Here’s my email: nlawson@sqwadhq.com

Thank you for listening! Keep pushing those limits within sports sponsorship.

  • Nick Lawson. CEO at SQWAD

We were over-leveraged in sports and the pandemic exposed it…here’s how we can diversify

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, not the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’.

Commonly misquoted to Charles Darwin, it was actually written by Leon C. Megginson in a 1963 issue of the Southwestern Social Sciences Quarterly when he was paraphrasing Darwin’s finding.

Either way, the quote holds strong here today in the sports industry.

We have seen change over the last 3 years in how fans consume and connect with our games. Technology has become a tool (and to some a scapegoat) for fans to keep up with our games & team.

We were making the change, in my opinion too slowly, but we were making the change. Then…the pandemic hit, change hit us at an alarming rate.

We never expected this would happen so quickly, heck I thought we had more time. I thought it would be a recession that would have exposed us.

The problems we are seeing are because we are over-leveraged in the physical with how we make our dollars.

Much like a portfolio heavy in one stock or industry, we did not diversify our offerings well enough to off-set the risk of an eventual reliance on digital means to make money and reach our fans.

There are a couple of items here I want to go over to understand where we are, how we got here, and how we can adapt to make sure it never happens again in our industry.

The first step in change is recognizing you have a problem.

The first step to all of this is recognizing how we got here.

The obvious answer is the pandemic, but that is honestly an excuse that buries a lot of history of ignoring a trend that was exposed to the effects of the pandemic.

I dove into this about a year ago with a few articles:

I wrote about how social media ads were sponsorships biggest competitor HERE

I wrote about how brands began to see our physical assets as commoditized products HERE

I laid out a doomsday scenario for sponsorship HERE that saw a recession being the accelerant

And last, I wrote a warning that we should be doing everything we can to be building digital assets in sponsorship

I don’t bring these up to say “I told you so.”

I bring them up to try and show the fact that this problem wasn’t sprung on us in this pandemic. We were pushing toward a long and slow death by not making these shifts toward digital.

And there are really two main stats that foreshadowed these issues on a macro level (many more including spending on digital…but let’s start with the ones that were staring us in the face).

In 2017 our sponsors literally told us what they wanted. In this 2017 IEG poll digital presence was the 2nd most valuable benefit to our sponsorship packages.

I can’t stress this enough…our customers were telling us directly and through polls like this that they wanted more digital assets. They wanted more ways to connect with our fans digitally.

How did we respond? We kept selling the physical, which landed at the #5 & below most valuable.

We refused to shift our assets at a high enough rate to what our clients wanted. Sure, we offered to slap a logo on a sponsored tweet thinking that would solve their needs…but it wasn’t enough.

The results in being over-leveraged in the physical were brands starting to shift their dollars to digital assets that were more efficient for their ad spend.

Even though sponsorship revenues were increasing, when you look at the investment of ad dollars from out-of-home ads (billboards) to digital ads the growth was insane.

The second way brands were telling us this was through how they actually were spending their dollars.

Liberty Mutual, a brand well within our sponsorship category for sports, has spent $66M in YouTube Ads in 90 days.

$66M…yeah, that could have been money in our pocket if we weren’t so leveraged in the physical.

These brands were telling us exactly what they saw as valuable…video content in this case…and where they feel the best platforms are for reaching their customers.

Yet, we still didn’t change…

Last, the sheer fact that most of our assets were physical made absolutely no sense when you look at where our true attention lies.

90% of our assets are set up to only connect with 10% of our reach. In a game like advertising (which is what sponsorship is) this is mind-blowing.

We spent money, time, and resources to build HUGE followings…but then we didn’t shift the assets we have to monetize them.

We made the decision, whether known or unknown, to only monetize 10% of our eyeballs. If we were in any other industry…one that didn’t have the excitement that sports have to draw emotional decisions by buyers…we would be dead.

Imagine in the Kardashians ONLY lived off their TV money. Would they be rich still?…yes…but would they be the media empire they are today with the ability to monetize their social following?

Not at all.

In short, to see why we are here, it’s a combination of a misunderstanding of where our leverage was AND what our customers wanted.

We had the data all in front of us…we still do…but we failed to make drastic changes. Instead, companies like Barstool jumped in and filled that void.

In essence, we failed as an industry. It may sound harsh, but the opportunity of dollars missed by not changing is astounding.

So if we had all this data, why did we stay overleveraged?

Honestly, it’s because our profits are not made for digital assets yet. A lot of the time our digital assets and inventory aren’t built up enough

Why haven’t we leveraged the digital side? We have too much invested in our physical space. We’ve spent money building our stadiums, adding signage, etc., and need to see a return on it every year.

If we don’t have ALL the signage sold in our stadium, no matter what our customers want, we lose money (or at least the potential of money toward our sales goals). It is in our organization’s best interest to sell those spots because the initial investment into them has been covered.

On the flip side, building our digital assets takes time. It’s costly and will bring in money in the next year or two…not today.

We began to focus on short-term revenue over long-term success. We stayed and sold to 10% of our reach (in our stadiums) compared to the long term of building the assets that our client’s dollars are shifting to.

And it worked because we were good at our jobs. On the micro-level, we won deals because we as salespeople in the industry are great at selling the emotion of the sports. We are great at pulling the emotion of fandom out and forming a story for why they should spend more inefficiently on our assets.

We even have put together studies that show things like “millennials prefer print and physical advertising”. Self-fulfilling reports that were skewed to the reality we want to show.

The reason we haven’t fully died as an industry is we are great at selling our assets.

But, this will not last. Eventually, the forces will be too strong and brands will be shifting too many dollars here for our sales stories to win at a consistent level.

We saw the first stage of this with the pandemic. We’ll see it only accelerate as we move forward.

You HAVE to diversify your assets as a team, in 36 months you will wish you had.

Let me be clear here. I am not saying there is not a place for signage and physical assets…there always will be. The attributes of these physical assets will fit your sponsor’s marketing goals.

There are though more efficient ways out there to drive customer sales for your brands. There are better ROI options out in the market.

My concern here is we are OVER-leveraged in these physical assets. We do not have enough assets to fulfill the demand for them. When you don’t have enough supply for demand, you lose market share to those that have the supply.

My concern is if we don’t diversify we’ll lose too much market share (ad dollars) and won’t have time or resources to recover.

There are three stages that will really accelerate and define this in my mind. We’ve seen the first wave of being exposed to having too many physical assets…this pandemic.

The next wave, which was my original prediction, comes in the recession that will hit our country. Ad dollars will be directed and under a microscope. No longer will you see money thrown at items that can’t prove ROI efficiently.

This means signs, print ads on programs, any of those items will see a massive cut in spending.

The last wave…the natural progression and path we were on pre-pandemic. Digital advertising is just a better way to spend our dollars as brands. If there is a digital option that can prove ROI, dollars will be shited here.

In about 36 months, the cat will be totally out of the bag. The secret of the efficiencies of digital ads & assets will be well known by big brands and 55–85% of ad spend will go there.

When they are, dollars will shift. If you aren’t diversified here, it will be game over for your team.

How can you diversify? Build new assets into your digital following

The goal for your team over the next 3 years should be to build digital assets up into your portfolio of sponsorship assets.

Just like your stock portfolio, you have to start looking at other stocks that will bring a return to offset any losses should your other stocks tank.

These assets cannot be whack. By this, I mean slapping a sponsor logo on a Player of the game tweet is not a diversified digital asset. Things like this are too commoditized.

Every team does it…every team is trying to sell them to their sponsors. If an asset is commoditized it becomes a pricing war.

Diversifying your assets mean building unique content on the following platforms to pull in a REAL following & engagement:

-Facebook (especially LIVE right now)

-Instagram

-YouTube

-Snapchat

-OTT

Your content has to be diverse on these and unique. You can’t just make another Hard Knocks and put it on Facebook. You can’t just do another

How does this come back to sponsorship? If you build the content in, you can authentically add sponsors.

For example, what if before every game you did a Facebook and YouTube live segment that basically was a Home Shopping Network show. You mainly showed merchandise deals that fans could buy and get crazy good deals on…but then you started to mix in sponsor products.

If you could build this up to 1,000 viewers per show, you have just built a powerful digital asset that a TON of D2C brands will buy.

Further than that, if fans actually make purchases here on sponsor products…you can prove ROI. You have a digital product that can prove ROI and efficiency.

If I am a brand, and I am spending heavily on YouTube (which means I believe in that platform as a tool to reach my customers), I would gladly shift dollars here.

By diversifying, this is what I mean. Coming up with new digital content that will bring value to our sponsors. With assets like this, we can still sell signage…but it opens so much more revenue for us.

If we don’t diversify, we will die as an industry

I honestly believe this. It is what I spend most of my time thinking through in the industry. Just as retail giants have been brought to their knees with the rise of Amazon & e-commerce companies. Just as Taxis all but disappeared with the rise of Uber & ridesharing.

We are fated to the same result unless we see the writing on the wall and diversify our assets.

Make no mistake, we will lose teams because they don’t diversify our assets. By that I mean some teams will go under because they aren’t diversified enough in their sponsorship assets.

Beyond the pandemic pushing us this way to almost all digital, we can’t get back to business as usual when we get through this. There is no going back. If you don’t have the assets you will slowly (but not as slow as you think) lose a massive amount of revenue.

This is a callout to the industry. Somewhat of a plea. You have to make the shift to diversify.

We cannot stay over-leveraged in the physical.

One Tweak Can Increase Your Team’s YouTube Reach (And Why It Matters In Sponsorship)

I’ve been harping a ton on YouTube lately…and well…it’s because there is a TON of money being spent there by brands.

In sponsorship, we sell advertisements. We sell the ability to reach an impassioned group that we have access to and influence over.

But that influence today can be easily taken away from us. While we used to thrive in being able to contain that reach in our stadiums for decades, the new fan consumes more of our content outside the stadium than inside of it.

With this, if we don’t own the conversation around our team on these platforms…someone else will…and brands will pay them over us for the influence they hold.

In this article, I’m going to dive into a few quick tweaks that will help you build a YouTube library of content that gets views that you can leverage to drive sponsorship dollars.

First, why does YouTube matter for us in sponsorship?

Well, to put it bluntly…brands are spending their advertising dollars there. When they spend their ad dollars here out of their budget, it is dollars they aren’t spending with us.

We all know that brands are going more digital with their spending…budgets are becoming more and more digital heavy for many brands that we work with.

But how much money could we really be losing out on?

$15Bn was spent on YouTube Ads in 2019. Yes, Billion with a B.

To put that into perspective, that number is bigger than the media conglomerate Viacom (last valued at $12Bn).

More perspective that is more than 20% of the $70Bn spent on US TV ads in 2019. YouTube is on its way to taking over the television market. Brands are spending in large quantities here.

But are the major brands we go after spending here? Absolutely…in large quantities.

In three months Lowe’s has spent $3.6M on Youtube ads, look at the difference between that spend and NFL.com.

Here’s another one with Liberty Mutual (Insurance)

$66.1M in 90 days. That is an insane amount of money on one channel in 90 days. This is why it is vital you have a presence on this platform. You are losing money by not being there as brands are already comfortable spending here.

In sports, this is even more significant when you consider that YouTube is the number one platform fans consume sports highlights on.

More than Twitter or Facebook. This platform is THE king/queen for sports content consumption. It is where fans want to be….scratch that… it is where fans ARE when consuming content.

The point here is if you aren’t here. If you don’t have content that is grabbing that attention…someone else will. Alonge with eyeballs they will grab brand dollars.

A key example of this is The Hockey Guy. He’s a guy in a basement that has netted an estimated $262K in ad revenue from his channel.

He has over 60 Million views on his videos. Volvo is paying to be in his YouTube pre-roll ads (definitely in our sponsorship category).

This guy in his basement has more YouTube subscribers (170K) than most NHL teams (I’m not kidding…look at his compared to actual NHL team accounts).

If I was a brand…and I was looking to reach hockey fans…and I regularly spent on YouTube ads… I would spend with The Hockey Guy over most NHL teams. The brand of a team doesn’t matter when it isn’t capturing the right eyeballs.

So why does it matter to your sponsorship team that you grow on YouTube? Because if you don’t have a presence here you are losing out on major dollars from the brands you work with.

Let’s start with the key to YouTube… It’s a search platform

Unlike other platforms like Instagram and Facebook, YouTube has no “wall” to discover content organically. It is very much a search-heavy platform.

This means fans search for videos with keywords over discovering them based on whom you connect with (like on Facebook & Twitter).

This is vital to understanding how to be successful here. If you can think through the lens of what your fans will search for over putting up mindless highlights…you will beat others in gaining views and subscribers.

With any type of search-based platform, this means you need to optimize for the keywords that are trending for fans.

In essence, you will be implementing YouTube SEO…or Search Engine Optimization.

I know, SEO, a big scary expensive word that people pay a lot of money for. And yes…you could spend a lot of money here…but once you understand the system there are simple tricks you can implement to be successful here.

The first is, of course, the name of the video. When we name the video it has way more of an effect than you may think.

For example, let’s say I was uploading a video of Alvin Kamara and wanted to capture fans searching for that player as a team. You would think I could just upload a highlight video of a game he was in and it would garner views.

Wrong, you have to think about what the user will search for. They aren’t going to search for the college or the game name, they will search “Alvin Kamara Highlights”.

Just adding a player’s name can’t drastically change my reach, can it?

Yes…it can. By tens of thousands of views.

In this example, when searching Alvin Kamara Juco Highlights, the junior college that paid a lot of money for him to have a field, uniform, and play a game lost 63,000 views to someone who probably made the video in his basement.

Literally…it is the same game video. by not adding his name to the highlight the team lost 6X the reach.

The key that this basement-dwelling YouTube creator did was understand that fans wouldn’t search for “Hutchinson Community College vs….Highlights 01/01/2014”…he understood they would search for “Alvin Kamara Juco Highlights” and optimized for that.

As we add videos, we have to understand how to optimize for what our fans will search for. Literally, a few tweaks to the name and description can help us climb in views while we sleep.

Here’s where YouTube looks for keywords:

Video Name

The most obvious is the name. Again with the example above, if the college used a video name like “Alvin Kamara runs for 366 yards vs. ….. highlights” they would have grabbed the views lost.

A simple tweak that also makes the video more enticing than just “Team A vs. Team B highlights”. I mean…how many people do you think search for that?

Description

This is another place where you can get creative and “visual” with your text. The more keywords you can put in here, the better.

Again with the above example of Alvin Kamara, having something like:

“In a battle of #1 & #2 in the JuCo Hawkeye Conference of 2014, sophomore Alvin Kamara ran for 354 yards and 4 touchdowns behind a stout offensive line.

The team totaled 600+ offensive yards in the first half bolstered by a 97-yard touchdown run by Kamara with 10 seconds to go in the half.”

See how I’ve added keywords while being informative? This builds interaction that brings more commentary of the game to life WHILE adding to the algorithm.

Filename

As crazy as it sounds…YouTube actually looks at the file name of the video with the algorithm. Other than the name, this is also the easiest way to increase your rank.

Instead of naming it “Game178348.mp4” calling it “AlvinKamaraHutchHighlights.mp4” will make a world of difference…and it takes 2 seconds.

But how can I predict what my fans will search for?

As we look at YouTube being a search-heavy platform it is important that we put out the right content that fans will search for. Items that are trending to make sure that we are front & center on what is getting the most views.

But we can’t read our fan’s minds…can we? Well, you can come close.

If we understand what keywords are trending, we can build content around that early to take advantage of it.

There are a ton of tools that you have to pay for that solve this…but we can utilize one, in particular, that is free to be successful.

There is a tool called Google Trends that allows us to see search volume across the web, well since Google owns YouTube they have the same tool for YouTube searches.

Click HERE to access it

With this tool you can search for key terms, so the first item I would search for is your team name.

In this example, I use the Minnesota Vikings.

Just below the search volume, you’ll see a section called “Related queries”. These are the search terms that people are using when searching with Minnesota Vikings.

As you can see, rookie standout wide receiver Justin Jefferson is the top trending term in this search. In other words, right now people are heavily searching for content on this young receiver.

If we continue to check this, we can get a good pulse on what is being searched for and what keywords we need to create content for…which comes to step 2

Build your content based on what people are searching for

We can almost crowdsource what our fans want to see based on what they are searching for on YouTube. In real-time we can adjust to what our fans want and feed it to them.

All this can be found for free on Google Trends for YouTube. No cost to you.

Honestly, this is what YouTube “Superstars” already do. They know what content is popping around their keywords and not only can they take advantage, it helps drive their content. It makes creating content EASY.

If you can own this process and do it each week, you can make sure no one ever steals your eyeballs by understanding YouTube better than you.

Notice how the NFL OR Minnesota Vikings are not the first result in the search above. This is a problem. This means views are being taken from both organizations.

If someone steals your views, they are stealing your dollars in the form of YouTube Pre-Roll ads. Not doing the steps above will lose you money (you’re losing money right now from it).

This content can be spread across all your social media channels as well. If people are searching for this on YouTube, good bet they want to see it on Facebook and Twitter. The video you make here can help you with content creation on other channels.

Simply cut the video you make here to fit the short-form content of the other platforms. You’ve already done the work, capitalize on it.

If you build this, sponsorship dollars will come

It’s a pretty simple formula. More content = more views = more leverage with sponsors.

If you can nail this, you can be a college wood-bat league team and have more national leverage than any MLB team. You can close sponsors that you never dreamed of because you have an asset that they need (and have a budget carved out just for it).

It’s as simple as understanding the system. This is a new era of sponsorship. We have to understand the systems we compete with (digital ads) and mold our offerings to them.

Eyeballs are shifting. Where fans consume content is changing. This affects our work in sponsorship and the brand dollars we fight for.

My goal is to help give you the knowledge to compete with ads. There are little tweaks we can make that can make a BIG difference in our leverage with sponsors.

I hope the tactics above are helpful in building your YouTube channel and leverage with fans.

Why GIFs Should Be On Your Sponsorship Marketing Radar For 2021

What if I told you you could harness and hack the second largest search engine for your sports team and sponsors…for free.

Yes…for free.

Well, you can through GIFs.

Yup, those funny animations we see all over Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms are a gold mine for attention.

What’s better? There are key ways that you can hack that attention at no cost to drive views, engagement, and some fun.

Today I’m diving into why your team and sponsorship department should pay attention to GIFs and some ways to hack the search system behind them.

First, the numbers behind why you should care about GIFs

Why do I like GIFs for sponsorship? Well, it’s where an insane amount of attention & engagement is held.

Here are a few stats that might wake you up:

  • 10 Billion GIFs are sent DAILY across social media platforms.
  • 50% of GIF traffic comes from the Facebook family (Instagram, Whatsapp, etc.)
  • 700 Million users send a GIF daily

Those numbers are INSANE.

GIPHY (the engine that runs GIFs on your favorite social media platforms) is the second largest search engine behind only Google.

The best part of this is there is a double benefit with this. You see GIFs have a massive built-in audience with the social media platforms they piggyback off.

You see, when you search for a GIF on social platforms, most of the time they are pulling from GIPHY.com. It’s a huge library of GIFs that you can search through to post on these platforms.

When you create a GIF, you are adding it to a library that can be distributed exponentially across multiple platforms. This is the magic in GIFs.

The reason these numbers are so big is from the above. You get cross-promotion without all of the work.

The last part I love about GIFs is the fact that your fans become your advocates. They share the GIF (if it is good enough content) to promote your brand on their social media feeds.

Think of it like a t-shirt that fans wear out with your logo on it…except thousands of people can see it (sometimes millions if you build the right GIFs).

With this platform, we can easily gain a massive reach for our teams and sponsors. But even better…we can hack it at no cost for us.

GIFs are search-based, which means we can target keywords to win.

When a fan looks for a GIF that speaks to their mood or response…they simply type in a word (much like a Google search) and browse the results for the perfect GIF.

As with any search-based platform, this means there are keywords we can focus on to try and hack our way to being the top result, which will get us thousands to millions of views.

As always, we want to identify ones that have low competition but high reach. The first step to this is searching on giphy.com

Here are a few I would start with:

– City Name

– League Name

– Player Name

– Common Sports Terms (Hat Trick)

When you search these terms, you want to look for a few items. First, where do sports land with these terms?

If your city name doesn’t have sports clips in the top 10 results, this is a great goal to get there with your GIFs.

If you are a minor league and your league name doesn’t have any recent trending GIFs, this is prime real estate to create gifs to be the top result.

So the first step is to make a list of keywords you believe you can OWN and target those words. Do the research on who is currently owning them, when the date of those posts are, and find the ones you really think you can make a dent in.

Next, choose videos clips that are compelling and shareable and convert them to a GIF

As with anything in social media, content is the variable that pushes success. We can do the math & strategy work, but if the GIF we share is boring or not compelling…no one will share it.

Luckily in sports, we have decades of compelling content to share.

Funny interviews, ridiculous shots, historical moments, all of these should be converted into a GIF and matched with the correct keywords.

For example, as soon as one of your players gets a crazy catch or goal…you should be converting those to a GIF and tagging with a keyword (team name, player name, goal, etc.) and promoting it to fans to encourage them to share.

Have a great Tik Tok video that went viral? Convert it to a GIF for the library.

It’s as simple as converting your great content into a GIF so your fans can find it and share….but that content has to be compelling.

Here are your first steps to building your GIF dominance for your team (and sponsors).

There are a few steps you should start with as you build your library of GIFs here are the first steps.

Create a GIPHY verified account and add your first videos

The first step is to create an account on GIPHY.com and get verified. This will allow your GIFs to be seen on the search results for fans.

Here’s a guide from GIPHY on how to get verified.

There is an application process, so you will need some time to get going.

Start uploading content to OWN your channel and team name

Once verified, the first target customer will be your fans. You’ll want to fill your team keyword with content.

For many teams, if a fan wanted to share a GIF and searched for your team name…it would come up empty.

Or worse…someone else’s content would show up (stealing your views). We can’t let that happen.

Go through your most compelling content (best goals, most memorable players, etc.) and convert them to GIFs to post on your channel. You want to flood it with as much GOOD content as possible to build your ranking and library.

Check out the Tools section below for a few ways & to convert video content into a GIF.

Attach your sponsors to GIFs that make sense to their goals

As you build this library, a key will be to understand where you can authentically add your sponsors to GIFs that make sense to their goals & messaging.

What’s a great example of this? KissCam Gifs.

If you have a KissCam…it’s probably sponsored. It also probably has some pretty funny reactions by fans on it that are sharable.

If you add these GIFs to your collection, every time someone shares that GIF across your social media channels…your sponsor gets views.

Another key opportunity for GIF content is your crazy goals and the goal sponsor.

If you add that sponsor logo in the corner of the best goal GIFs when fans share them that logo gets a HUGE reach that will last beyond the game night.

Tell fans to share these GIFs while they tag sponsors for a chance to win prizes to boost even more reach.

You don’t want to plaster the logo all over the GIF…or make it the focal point of the GIF. But if you can put it in the corner or integrate it into the GIF authentically, it has massive value.

Here are a few ideas for a perfect sync up with sponsors & your GIFs:

  • Adding the sponsor logo to your goal GIFs if they are the goal sponsor (as fans share, the logo gets love)
  • Have food partners? Create a curated collection of GIFs with their best menu items to share (Imagine telling fans when Curry nails a three to tweet the ‘Sponsor Name’ Curry GIF to enter to win)
  • Have a sponsor for your player intros? Add an intro with the sponsor logo before the player reveals it. When fans search that player and use it across all channels, the sponsor gets views.
  • Draft partners on your radar? Add a sponsor integration for the videos of your new draft picks being added to your teams. When fans search for this GIF 3 years later after they are a superstar, that sponsor will get views.
  • Have any throwback or historical moments for your team? Make a collection with the sponsor logo in the corner or on the intro & outro. (The same way that Comcast is on the back of the original Warriors We Believe shirts…you can digitally link a sponsor to these moments)

As you can see, there are many ways you can authentically add your sponsors to these GIFs (honestly just as you do for your videos) and give them recognition every time they are shared by your fans.

Last, let fans know about your new collections

Your fans are your most avid advocates. But more importantly, they have a huge network that they can tap into.

As you let fans know about these shareable GIFs and your channel…they will share them. And as they share them across their social media channels, you are able to reach people in their networks who may have never paid attention to your team.

The first step to launching is to simply create marketing messages that let fans know that this collection exists. You can even add a contest to it…but you want to make sure that your GIFs pick up momentum.

Make an announcement video about your channel and educate fans on new collections as they come up.

Think of this like a Nike shoe release.

If your GIFs are good enough in content and you get your fans in the habit of searching for them, you can start to steer them to content drops (GIF collections) they can use on their social media channels.

Imagine getting your fans hyped about a collection drop and wanting to be the first ones to use it on your social media channels?

This is exactly the hype you want to build with each collection. More hype means more shares across all channels. Setting these up can really lead to an explosion of shares by your fans.

Once you’ve built this, you can start really owning keywords

Once you have the full force of your fanbase who not only know about your GIFs and sharing them but are salivating at the next launch of a collection, you can really start to control keywords.

Want to overtake Hat Trick as a keyword? If you build enough reach with fans you can drop a collection of Hat Trick Throwbacks (sponsored by X) that drop every day.

This will flood the Hat Trick Keyword with your GIF, which should sway the algorithm to put your video to the top of the search term.

More importantly, when other fans see it on their social feeds…they will search and want to share it on their own social channels.

And on and on this trend goes as you rack up views and engagement.

Locally you can also do this with city terms. You can absolutely pirate the keyword that is your city name to make sure anytime someone searches it…your team GIFs come to the top.

Search for your city as a term on GIPHY and see the content that pops up. If the top results are a few years old, you can absolutely own this keyword. Every time someone searches for your city…your team content will be one of the first ones to pop up.

Is your city a bit too big for this? I would check first, you would be surprised at how some city terms are wide open, but if so I would check your niche Burroughs or suburbs keywords to see if you can easily take over those keywords.

Overall, unlike other brands, you have a highly engaged fanbase…if you can point them to share these GIFs you can hack the second largest search engine with your team and sponsor’s content.

This will create a huge advantage for your team AND allow you to strategically gain views for your team and sponsor across most social media platforms.

If you do this before other teams…you can seriously gain ground.

No matter what size your team is…if you can get this right and build this content you can gain a serious advantage that spans most major social media platforms.

With a search-based platform, you can always hack the keywords to become THE main player of a niche keyword if you can post more relevant & exciting content.

Again, GIPHY is the second largest search engine in the world. With our content in sports, if we are smart about the keywords we target we can gain a HUGE amount of reach with people who may never have seen our content.

Even better, building a GIF library of your content creates a frictionless way for fans to share your best content on most of the major social networks.

GIFs should absolutely be a major part of your team and sponsorship marketing plan. Once you build it up…this will be a HUGE asset that will be amazing for your sponsors.

The Tools To Dominate GIFs

Our Favorite Tools For Converting A Video To a GIF

GifMock — Great app that allows you to upload videos or a series of images and create a GIF. You can even edit the speed and whether it loops or not. It does cost $5 per month but still a GREAT tool that is absolutely worth the money.

EZGif.com — This is a free online tool that will convert your video to GIF. Less control than GifMock…but it’s free.

Getting Verified On GIPHY

Specs & Best Practices For GIFs

— — — —

How to build the perceived value of your sponsorship assets & department

Value is a very interesting dynamic in economics. Why do we spend $1,000,000 for a Ferrari over $30K for a Toyota?

Are the parts really 33X better? Have they built a brand that is 33X better than Toyota?

In short…yes.

Really, the only thing that matters is HOW the consumer perceives the value that helps set the price.

In sponsorship, it is no different.

There are levers that play a part in increasing and decreasing the perceived value of your assets, but even all the way down to the perceived value of your department & team.

The past 2 weeks on The Inches Podcast, Rich Franklin & I dove into the levers that can affect the perceived value of your assets & team.

You can listen to Episode 1 & Episode 2, but as always I dive in more below.

Before you do anything, you have to identify the need of your sponsors

The old riddle goes “Which weighs more, a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers?” Well, they weigh the same. ( I fell for that as a kid as with most of us).

But flip the question, which is worth more…and you get the grown version of the riddle.

Some would look up the value of each online per pound, but this would be the wrong way of going about it.

A pound of rocks is worth much less to a mattress company than a pound of feathers. The need for the item is more valuable than the weight.

As we really look at the idea of perceived value… I think it would help to get a good definition:

In marketing terminology, perceived value is the customers’ evaluation of the merits of a product or service, and its ability to meet their needs and expectations, especially in comparison with its peers.

Thank you, Investopedia for that definition. But really it is a very concise way to state the items that

The key part that stands out to me is “its ability to meet their needs and expectations”. Perceived value is heavily grounded in the needs of your customers.

With that, it is important to state that the first goal for increasing the perceived value of your sponsorship assets comes with truly understanding the needs of the sponsors you are targeting or renewing.

If most of your current sponsors are going through a hiring freeze, adding new assets around hospitality packages for new hires does not meet their needs. The perceived value of the asset is low at this moment.

If most of your current sponsors are looking to boost their own perception in the community, your community outreach assets will be a prime product and have a higher perceived value.

As we navigate the different ways we can increase the perceived value of our assets…we must first understand that knowing a particular partner’s needs is a foundation to success.

How can you understand their needs? Looking over their company blog is a good start. Discovery calls as well.

Overall, before you start on any aspect of the below items, it is vital that you understand your prospect’s needs in order to know which levers to pull.

Define your audience & fan demographics

We’ve talked about this a lot on the podcast…but we have to jump in again because it is so crucial in our sponsorship assets.

Context.

In short…why should a brand spend their dollars with your team over another source of advertising? It is always vital to understand that we need to build context with our sponsors for why your assets are the best spend of their dollars.

The easiest way to build context, in my opinion, is by showing that your audience syncs up perfectly with their target market. If you can show that your audience and fan demographics are in line with the customer they want to reach, you immediately increase the value of spending dollars with your team

This goes all the way to the point where a brand will spend MORE with you even though your reach is less than other options because your fan demographics are more valuable to them than spending on a wide net reach campaign.

This of course means that you need to invest in ways that show you these demographics. One easy way is if you have a Facebook page, you can see certain demographics of your followers.

I won’t dive in on that on this article but click HERE to see how.

Understanding what you have (your following and audience) is a cornerstone to telling that story for why a sponsor should spend with you.

If you can clearly articulate that your fans are in the desired demographic that your sponsors are looking to reach…you will win more deals. The perceived value of your assets will increase drastically to the brand you are selling to simply because you reach the customers they are looking to get in front of.

I want to pause here and think about this for a second. If you know who your fan is, you can automatically increase your perceived value to sponsors that are looking to reach that fan.

It is as easy as doing the above and seeing where your Facebook following lands demographically that can allow you to increase the value of your assets to sponsors who are looking to reach your fan group.

Exclusivity & Differentiation

People want items that few people have. It’s been proven with cards, exclusive sneakers, cars, etc.

The same goes for your partnership assets. How exclusive the asset is will increase the perceived value.

We’ve seen this in sports for years with jersey sponsorship & stadium naming rights. Only one brand can be the sponsor of those assets. They, therefore, hold a high perceived value.

I want to pause again here and go back to the first point of understanding the need. An exclusive asset, if it does not help fit the need of your sponsor, is useless. We can’t just say a jersey patch has high perceived value to a sponsor just because it is exclusive. If the goal of the sponsor is not focused heavily on increasing brand awareness that asset has a far lower perceived value. It is not worth the price tag to the sponsor.

Exclusivity is not tied with high perceived value. BUT if we can understand which sponsors have that goal of people knowing their brand (I always think back to BioFreeze and the Portland Trailblazers. The company was at a point in their marketing journey where they wanted EVERY household to know their product. The jersey patch was, in my opinion, the perfect asset for their stage of the company).

With that being said, you should have a fair amount of exclusivity in your inventory base for the sponsors who are willing to pay for it. An exclusive car partner category will have many dealerships fighting for that spot…and knowing they will be the ONLY car partner to reach your fans increases the perceived value.

The next piece to that is differentiation. It is an interesting part of exclusivity that I want to dive into.

If you are the only property in a league to have a larger Snapchat following….you will increase your perceived value to sponsors who either want to reach the customers on that platform OR maybe more importantly are already spending there.

If you are the ONLY team to have certain assets…your perceived value will skyrocket. Again it goes back to the idea of limited supply. If only 5 teams in the country have a big following on a certain platform it will attract a high price to the sponsors looking to be on that platform.

Right now, if you have a large following on YouTube as a team you will have a higher perceived value as brands are dumping money into YouTube ads. If you are one of the only ones in the league to have a high following on this…your perceived value will be insane to certain sponsors.

Exclusivity is key, but don’t forget about differentiation as we think about increasing perceived value due to limited supply. I would differentiation is more valuable if done correctly than exclusivity.

Implied or Actual Endorsement

The best way I can describe this is what transpired this previous off-season with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Tom Brady comes to the team and the perceived value increases.

There are a few reasons in this case. One is he’s Tom Brady and the attention he commands from Primetime games to more news coverage is huge.

Second, the odds of the Bucs heading to the Super Bowl increased quite a bit (this paid off).

The implied or actual endorsement from your staff, players, coaches, mascot, and others can instantly increase the perceived value of your assets and team.

Rich utilizes this amazingly at the Winterhawks. Mike Johnston is the coach and GM of the organization, he also has coached in the NHL and is one hell of a leadership speaker.

A few activations Rich has put together has been bringing Mike to company meetings to speak all the way to hosting a coaching show on YouTube live where fans can listen and season ticket holders can ask questions.

Both of these sponsorship assets have a higher perceived value with the addition of Mike. It fits directly with the sponsor’s goals. His presence has elevated the value of the inventory and activation.

You have people in your organization that to the right person can elevate the perceived value with their addition to the inventory. Don’t count them out.

Wins In Your Area

A track record is a huge part of perceived value. How well you’ve done with a sponsor in your area is critical for the price people are willing to pay for your assets.

As you build these case studies up, you are essentially de-risking others from spending with you. If you can prove that there has been another sponsor that has benefitted from the partnership it shows that there is a good chance others will.

I think this is pretty apparent so I won’t dive in too far here. But I will say it is important to authentically spread this success through your community.

One key way that I see is creating a LinkedIn page specifically for partnerships on your team. There you can highlight campaigns launched with other sponsors and authentically let the business community know about your wins. It is the easiest way to get that word out that I’ve seen.

Using Multiple Platforms For Reach

This goes a little bit back to the differentiation item. If you can show that you have multiple avenues for reaching your diverse fan base…your perceived value will increase with sponsors.

Again it comes down to two items. One, there is a higher chance you have inventory that they are looking to invest in. If you have a wide variety of platforms in which you can reach fans, you can tailor fit it to the needs of the sponsors.

Second, it shows you do have a wide reach of assets with more ways to reach your fans. If you can increase the touch-points with fans it will be more valuable with fans.

Now I am not advocating for a wide reach but shallow engagement. If you have 7 channels but no one engages with 5 of them…it will look enticing at first, but as they dig in it will lose its value if there are no numbers in reach or engagement with them.

It should be on your partnership’s team road map to eventually build these platforms up. It may take a year, but as you add more sponsors will be more interested.

Activation > Impressions

This goes back to a great episode we did with a 17-year-old fan, but activation is more impressive to brands than impressions.

How does this link to perceived value? If you are the team that is peddling impressions only…today brands aren’t buying.

If instead, you show activation, the assets that really get fans involved, the perceived value will increase.

For one, it shows that you are actually doing the work to find inventory that connects with your fans. Impressions are ok, but it is easy to say “your sign has been seen by X fans across the season”. if you can say “ X fans say the halfcourt shot AND we were able to activate 5,000 of them as they guessed on their phone whether the fan would nail the shot.” the value increases due to the more engaged level to the inventory.

Activation is remembered. The recall on these assets is higher than your heavily impression-based ones. Focus on how your inventory can engage and activate your fans over just getting their impression.

Reach Of Sports Sponsorship

This goes back a little bit with the demographics point, but the big thing about sports is really the reach of sports.

Geographically in some cases, it is global. In others, the local reach aspect while smaller reach is more valuable.

Overall, sports is one of the only places where you can reach a wide variety of customers in one shot. It checks the boxes for customer reach for a lot of brands.

As we talked about with platform reach, showing sponsors that they can get more bang for their buck by efficiently reaching multiple types of fans & customers will increase the perceived value of your package.

Success Stories & Track Record

Again, this may be compounding with the wins in your area but it is a little bit nuanced here. If you have a track record of delivering results with sponsors, your value increases.

I’m sure you have seen the opposite of this where a brand may have asked “what other car dealers have you worked with?” and having no direct case study. It is really hard to grab a deal when you haven’t proven that you can perform on their needs with your package.

Does this mean you can’t ever close a car partner? Absolutely not. If you don’t have a track record in a certain vertical, you can find a success story in a similar space

For example, most car dealers want to ensure that you can connect their salespeople with fans looking to buy cars. If you have had a campaign that does this with say an insurance company and it was successful, there is a good chance it will translate to a successful campaign in the future with this car sponsor.

Success stories mean you’ve come through for someone else to help reach their goals. If you can promote these to other sponsors, it is a great way to increase the perceived value of your assets.

Appealing To The Ego Of Decision Maker

Ego may be the wrong word here…but it’s one we found best described how to grow this part of perceived value. When we sell to people, we are selling to humans. More than a transaction, these are real people with families, interests, hopes, & dreams.

There is no easier way to show you actually care about building a relationship with a prospect or client than tying into their ego.

For example, does your prospect have kids? If so, offer to host them in the penalty box before the game.

Has one of your prospects or current clients always dreamed of shooting a free throw on an NBA court? Invite them pre-game to take a shot.

If you can bring value to your prospect, it will go a long way to building trust. Sometimes it is as easy as mailing a sports card of their favorite player.

YOU

People buy things from people they trust & like. You are absolutely a HUGE piece of increasing perceived value.

Think of it like when a superstar joins a sports team, it immediately increases the perceived value of the team and their chances of winning it all. Adding a superstar sponsorship salesperson to your staff and team will do the same thing.

How you interact with your prospects and sell to them will increase (or decrease) your perceived value. Have a bad call with a prospect? You can expect that to bring down the value.

At the next meeting, you fulfill their needs and wow them…you’ll increase that value.

I think the best way to show this is in the actual prospecting process. If off the bat you are sending robotic, spammy emails…you will immediately drive down the perceived value. If you are creative and stand out with a thoughtful outreach…you can immediately increase that perceived value.

You are a big piece in the sales process. Don’t discount that in helping build your department’s perceived value with sponsors.

Notice how none of these had anything to do with your team’s performance on the field with wins & losses!

There is a perception that the perceived value will only increase with how well the team is doing. I hear it all the time “well we aren’t doing very well on the field so it makes sense why we have less value in our packages.”

None of the above has anything to do with the play on the field. You can absolutely grow your perceived value by going 0–16 in a season.

And it comes back full circle to the first point here of knowing the needs of your sponsors. If you are creating a place where brands trust that your assets will reach their marketing goals no matter the team record.

The list above is all items you can increase your perceived value despite the quality on the field (or ice or court).

Last, most of these are easy to do

A lot of these items are easy to do & implement to increase your perceived value. There are many items here that you can within hours create packages and reports on.

In my mind, there is no reason you should NOT implement the above in your sponsorship department. These may be the easiest way to drive more revenue.

And really this is a way to make closes easier. If you can increase the perceived value of your assets and department as a whole, those sales calls and meetings are much easier.

The prospect sees you in a better light. They understand who you are as an organization and where you can bring value better. This all leads to an increase in trust.

I’ll end this with increasing perceived value is really increasing trust

Why do people buy Ferrari at such a high price? It’s the centuries of increasing perceived value to build trust that when you buy one for millions of dollars, you are getting one of the finest automobiles in the world.

The same will be the case for your sponsorship department and assets. If you can be patient, lay the groundwork, and build upon the above factors…you will be simultaneously building trust in your team.

More trust that you can deliver to your sponsor’s goal, the higher the perceived value to brands.

As you go forward with your 2021 planning, I challenge you to really audit these items and see where you land. These are all levers of perceived value, they can decrease your perceived value faster than increase if you aren’t thinking about them in many cases.

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.

Your Sponsorship Package Should Be A Story, Not A Menu

Everyone always talks about stories in sales…and rightfully so. As humans, we are physiologically conditioned to accept stories more than any other form of communication.

Stories build trust, they build empathy. Neuroscientists found that when listening to a well-told story, the exact same areas of the brain light up on an MRI in both the storyteller and listener. Your brain, as the listener, mirrors the brain of the storyteller.

We love stories so much as humans, our brains continue to consume them as we sleep when we dream.

Many times though in sponsorship, we look at our packages as a menu and sell them as such. This sign, this rink board, this sponsored tweet…

This causes our sponsors to see them as commodities. When you rip out the story, we only see black and white products.

Today I’m diving into how you can craft your sponsorship package pitch as a story to bring more context to answer the question “Why should I spend my marketing dollars with your team.”

Looking at the foundations of a story

As we look at stories, there are many frameworks we can follow. The heroes journey, rags to riches, Icarus, etc. They are all good models to go off.

But the insight I love to start with comes with this TED talk by Andrew Stanton. He is a storyteller from Pixar behind some of their greatest hits like Finding Nemo.

Click HERE to see the whole talk.

I draw a lot of this from his talk, which is one of the best I’ve seen on the fundamentals of stories. I’ll dive into the key parts below, but definitely check out the talk as it has an abundance of ideas and insights.

Andrew takes us through his journey to becoming a storyteller. It’s a great dive into the foundations he realized while working at Pixar. It’s beautifully crafted into a succinct video.

I’ll dive into some of the key points below, but one key part of the talk comes when he talks about the rules for constructing a story.

Before the story comes the research.

Before I dive into the ideas from Andrew, I think one key item comes with understanding your audience.

Knowing your audience helps you craft a better story. It helps you build in that unscratchable itch and promise (more on these below). It helps you craft the most compelling story before you even craft it.

Different stories fit different audiences in different ways. For example, I am a dog lover. You tell me a story about a dog, I’m interested. If it is a story about a cat, it better be an earth-shattering & compelling story to keep my interest.

The same comes with the story we tell to our sponsors. In order to keep them interested and make it worth their while, you will have to do your research.

We’ve talked about this in the past, but there are many ways that our clients & prospects tell us exactly what they want. You can check out their company blog for news on product launches or initiatives. You can check out the ads they are running on Facebook and Instagram to see what messages they are willing to pay money to get to their customers.

You can also do it the old fashion way and simply ask them in a discovery call.

Before you can tell a compelling story to your brand, you have to understand their needs. Before you can even start crafting the story, do the research. It will help you tell a story that connects with your audience.

Your sponsor with that unscratchable itch (goal)

Andrew dives into a really intriguing part of the video that I think really resonates with our storytelling in sponsorship.

He talks about in his character creation process that every great character has an unscratchable itch. A passion or a mission that seemingly is just out of reach that they are obsessed with solving. In Toy Story, Woody wants to be liked and the top toy. In Wall-E, the little robot is looking for connection and friendship.

In every great story, the character has an itch that they are on a mission to scratch.

In every great sponsorship relationship, we have the same thing. Our prospects all have a goal, a passion, a mission that they are looking to achieve through advertising.

For a car dealership, it might be as “simple” as doubling their sales volume over the next 5 years. For an insurance partner, it may be to become a pillar in community outreach.

Every brand prospect has that unscratchable itch we can craft our stories around. It will help pull them in. More than pull them in, it will show that you care about their goals. It will make your story their story. The focus then becomes their goals and not the assets you are looking to sell.

This may be the most important part of the storytelling process. This sets up everything we need to help draw them in and get them hooked. It may take a lot of research, it may take a few comp tickets to get them out to the game and chat with them…but they all have an unscratchable itch in their business.

“How am I going to achieve X this year/decade?” Find this unscratchable itch. It is the destination that your story will lead to in order to help get them sold.

Make Me A Promise (connection)

This is where you capitalize on the unscratchable itch to pull them in. The next step is to hook the partner in the first slide.

You see, our time is valuable. In order to ensure they will listen to your story, you need to make sure you do something to grab their attention.

In the video, Andrew calls this the “make me a promise” section. Every great story pulls its audience in with a promise that they hope you fulfill throughout the narrative. Sometimes the promise is as simple as “Once upon a time”. It pulls us in, begging us to learn more.

And really, this is the “Make Me Care” part. We need to get our buyers emotionally invested in what is to come with our story.

Think of this as a trailer for a movie. The goal of the trailer is to make me care enough to spend my time and money to head to the movie theatre. If the trailer is bad…I’m not going.

A big part of having success here comes with the unscratchable itch. If we know what the unscratchable itch revolves around, we can directly link our promise to it to pull them in.

For example, if a car partner’s unscratchable itch is to regain top market share in the city your promise should revolve around this. Maybe it’s; “What if I told you we can help you get back to #1 through the power of fan affinity and love for our team mixed with calculated retargeting to drive purchases?”

Immediately, I want to learn more if I have this itch. I may not believe you at first (that is what the rest of the story is for)…but I am intrigued.

I can’t ignore it. The desire to scratch my itch is too much to not listen.

This is how you hook them in to hear the story. This is how you make them care enough to listen attentively for the entire pitch. They are curious, they want to learn more…they need to learn more.

Finding the itch and making the promise is the first key step to closing the deal. Nail that promise and will have their attention.

Finally, craft the assets around those story elements

Notice how we haven’t touched which assets yet to use? This is on purpose.

To be honest, until you know your sponsor’s unscratchable itch and the promise you’ll start with…you don’t know what story to craft. how could you?

You can’t structure your story without these two elements. You may have an idea, but you can’t make it flow without these two north stars.

Both of the above items are on the map. They help guide us where our story will go and the details.

And really, you are crafting the story of the fan journey. How will you get your fans to eventually get to the partner’s unscratchable itch? What is the journey to that goal? What is cadence? What steps will they have to take to get there?

For a car sponsor, if we start at a fan not knowing anything about the dealership or cars…what are the assets and steps we’ll take to guide them to connecting with a dealer and making a purchase?

Some journeys are long, like a car sponsor. A fan maybe makes one purchase every 5–9 years. This is a long, trilogy-type sponsorship story (which leads to justification for a multi-year deal).

Some journeys are short, like a QSR partner’s story may be. Most of the time, the goal is a fast purchase…but we want them to come back multiple times in the season to make many purchases at the location.

With the QSR sponsor story, we’ll tell a story of multiple sales and the journey there with our assets. One that is much different from the car sponsor’s.

Don’t touch the assets until you have the unscratchable itch & promise nailed. Once you have them…use the assets as the key points to help get the fan to the itch.

Every asset needs a part in that story

The reason why stories sell is they bring context to the assets. They bring the “WHY”.

Context allows us to add more assets if they fit that why in the journey. They also help us thin out the assets that don’t make sense and hurt the story.

Nothing is worse in a movie when an obscure scene has nothing to do with the end plot of the movie. It wastes our time and distracts us.

I’ve said this before, but nothing hurts our credibility in selling more than when we offer an asset that doesn’t lead to the sponsor’s goal.

Many times, it’s because we are looking to reach a sales goal. But we cannot just throw in assets because we have them. Every asset has a role in completing the story. If the stories we tell have bad assets in them, we’ll get called out.

On the flip side, if an asset that the sponsor thought wasn’t important fits well into the story…then we have the opportunity to craft it into the story. This makes it so the sponsor could see it in a new light with newfound value.

Like a well-made dish, your assets need to make sense toward the end goal.

If there is an asset out of place, it will show and ruin the story. When a director makes a bad movie…sometimes it is a long time before they get another shot.

Storytelling also helps us ask the hard question “is this asset still relevant in today’s age of advertising?”

There are many assets that we sell in sponsorship that simply aren’t effective in the modern world of advertising. We sell them because they are legacy remnants from a time that is no longer relevant in effectively reaching customers.

For example, I believe hockey rink boards are overpriced and honestly useless in terms of today’s advertising (again, my opinion).

Before I get rocks thrown at me for the last sentence, our stories are a great way to test this statement.

As we craft these stories for the fan journey, if an asset continues to not fit into the stories we create, you have to have a real (and sometimes hard) conversation with yourself and your team as to whether you should still be selling it.

If there is little reason to add them (they don’t fit into the story) it quickly turns the meeting from “they want to help me” to “they want to sell to me” in the mind of your prospect. It instantly turns the meeting into a transactional one.

Nothing kills a sales meeting more than when it turns into purely a transactional one.

If assets like rink boards don’t fit most of the stories you are crafting for sponsors, you need to cut them. I know that sounds crazy, but it will hurt more than help you, in the long run, to continue to jam them down your sponsor’s throat if it doesn’t have a key place in their story.

A clearly defined story helps you prove the value (ROI)

In every crafted story there is a mission. We talked about it a bit before with the unscratchable itch. Each brand has a mission that this story helps achieve.

The beautiful thing about crafting these stories is we have initial landmarks we can use to show value.

Let’s say the mission is car sales for a sponsor. Most of the time one sign, activation, or sponsored tweet doesn’t sell the car. We need to condition the fan to have that brand top of mind with awareness assets mixed with leads generated.

Where are the story points that trigger the next step toward those goals?

These trigger points are what your recaps will be made of. How many fans made it through each milestone to reach the end goal?

When a sponsor asks “how did the scoreboard read perform in this asset toward our goal?” you have an answer because you are tracking each tactic and milestone. If X amount of fans saw the scoreboard read, which led to Y amount of fans going to the next step in the fan journey…you can justify the purchase of that scoreboard read asset.

This also sets up the reasoning on why they should continue to spend on certain assets in your recap meetings.

By turning your package into a story, you are giving relevance to each asset. You are giving a “why” to those assets. They now are vital to the investment and can’t be cut next season or during renewals.

You’ve taken something that may have been commoditized and give it meaning & value. More importantly, you can now report on the steps of the story and get your sponsor obsessed with them.

In today’s age of needing to prove ROI and cut waste spending by brands…this can save you thousands of dollars in revenue in sponsorship sales.

Every sponsor package needs a story

Context in sales always wins. It answers the question of “why should I invest with you?” context helps you frame the value of assets that a sponsor may have seen in a different light.

Stories build context.

For too long in the industry, we’ve offered up a menu of assets with no context. We’ve forced the sponsor to choose individual items with little context. This strategy commoditizes our assets. It lessens their value.

If we build these assets into a story that shows how they help guide fans to their overall goals, it builds their value. It increases the likelihood a sponsor says yes.

Overall though I think the biggest value this brings to a sponsorship department is truly vet out which assets we should think about cutting from our packages. If we craft stories around our packages, we’ll start to see which ones no longer fit into the journey that fans go through TODAY instead of the journey they went through 5 years ago.

It may hurt us in the short run (lost revenue from rink boards), but it will help us in the long run through building relationships and selling the right assets.

Before your next pitch, build a story for your sponsor. Ditch the menu.