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The difference between sponsorship and advertising

This is a debate that comes up constantly if you are in the sponsorship industry. 

Sports teams will share how sponsorship is more than advertising. They will push the fanatical fans that the brand should want to get in front of and how the environment of their stadium on game day is unbeatable.

But I think there is a misunderstanding in how we think about each. We tend to separate them. 

We try our hardest in sponsorship to push away from being labeled as an “advertising platform”. Many times it is because we feel like we are competing with the others out there like Google or Facebook ads.

But in reality, both have the same goal. To help our partners reach their goals (usually to sell more products or earn more customers).

Today, I want to dive into both and show you how your team can take a different approach to close more deals with your brand sponsors.

To do that, let’s look at the superpowers of each platform.

Sponsorship, or partnerships, has a superpower of Goodwill.

As I mentioned before, the big advantage we have in sports is the excitement we create through our games and the loyalty it builds with fans.

There are some fanbases that have a following that rivals religions. The wins (and losses) affect most fans’ moods the next day. It affects the type of week we have as diehard fans.

This is taken all the way to the point of detriment to our society. A study showed that in Philadelphia judges gave out harsher sentences on the days after the local sports team loses. 

Could you imagine getting an extra 2 years on your sentence because the Eagles lost?

This fanaticism is our superpower. It is our unique selling point. When you compare it to other ways of reaching customers, it is what makes our assets so popular with brands.

As the CEO of IPG360 Matt Wiener so beautifully put it “The essence of a partnership is that you are able to borrow equity, awareness, or the power of a brand to attach to your brand”

This is what we are selling. The ability to put a partner’s brand next to ours and let them borrow some of that goodwill. That excitement. 

Many times, though, it can also be our downfall. If we live and die with the goodwill of the team, we can watch it fall as losing seasons come upon us. Sometimes in sponsorship, I think we rely too heavily on this goodwill. 

It also causes us to be lazy in our creativity of assets. Many times because we push the goodwill point so much, we actually end up selling signage to a local pizza joint that has a goal of driving traffic. 

That sign is not the best use of their advertising dollars, but we are good at convincing them that just the presence of that sign with our fans will help sell more pizzas.

And maybe it will, but most of the time we don’t back that with efficiency & ROI. 

We lean so heavily into the sales pitch of goodwill we have many times forgotten that the real goal of any partnership is to help them drive sales in the most efficient way possible.

This is where advertising has an edge on us.

Advertising puts a focus on efficiency

Advertising over the last 200 years really has focused on one thing; efficiency.

Think back to newspaper advertising. The ability to reach everyone in the community with your message on a Sunday morning.

Then, there were national newspapers. You as a brand could more efficiently reach millions of people across the country.

Then came the radio. No need to print something out, you could now actually talk to your audience. They couldn’t really gloss over it any longer…it was a part of the radio broadcast.

Then TV, we could visually show our products. More efficiently telling our product story in between our favorite movies & shows.

Last, the internet came. Through Google ads, we could reach a person as they were searching for a product. On social media, you could reach specific people based on their interests and actions.

What advertising has a leg up on sponsorship is efficiency. The majority of our most expensive assets are signage. Literally, a sign in our stadium is no more efficient than what you see on the side of the highway and ignore.

Signage is a massively inefficient form of advertising. We can’t track it. Our only hope is that the fan remembers the brand sign when they are at the supermarket and pick that product. We can maybe track that a few years later…but in today’s age of real-time analytics that won’t fly.

To make things worse, we litter our game day with these signs and inefficient messages. In fact, a study we did last year found that on average fans will see over 3,000 sponsor messages from the time they walk into the building to the time they walk out.

So even if that sign did grab their attention, it is competing with 3,000 other messages in the fan’s brain. The efficiency here is close to nothing.

When I used to sell sponsorships, this drove me absolutely crazy. I was being met with the objection that a sponsor could reach the same fans I was pushing with a $50,000 sign with just $5,000 in Facebook ad spending. 

To a point, they weren’t wrong. The argument back was they couldn’t use our IP. I’ll dive in more on this later, but what they were really asking for was an efficiency that rivaled the other options they had.

The winning hybrid: Influencers

I’ve written before on this, but influencers are where we want to be as a team. They have mastered goodwill and efficiency in advertising.

Yup, I said it. We should look to 15-year-olds on Tik Tok for inspiration.

If you look at influencers they have built up a lot of the same goodwill we have. Maybe not on the same scale we have…but they have built up a large following of people passionate about their lives or content in their audience.

The difference, they have figured out a way to efficiently prove ROI for brands that spend on them.

For example, many times they add an affiliate link into their posting about buying a product that they promote. Instantly brands can see the sales come in, at the very least they can track the traffic it drives to their store.

And as we talk about efficiency, think about the path to purchase compared to our signs. With an affiliate link, it’s one click right on the phones that they are viewing the content on. 

With a sign, we are banking on the fan remembering a brand message sometimes days after they see it when they walk into the store.

There are many more ways for a fan to drop off before they buy with our signs. There is little chance with a link click that takes you right to the product’s page.

The value of this efficiency has never been clearer to me than when I created our Sponsorship Price Calculator and shared it with teams.

On the calculator, you can type in your social media following as a team and it will show you how much you should be charging per post. I’ve based the rate on what current influencers make per post on average (an average from micro-influencers to major ones).

Teams would see the number the calculator generated and hit me with the same response, “There is no way I can charge this much for a Facebook post. No brand would pay that much.”

This response startled me for one major reason. The calculator isn’t spitting out a number for what brands SHOULD be paying you…it shows what brands, on average, ARE paying influencers for the same following.

So why won’t brands pay this much to teams and they will for influencers? We have a history of being inefficient with our assets.

When a brand looks at $5,000 per Facebook post on your package, they think back to how efficient it could be and think back to how efficient the sign they bought last season was.

Those numbers were probably low…so they equate that efficiency with your Facebook post. You have set a low anchor that you won’t be able to dig out of unless you can show some real efficiency numbers to counteract the results with your signs.

This is the moment that I realized we in sponsorship do not have the problem of living and dying by the value that goodwill brings. 

We have an efficiency problem.

No matter the goodwill we’ve built up, we’ve sold inefficient advertising products for so long that the stench of it was bleeding into the assets that actually would bring efficiency to the plate.

So, here is how we break through this.

Today, we must fuse the goodwill of sponsorship with the efficiency of advertising.

I mentioned above my struggle when I sold sponsorships. I was asked many times how the $50,000 sign would ever outperform a $5,000 Facebook ad targeted at my fans.

As I mentioned, my response always came back to IP. Without our team logo, you wouldn’t be able to reach that fan as well as we could.

This point was true, but the desired outcome was off. My desired outcome was to sell the $50,000 despite the objection. Sometimes I did…many times I couldn’t.

But what I missed, and what I think many of us miss in sponsorships, is I wasn’t listening to what my customer wanted.

Of course, they believed in the goodwill the team had. They wouldn’t have taken the call or met otherwise. What I failed to deliver was convincing them that my sponsorship package would help them reach their goals the most efficiently.

The sign was not the most efficient way to drive traffic to their store. Despite the big draw we had with our IP & logo, they still felt they had a better shot at reaching customers without it.

What they were really asking for was an option that melded the draw of our IP with the efficiency of Facebook ads.

The holy grail in sponsorship today is fusing the goodwill that our teams have built WITH the efficiency of modern-day advertising.

The conversation that I had almost 8 years ago trying to sell that package still goes on today in sponsorship.

We want to sell a rink board-based package for $250K, but we don’t have the rest of the story for how that asset will efficiently be better than them running social media ads.

We have failed on the efficiency side of sponsorship, but we can make a change now. We can restructure our assets

I am not saying get rid of signs. I still think you can add them to your packages and they will bring value. I always think back to the Duke’s Mayo campaigns in college football. I had never heard of the mayo until I saw the bowl and other college football signs.

But, there has to be a large part of the package where you will prove that you can help reach a fan more efficiently than a social media or Google ad will. If you cannot prove this, you will see a lot of dollars walk out the door.

15-year-olds on Tik Tok have figured this out and are printing money with 1/10th of the resources we have as sports teams.

Our goodwill in this industry has allowed us to innovate slowly. We’ve used it as a crutch to delay the work it takes to stand toe to toe with social media ads and influencers.

At SQWAD, our activations have brought a lot of efficiency and ROI to sponsor packages. Activations like our Portillo’s 4Q Franks with the Chicago Bulls help send over 70,000 hot dog coupons a night to fans via email. 

The results from our activations prove this. Our digital activations have sent over 2.8M sponsor offers in the past year alone, with a 74% open rate on offer emails and an average 56% in-store redemption rate.

When you mix the above with a strong signage package, you are bringing the efficiency that the brand will see if they had taken the money and put it solely into Facebook ads. 

You are giving them a package that is ultimately better than any social media ad campaign they could run because it fuses your team’s goodwill with efficiency.

Over the next decade, it will be the teams that dive fully into fusing their goodwill with efficiency that will win. It is how the sponsorship industry goes from a $56Bn one to double that over that same time period.

I’m excited about where our industry can go once we do this.

Technology and The Future Of Stadium Advertising

digital advertising in an indoor stadium

Technology is the pinnacle of the advancement and growth of sports. From the first patents of a football to the invention of instant replay, we’ve seen technology catapult sports to be a frenzy of fan entertainment.

While most people focus on the technological developments of items on the field or court…some of the biggest developments in sports have come in the hallowed grounds we visit on game days. The home stadiums that we visit each game day to cheer on our favorite teams.

$64Bn is spent each year by brands to sponsor their local teams, most of these dollars are investments in reaching fans inside the stadium to try and capture some of the magic of gameday and channel it toward brand loyalty.

Today, I’m diving into the advancement of stadium advertisement and how technology has helped evolve it from stadium advertising boards into an immersive brand experience and captive audience.

What is stadium advertising?

Stadium advertising, simply put, is the action of investing in advertising assets at sports stadiums. I know, a pretty boring assessment. Think stairway ads, concourse signage, arena advertisements…all to use a venue to showcase branding in arenas.

Let’s dive deeper into the crux of why brands invest so much money into our stadiums. Sports have the innate ability to tap into our passions as humans. Much like religions, our favorite sports teams become a community that we cannot live without. We live by the wins, the moments, and the people involved in the history of the teams we choose.

The community that sports creates brings immense value to sponsorships associated with it. When they advertise their company or businesses at the event, they reach potential customers through repetitive advertising.

Teams become influencers to fans. If the proper community is created by the team there is the ability for the brand to piggyback off that trust to help drive sales from those consumers.

stadium advertising

Benefits

The largest benefit of advertising inside stadiums is that you become a part of that gameday entertainment as a brand. The stadium is ground zero for fandom. It is where the games are played, the fans cheer, and we as fans build our fandom.

Many times as well, a stadium is at the heart of a community. It is downtown many times, centrally placed for easy access.

This from a geographic standpoint helps us target the fans we want to reach. If 30,000 – 100,000 football fans all make the weekly pilgrimage to a football stadium, we can reach a large, captivated audience all at once with a high amount of relevance in one day with a stadium ad.

So why buy stadium advertising at sporting events? Well, it’s an efficient & easy way to reach a target audience and build brand exposure. This is why businesses spend so much money each year on stadium advertising boards.

Brief history

Really to understand the future of stadium advertising, we have to look back at where sports stadium advertising began.

Early stadium advertising can be seen at parks like Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. In 1930, a scoreboard was added to the stadium, which opened a new opportunity for the team to sell advertising in this space.

Even back then, companies understood how powerful that space was in the stadium to add their advertising. They knew fan eyeballs would gravitate there throughout the game driving awareness & connection with the brand.

As time went on, our scoreboards got larger and more digital. Videoboards replaced the static scoreboards to draw fan eyeballs to the space.

As the saying goes, brand dollars follow fan eyeballs. Where there were replays, stats, and information…that is where businesses wanted to invest their advertising dollars over the entire season.

Companies or industries that benefit the most from advertising in stadiums

Currently, there are 63,000+ brands across 32 industry verticals that spend money on in-stadium advertising. Professional and college football, basketball and hockey games.

As stated before the biggest benefit to in-stadium advertising comes with tapping into the community that the team has built. But really, it is about tapping into the trust that the team has built with their fans.

With this, the industries that benefit the most from in-stadium advertising are the ones that benefit the most from building trust. 

Now you could argue that ALL businesses benefit from building trust with their customers. And you would be correct. This is why over 63,000 brands invest their dollars into stadium advertising.

BUT, the labels that benefit the most are the ones that have longer sales cycles in their industry. These are the ones that don’t expect an instant sale, ones that either have a high price or high switching costs in their industry.

With the above, you would imagine that banks, healthcare, and car dealerships would be the top spenders in-stadium advertising.

And you would be correct, In the NFL those categories spend over $50 Million each to reach fans on game day and help build that trust.

So ALL brands benefit from investing in-stadium advertising, but the categories that benefit the most are ones that rely heavily on trust to get sales.

advertising in baseball stadium

How technology has changed arena advertising for sports fans

Technology has affected stadium advertising in the same way that technology has affected the advertising industry in general. It has shifted it to be more trackable, measurable, and interactive.

Gone are the days in advertising where “being seen” is enough. Today businesses are looking to invest in advertising outlets that drive participation. Ways that allow them to connect with fans in measurable & meaningful ways. Technology offers a great opportunity to broadcast a marketing message to audiences. There are many options and millions of dollars at play for advertisers.

As advertising technology has shifted, stadium advertising has been slow to tag along with it.

How SQWAD is using technology for stadium advertising

SQWAD is helping teams create more valuable stadium advertising assets through our engaging digital activations. We help brands drive participation with the fans to make sure they stand out on game day and are remembered long after the fan has left the stadium.

By replacing static scoreboard logos with promotions like scoreboard trivia, virtual races, and other advertising that pull in the crowd you can create stadium advertising assets that are more valuable than static signage.

For example, with our prediction activation, our clients have been able to grab fans’ attention while sending over 2.3 Million sponsor offers out to fans via email for easy redemption.

These offers lead directly to sales, with 74% of the email sent being opened by fans and 56% used in the sponsor’s store or online.

With this new technology captivating fans’ phones, you can bring exciting new inventory to your sponsors and a brand new experience to your game day.

At SQWAD, we have activations for every sponsor category, auto, banks, you name it. We can help your team drive more sponsorship revenue.

Final thoughts about stadium ads

When you break it all down, stadium advertising’s value focuses on the trust your team has built with your fans.

The advertising assets are just the vessel in which the brands you sell to are able to tap into the trust you have built. 

Technology, through assets like SQWAD, helps your team create a more efficient vessel. One that is more measurable and more engaging in its path to harness that trust and transfer a part of it to your brands.

In stadium advertising technology at its core is on a never-ending mission to create more efficiency in that transfer. The more efficient it is, the more valuable your stadium advertising assets become to brands.

Push for efficiency, you will win.

Reap Rewards With Effective Sports Fan Engagement 

fans engaging at a sports game

We as humans are hard-wired for engagement. We crave the ability to connect, feel, and vibe with others. It is how we become a part of a community.

The same applies to the sports fans that walk through our stadium doors each game. We can’t expect the action on the field, court, or ice to fulfill their need for connection. If we do, we live and die by those game results.

It is vital for each team to have an effective fan interaction strategy  within your organization. Different ways in which we can help fans connect together and feel like they are a part of the team. Fan engagement is the surefire way to not only build a fan, but make sure they come back each game, whether your team is having a winning or losing season.

Today, we’ll dive into how you can build fan engagement in sports and reap the rewards when you do. There are many new ways you can keep fans engaged for years to come. 

How Do You Increase Fan Engagement in Sports?

Before we get into the tactics of increasing fan engagement, I think it is important to understand the foundations first. If we can focus on these, we can begin to create a successful engagement strategy. This is an important factor in your club’s stadium experience and in connecting sports brands with real time user engagement.

Get your fans talking about their favorite sports organizations. There is no bigger tool for sports marketers than loyal fans. For many fans this goes beyond the sporting venue and sporting events and carries over into daily life and social media platforms.

fans engaging at a sports game

Engage Fans and Build Culture

When we think about our gameday culture, the first thing that comes to mind is authenticity. How can we morph our gameday into something that fits our city, fan, and sports culture? And really this is a focus on what makes us as a team unique?

There is a big tendency in sports clubs to ‘steal’ other teams’ engagement tactics. While they may work in the short term, you constantly need to think about “does this fit my team’s uniqueness?” It’s important for sports leagues to be aware of providing a unique fan experience. Fans’ thirst needs to be quenched.

I would urge you to have this discussion in line with a group of your most loyal fans. There have been cases where teams have tried to build new cultural identities without consulting the soul of the organization, the fans. It almost has never turned out well.

In order to build your team culture, you need to define what makes your fanbase unique. This is the first step toward redefining or building your fan engagement strategy. Before you think about tactics, you need to build & define your team culture on game day.

Capture New Sports Fans

Once you’ve identified your team’s uniqueness or culture, the next step is to think about your newer fans.

Did I throw you off here? You may be thinking about the loyal fans that come to games each and every time the team hits the field? 

First, based on building the culture above, hopefully  you have them bought in already and an active part of your plan. They don’t need to be educated on your team’s culture.

But fans who walk into your stadium for the first time are a blank page. Many times they enter and have no idea what to expect. This can cause them to feel out of place. Have you ever been to a party where everyone else knows a particular dance (like the wobble) and you don’t? Ya, it gets awkward. You want to be a part of the cool kids…you just don’t know how.

Now think about when that has happened and a friend helped you learn it. Now all of the sudden, you are a part of the group. You feel comfortable, but more importantly,  you now become in the know. You literally join the tribe. Next time you see someone confused, you can help them join.

Fan engagement is a kind of two-way relationship. Whether working with large fan bases or smaller fan bases, season ticket holders or different audiences, the significance of fan engagement results in transactional behavior fueled by fan loyalty.

When you build your fan engagement plan, the most important item comes with easily educating NEW fans on the culture you’ve built. Think about the key moments in your game when you can help fellow fans learn the culture and key tactics.

Answer the question “How will future fans react to this fan engagement tactic? Will they easily know what to do?”.

Sports Team Loyalty

We talk a lot about loyalty in sports, but many times it’s in terms of our current loyalty from fans. We piggyback off the loyalty our fans have had for decades.

But what about the next generation? How do we make sure that we are building team loyalty with them?

Sports fan engagement builds team loyalty. As I mentioned above, once you join that group, once you know that dance, you now have joined the group. You are a part of something.

The same goes with sports teams. The way you build loyalty is by engaging fans at the game consistently, giving them reasons to fall in love with the team and game-day atmosphere.

When you think about building your fan engagement strategy, your goal should be “how do we turn newer fans into loyal fans?” and “How do we have our current loyal fans help shape the culture and engagement so they won’t be put off by sports  fan engagement tactics?”.

What Is Digital Fan Engagement in Sports Marketing? 

Adding digital to your fan engagement tactics maximizes the results.

As with most things, digitizing your consumer marketing  helps you reach more fans while making it more efficient to connect. The next stage where fans interact  lives firmly in the digital version.

fans engaging on digital on mobile phones

And most fans want to engage digitally. Today everyone has a phone, which opens up multiple channels and opportunities to connect with your team and gameday.

Here are a few digital ways you can maximize your sports fan engagement with technology.

Apps

Team apps are a powerful tool to help your loyal fans stay connected with your team on game day & beyond. It can become the central control center where your team can push news, 

More importantly, though, you can help maximize the number of campaigns that engage fans by adding them to your apps. Many of the clients we work with at SQWAD put their activation  games like our Trivia or Scratch & Win in their app.

Why? It is the easiest way to connect with current loyal fans WHILE incentivizing newer fans to download the app and become a part of the team tribe. Apps are a great sports marketing platform to help reach your fans, new & old.

Social media

Your social media channels become a window into your team. They are a way for current fans to stay connected….but maybe more importantly a great way to communicate your fan engagement campaigns with fans.

The ability to reach a large number of fans with one post makes it a valuable channel to entice fans to connect with your team and give them a glimpse into why they should connect with and follow you.

Authenticity is key with your social media channels, but this allows you to reach your entire city with just a few posts if done correctly.

Sponsorships

I love when your brand partners get involved with sports fan engagement campaigns for two reasons. First, many times it is a great way to finance your fan engagement campaign (think about the rally towels at playoffs, if you can place a logo on the towel you can cover the cost for that fan engagement campaign).

Second, it helps transfer some of the goodwill that the brand has built over to your team. Adding in sponsorship activation is the most efficient way to grab that affinity and piggyback off of it.

For example, if your fans love a brand like Dunkin’, and you launch a Dunkin’ Race campaign, the fans will connect with it more due to their affinity for Dunkin’.

Overall, it’s a win-win to add brand engagement to your consumer marketing…but be sure to make it feel authentic.

Influencers

As with brands, influencers are a great way to help build authentic value with your fan engagement campaigns. You are using their goodwill and affinity to transfer over to the thing you want fans to connect with.

Influencers can come in the form of players, coaches, mascots, and even famous superfans. All of these people carry influence and by having a human face (unlike many brands) it is easier for fans to connect with.

Don’t forget influencers when building your campaign strategies.  Their unique platforms work great to increase the fan base through video content, live stream posting and social media platforms.

Digital contests

Digital contests are a perfect way to jumpstart your sports fan engagement strategy. Fans love to compete and more importantly win things.

When we see a digital contest, it instantly pulls us in as fans. It grabs our attention. It pulls at our want to compete and win.

They are also a great way to pull in your sponsors and add them to your fan engagement campaign. You can add in branding and sponsor coupons to create an authentic sync with your fans.

If you want a great way to jumpstart a fan engagement campaign, digital contests are a great way to start with this form of fan engagement technology.

Effective Sports Engagement Strategies 

We’ve gone over the foundations and digital channels that are best for your fan engagement campaigns. It’s time to start crafting ideas.

As you start to craft them, there are a few key strategies to help make sure they are successful with fans.

Make an emotional connection

Sometimes we get bogged down in the details of a strategy and focus on the tactics. Before you do, you need to ask yourself “is this campaign building a connection with fans?”

Connecting emotionally helps fans buy in. It helps them get attached. It helps them remember and look forward to the campaign each game.

For example, with the Dunkin’ Race launched through SQWAD at every Chicago Bulls game fans select the characters they think will win, Cuppy Coffee, Biggie Bagel, and Dashing Donut.

As fans choose the characters they begin to have favorites, ones they find themselves cheering for each game. They start to connect with the characters and outcomes. They are ecstatic when their favorite character crosses the finish line.

Not only do more fans participate, this connection with the campaign gets fans talking, and fans interact with each other ahead of each game. This connection becomes a staple with loyal fans.

When you build your fan engagement strategy, think about items that will help fans make an emotional connection with.

Get fans involved in the game

Getting fans involved in your game is key to capturing new fans and building loyalty. If you can connect them with the action with in game promotions…your fan engagement will return 2x.

A great example of this comes with tying a stat in the game to a reward. With the Chicago Bulls SQWAD launched a digitized version of their 4th Quarter Franks in game sports promotion.

If the opposing player misses two consecutive free throws at a home game, every fan that registers wins a free hot dog. The fan’s receive the offer in their email inbox instantly to redeem on the way home.

Now in the 4th quarter, a key moment in the game most of the time, fans are cheering even louder than before to throw the player at the line off. They are involved in the result by making it harder than ever for the opposing player to miss.

If you can get the fan involved, it will enhance your fan engagement campaign and pull them closer to your team.

Offer prizes

At SQWAD we run a lot of digital campaigns to boost fan engagement. We’ve found that no matter how engaging an activation is…prizing helps take fan engagement campaigns to the next level.

It doesn’t have to be a huge prize, while fans would love to win a signed jersey they are just as pleased to head home with a free hot dog.

Many people are motivated by rewards, offering prizes for your fan’s fan engagement efforts is a great way to reach more fans and boost the success of your campaigns.

Coupon codes

Piggybacking off the above, sponsor prizes are a great way to reward thousands of fans for engaging with your campaigns. Whether it’s a free hot dog or a percentage off their next purchase, sponsor prizes can help drive fan engagement.

With those sponsor prizes comes coupon codes. Most partners want to track how many were redeemed on a given night. Most of the time you want to track that as well so you can prove value for them partnering with you on the activation.

At SQWAD, our contests can take over 1 million unique sponsor coupon codes and easily send them to fans to redeem at the sponsor’s location.

With coupon codes comes the ability to measure results. Be sure to consider these when adding prizes to your campaign.

Create memories

Lasting memories is the ultimate goal with any fan engagement campaign. If we can cause fans to think back on a fan engagement campaign they’ve interacted with it will build loyalty and repeat interaction.

As you create your campaigns and strategies, what are some key ways that you can make the campaign last in the fan’s memory? What will cause them to go home from the game and remember the interaction the next day?

Creating memories is vital for a fan engagement strategy that will last for multiple seasons.

Conclusion

Fan engagement is vital for your sports team. Finding key moments outside of the action on the field to help fans connect more with your team is how you take a new fan to a loyal fan.

As you think through these moments be sure they are authentic, build culture, and are remembered by fans.

To drive more revenue for your team, add in your sponsors.

At SQWAD, we can help. Our suite of digital activations easily connects with your fans, are measurable, and help you close more sponsorship revenue. We’ve launched with over 49 sports teams and logged over 123,000 hours of fan engagement screen time.

Learn more about fan engagement and how SQWAD can help your sports organization by scheduling a demo.

So you’re in a brand new market…here’s how to kickstart your sponsorship sales

Let’s face it…if you work in the sports industry you are bound to move a ton. Many of us have racked up the miles as we grow in the industry.

But in the sponsorship industry, which is heavily relationship-based, sometimes it can be tricky when you jump from one geographic market to another. Sometimes it takes a bit of time to get grounded in the business community of a new city.

Well luckily for us, Rich Franklin just went through this process and has a game plan to share.

This week on The Inches podcast we’re diving into starting in a new market as a sponsorship salesperson and how you can hit the ground running.

You can listen to the full episode HERE, but as always I dive into a few key points below.

A quick background on Rich’s recent experience changing markets.

Rich, who I am lucky enough to host The Inches podcast with, recently made the shift from 10+ years in the Portland Oregon market working with the Winterhawks to taking a position at the newly formed Coachella Valley Firebirds in the AHL.

Trading clouds and rain for 80 degrees and sunny was one shift, but the other one was landing in a brand new city & environment. While he had spent time in the area on vacations, he was fairly new to the market.

Not only was he new to the market, but the team also didn’t even have a name at that point. They had just announced the arena and AHL team in the area.

Talk about starting from scratch.

In this process, Rich shared his key points below for how to dive in with a new market.

Before you arrive, know the market

No matter where you land, demographics are the first key thing to understand as you dive into a new market. Luckily this is something that you can find out before you arrive at your new city.

What is the population? What are the demographics like age and gender?

What population are veterans? What is the median mortgage compared to the median household income?

These may seem like weird items to know…but it tells us a lot about which sponsorship messages fans in these communities might react best to.

It also arms you to understand how different your fan base is to the general population. With this information when you see the team report of fan demographics, you can see if say the median income is higher for your fans compared to the general population. This is valuable information before you dive into the market to have.

Where can you find this information? There are many different sources…but I love leaning on Uncle Sam here and using Census data. You can find this information at www.census.gov.

You can filter information for most cities, I love the Quick Facts sections they have to scroll through.

Overall, your first step in moving fast in a new market is getting a baseline for what the market and population look like. If you have this information before you step into the office for the first time, you have better context for the information the team has on hand.

Know your organization

The next step is to learn & know your organization. This seems like a no-brainer, but often we skimp on this step and want to get right into the action.

What are your fans like? What are some key “game culture” items? What inventory has worked in the past? What inventory has never worked?

This step needs to come with a bit of help from the staff that is currently working there. You can watch game videos all you want, but the best information comes from the people who have worked there the longest.

Hopefully, you have an onboarding meeting set aside for exactly this to ramp up your knowledge before you talk to a single sponsor, but if you don’t have this there is always the lunch model.

Find the employees that have been with the team the longest and offer to take them out to lunch. It’s a great way to 1. Connect with them & 2. Dive into the ins & outs of the fan base.

Obviously, you’ll want to do this with the sponsorship staff, but don’t forget the ticketing & marketing staff. These two departments are two of the most fan-facing ones on the teams. They are having conversations with fans each day, which makes them great resources.

Once you get that done, you’ll want to understand the deals your team has done in the past.

Looking at inventory and deals your team has done in the past with sponsors is a great insight into what your sponsors see as most valuable and where there may be openings.

Has your team sold a ton of boothing and tabling at games? Diving into why local sponsors have loved that inventory can tell you a ton as you get started.

Have sponsors shied away from Facebook promotion or posts? If so, thinking into why this may be the case can give you a lot of information on the market OR insights on how you can boost this.

Getting an understanding of your fanbase and inventory from the people already on the ground is vital once you get to the new market. I would advise this honestly before you jump in with too many sponsors. 

Know the business climate

After getting a feel for the city demographics and team & fan culture, the last step comes with understanding the business climate of your new market.

What does this entail? Diving deep into the businesses that employ & sell in the city.

A few questions you will want to ask and find answers to:

  1. Who are the biggest employers in the city? (great for understanding to sell hospitality assets).
  2. What are the biggest industries in the city?
  3. Where are the hot spots in the city?
  4. Which companies are buying sponsorships?

If you can understand who the big players are and who are the “small” but powerful ones in the city you can really create a business strategy around that landscape.

For example here in Portland, Oregon we have the big five companies that employ most of the city; Nike, Columbia, Intel, Adidas, and Daimler. They are the big players in this market.

BUT there are certain smaller businesses that hold arguably just as much cultural power in the city. There are bars, restaurants, and small businesses that on paper may look like it is not worth contacting, but a partnership with them can do wonders for your portfolio and reach in the city.

It is also vital to understand which businesses are spending in sponsorship in your city and which are not. This will help you shift your strategy and adapt for each. 

For example, someone who already spends in partnership with other events and teams in the area you… you don’t have to explain why sponsorship is valuable. They already know as they are spending there.

You will however need to pitch why your team’s demographics and assets are worth them opening their sponsorship budget up for.

On the other end, if a brand in the city has never spent on sponsorship…you will need to spend a decent amount of time convincing them of the benefits of investing in sponsorship of a team as they have never done it before.

Understanding these elements can be the difference between a closed sale and a closed door. 

A great tool for this is SponsorUnited. On the platform you can see on a per sponsor basis which teams and events they are sponsoring along with the exact assets they are purchasing. It is an outstanding tool to do research as you land in a new territory.

Overall, make sure you take the time to understand the business climate of the city. The easiest way to do this is when you land, get out into downtown and meet people and businesses. You’ll get a good idea of who employs most of the city and most of the hot spots that should be on your radar (also a great way to meet new people personally!).

Last, what are the other big events & teams in your city?

In all of the above processes, you will probably start to see which events are the big ones in your city. Other than the other sports teams, there are bound to be events that are a big magnet for sponsorship money.

It is vital to understand where your assets fit and differentiate from these other competitors, especially if you are a smaller team.

As Rich and I have dove into before, sometimes a head to head battle with another competitor is the worst thing you can do. Touting your attendance compared to theirs can be a killer if your numbers are much lower.

A big example of this came with the success of the Toyota Trivia & the Portland Winterhawks. By understanding their needs as a sponsor, he was able to reframe and offer a great activation that fit their goals. This would have fallen flat had he gone head to head with the other teams in the area and had a package full of signage.

The key is always to frame the value of your assets to make the head-to-head comparison irrelevant. You want them to look at your assets as a new value, not comparing to others.

In order to understand how to frame this, you need to know the value and assets that the other events are pushing.

There are a couple of ways to do this:

  1. Talk to businesses in the community about the event or team. You can get a sense of their overall feeling about advertising with them. For example they might say something like “you get a lot of reach…but it is expensive.” This gives you vital information on how they frame the partnership.
  2. Go to the event. Yup…head there and see how brands are activating. You can really understand how attendees are engaging with the sponsorship inventory and see firsthand what the benefits are for the brand.
  3. Use SponsorUnited. Again can’t say enough about the platform. You can see all the assets that the team offers and which sponsors are buying them.

An example with Rich is when he headed to the Coachella Valley, the big two events are the music festivals with Coachella and Stage Coach.

Should he compete head to head with them? No. That would be foolish as an AHL team. You won’t be able to beat the Buzz of Kanye West gracing the stage and people coming in from around the country and world.

But what those concerts don’t have is year-round reach. It’s one shot then you have to wait for next year. This is something his team and arena have over that event in selling. 

By understanding small items like this, you take the comparison away and create a new conversation. “I’m not trying to say don’t spend at Coachella, but if you want to reach residents year-round, you want to look at our assets. We are the best way to do that in town.

Again, this is not a recon mission to see how you can win head to head…it is one to understand their value and how to frame your assets so the competing options aren’t an option. They are making the purchase for a whole other reason.

Overall, have fun when looking at a new market.

It is a right of passage in sports to move to a completely different city with a new team. Most of us in the industry go through it. Sometimes it can be a scary voyage.

BUT, it can also be extremely rewarding and fun. New challenges, new opportunities, and a whole set of new relationships to build in a new city.

Don’t just stay in the office when you get to the new city. Head out, meet people & fans, and get a good pulse of the culture. It will help you immensely when you get into your first pitches with sponsors.

Good luck!

Fans see over 3,000 sponsorship ads on game day. Here’s why that is a problem.

Close your eyes and think back to the last sports game you attended as a fan. What is the first thing you see?

Maybe it is the field/court/ice? Maybe the concession stand of your favorite food item? Or the players looking to win the game?

Now, how many times did a brand logo from a sign come into your memory?

As we all know, sports sponsorships are a pivotal pillar of revenue for sports teams. They literally pay for you to remember their brand from the game.

Well, we are seeing an overwhelming amount of sponsorship ads at sports games. It led me to start to think “How many ads do we get exposed to at a sporting event?”

Well, luckily at SQWAD we work with 49 sports teams and sponsors. We go to A LOT of sporting events. So we decided to run a small study.

The results…a fan is exposed to over 3,000 sponsorship ads every time they walk into our stadiums & arenas.

Today I’ll run through our methods, results, and the impacts it has on sponsorship.

We attended 45 sports games over the last 6 months to count the ads.

When we started this study we knew that we wanted a large array of games to visit. It had to be a mix of minor league and major league games to really get a good average.

So we headed to what would end up being 45 sports games over the last 5 months.

Here is a breakdown of the league games we attended:

NBA – 12

WHL – 10

NCAA Football – 3

NCAA Basketball – 3

NFL – 2

NHL – 7

MLS – 4

MLB – 3

USL – 1

Some of these were repeat games with the same team. For example, for NBA the 12 games were broken down across 3 NBA teams. We did this to ensure that we could take into account any variation that may happen game to game (more sponsorship promotion for a throwback game, etc.).

At each game, with a counter, we would count the number of ads we were exposed to throughout our journey in the stadium.

We had a process that we followed pretty religiously across all the games:

  • We would count the same ad twice if it came into our eye line. For example, if a replay caused me to look at the scoreboard, the scoreboard brands would be counted. Each time I looked back at the scoreboard they would be counted again as we were looking to the total number of ads as opposed to the unique ads. This obviously is the goal of a sponsor who puts their ad on the scoreboard, they are looking for maximum exposure as they know fans will look multiple times at the board throughout the game.
  • We also tried to emulate the journey as a fan as much as possible. Concourse ads were only counted through my normal walks to my seats, to the restroom, and for buying food. We tried very hard not to overthink your fan journey, but we came as close as possible to matching what we would normally do on game day.
  • One caveat, we did not count the number of ads exposed when on our phones. As I checked social media feeds throughout the game some branded sponsorship items popped up on the team accounts of the game we were attending. We wanted to really stick with the physical ads in the stadium as we went through the game.

The Results: on average, we see over 3,000 ads throughout the game at sporting events.

Ya, this number surprised me a bit when doing the final calculation at each game. How could it be this high? How could I have never noticed this onslaught of ads while I enjoyed the beautiful events of sports?

Well, we do. We averaged the results from all 45 games and we saw 3,007 sponsorship ads per game.

I will dive into the specifics of why this seems so high to us later. But first, let’s look at the breakdown of where most of the ads were placed.

To clarify what each category consisted of, here is a breakdown:

  1. Stadium Signage: the signs in the stadium that were not associated with the scoreboard reads or concourse signs. Think rink boards, dasher boards, scoreboard static signs, on-field signs, etc.
  2. Concourse signs: The promotions seen while walking through the concourse. These were ones seen while on the way to my seats, restroom, and for food.
  3. Scoreboard Promotion: The promotions seen on the actual scoreboard that were active. This would be your scoreboard reads, commercial videos played, etc.
  4. Participation Assets: The promotional activities that pulled the fan in to participate. Your halfcourt shot contests, Dunkin’ Race, etc.

I think it is important to understand where these ads came from so we can really understand where the overcrowding comes from. Sometimes we sell an asset as a line item but don’t realize how we are diversifying them on gameday.

As we can see in the breakdown, stadium signage was the number one ad exposure vessel at these games. On average 78% of the 3,000 ads we were exposed to came from the stadium signage.

You may think, how can this be so high!?! Surely there are not over 1,500 ads that come in the form of stadium signage. We would notice this and be overwhelmed.

I thought the same thing until I ran this study and saw the #1 & #2 culprits in this section.

The #1 was the rotating boards that litter our stadiums today.

For one pregame in our study, the team was rotating 3 sponsor promotions at 5-second intervals for over an hour on the tunnel LED boards. That rotation continued throughout the game.

The other culprit came with the rink and dasher boards during live play. As I watched the hockey game, my eye was exposed multiple times to the rink board ads while watching the back & forth of the players flying down the ice.

These ads made up the majority of the sponsorship promotion during the game. And it makes sense. 

During a sporting event, we spend the majority of the game in a place where we are watching the plays. This is where we are exposed to the majority of the stadium signage in the arena.

The other two segments of concourse and scoreboard promotions came at very specific times in the game. Concourse signs obviously came into play as I was walking through and navigating the stadium.

Scoreboard promotions came during breaks in the game normally with a quick scoreboard read. The same with participation assets, they were built into key moments during breaks in the game.

Overall, most of the assets that fans see when they visit a stadium are focused on just “being seen”. Most of them come with a brand logo put on a sign that rotates throughout the game.

This seems high because our brains block out most ads due to pattern-matching.

When I was done with the study I shared the with a fellow sports fan who is not in the sponsorship or sports industry to test the reaction.

Her initial reaction: disbelief.

While she admitted that there were a lot of ad promotions in stadiums, how could it be 3,007 per game on average?

Honestly, I thought the same thing at first. How could I have not noticed the overwhelming amounts of ad promotions being hurled at me on game day? How has this not become bothersome to my gameday experience?

As with most things in advertising, a big part of understanding why things happen the way they do comes back to human psychology and this is the result of our brain’s pattern matching.

Human brains are pattern-seeking machines. Most of the time we don’t notice it, but our brains are automatically seeking patterns in our world as we navigate through it.

It comes from our primal instincts to be able to quickly identify danger and safety.

Let’s take for example the trees that line your walk to work. You rarely are taken aback by a normal tree on your walk. If asked, you couldn’t describe, say, the 7th tree you saw in detail.

Why? It’s because our brains have pattern-matched a tree planted on a sidewalk to be safe.

This phenomenon is called anchoring. Patterns create expectations, which act as anchors. As we begin to see enough trees without risk, we begin to anchor a tree as safe.

Learning these patterns helps save us time and energy as humans…but it wreaks havoc on our efforts to advertise.

We do the same thing with ads. Our brains start to pattern-match the signage we see in the stadium as an advertisement.

Normally, we don’t like ads…so our brains literally start to book them as patterns of something we don’t care about to save time & energy.

This is why it seems so high. When we go to a game, we (or really our brain) ignore most of the stadium ads we see without us noticing.

Before I go any further, this is not just a problem in sports sponsorship. Humans see around 10,000 ads PER DAY. Most of these ads we as humans categorize as an ad and ignore.

Now, going back to the tree analogy… what if that tree is cracked and falling down?

This would instantly break the pattern-matching in our brains and forces us to focus on whether to identify it as a threat to us or not.

This snaps our pattern-seeking. It forces us to pay attention.

This is the same in sponsorship, our goal should be to create broken trees

Once we understand the above phenomenon of our brain’s pattern-matching effect on sponsorship ads, it starts to show us which ones will be the most effective and valuable to brands.

The sponsorship ads we remember after a game are the ones that break this pattern-seeking behavior of our brains.

Fans will remember the ads and activations that break the patterns of traditional sponsorship ads. No matter how many ads we see in the stadium or arena through signs & scoreboard reads, they will be anchored by our brains and ignored.

If we want fans to remember our sponsors, we have to think of ways that violate expectations and break these patterns.

For example, an engaging activation like our 4Q Franks we launched with the Chicago Bulls that helps turn 2 missed free throws into over 100,000 hot dog offers sent to fans. An active engagement that breaks the pattern-seeking behavior of our brains.

If the sponsor just threw up their logo, it would be pattern-matched.

We as fans remember the half-court shots. We remember the car races. We remember the campaigns that don’t look or feel like ads because ….well…they don’t look or feel like ads for our brains to pattern-match them.

What does this mean for sponsorship?

It means that brands are paying us to reach fans with signage that most of the time our fan’s brain will ignore.

We have littered our stadiums with assets that are being ignored.

This is why we are seeing brands looking for more engagement. This is why they are gravitating away from signs and toward assets that break that pattern. This is why you are hearing words like ‘engagement’ more & more in your sponsorship meetings with brands.

As brands realize this, they will look to invest in less signage and more assets that break the pattern. The dollars will start to shift there.

With this, we are entering an age of participation sponsorship. The team that offers these items that grab attention and break patterns will win more deals.

We at SQWAD build assets to help break that pattern-seeking with digital activations that fans engage and participate with. It helps the brand stand out so they can see more value and ROI on their ad spend.

We ran this study because we wanted to understand the extent of the sponsorship clutter and what levels the ads that we saw had the properties and utility of just “being seen”.

We wanted to understand how many would fall into those pattern-seeking asset classes (signs etc.) that lead to fans totally tuning them out.

Overall…it is high. We are overleveraged in our arenas with assets that fans will subconsciously ignore. When partners start to realize this…they will shift their dollars.

Honestly, some already have.

The next step is understanding and shaping what the age of participation sponsorship looks like. But that is for another article. Today is for understanding where we are currently.

Fans see over 3,000 sponsorship ads every time they walk into a stadium. This is the start of understanding the problem that will come to light over the next decade in sports sponsorship…and really all of advertising.

The teams that realize this and adjust their assets and ad products accordingly will win more business and drive more revenue.

Why Education > Awareness In Sponsorship

Awareness drives me insane in the sponsorship & advertising world. 

Logo placement obviously has its value, the more times the customers see the logo the more likely they are to recognize and purchase the product when they see it in the store.

The advertising industry has lived on this idea for centuries. Today, we see it come to fruition in our stadium naming rights, our jersey patches, and even that logo we battle with marketing to make bigger on our social media score posts.

But, there is a problem here. Our brains are programmed to categorize ads as we see them more and more. The more awareness placements we add, the more our brains categorize them as ads and ignore them.

When fans’ brains ignore our sponsor’s logo that they pay us millions of dollars to do the opposite, it creates a huge problem.

We can no longer solely rely on those logos and selling awareness. That is an archaic way to think about it in today’s age

There is a solution, matching awareness with education. We take our reach and instead of talking about eyeballs that see logos…we talk about fans that are educated while seeing the logo.

We can do this with creative content. Honestly, it is how most influencers grab dollars from brands.

Today I am going to dive into a process, with a few examples, of how you can evolve your awareness assets into education ones that will help your team drive more sponsorship revenue.

Introduce The Brand + Logo

In order to stand out in today’s advertising world, we must capture attention. The days of slapping logos on tweets, rink boards, and stadium scoreboards are gone simply because we as humans have categorized them as ads.

Think of it this way, can you name the brand logos on the scoreboard of your favorite team? Most cannot. In the same way, we can’t name the last 5 ads we saw on social media most of the time.

But we can recall the last 5 most compelling videos or stories we saw on social media. We can recall items that stand out and break the norm.

In essence, when we introduce a brand, we must violate our fans’ expectations in order to capture attention. 

By violating their expectation with something new, we don’t just gain awareness…we gain their memory. When asked the items they remember most after a game, our goal is to have our campaign be at the top of the game.

I posted this on social media, but one example is Toyota. The new Tundra truck coming out next season has 5 different grill models you can choose from.

Instead of simply having a Toyota logo posted, or an image of the truck, which is what 90% of teams will do… we can take this item and violate the fan’s expectations to grab their attention.

What if we instead did a video series that dove into why our players chose their facemasks to tie into the different grill styles of the Tundra? 

We can create a video series highlighting the story around each. Is it a 3-bar Dickerson mask? What did they choose during youth football? How did their choice evolve? Are there any good stories around it?

This is not normal content. It violates the expectations of our fans. It pulls them in. It is so much different than the other content out there. Who would think to dive into the stories of a player’s facemask?

As we introduce a brand, or are tasked with awareness, if we simply put logos up we will not achieve our goal. Instead, look for ways to violate expectations and grab attention to start.

If we have grabbed the attention of your fans…we can then add in product education (which as you will see below is vital for recall and purchase).

Tie in the product to educate

Let’s face it unless you geek out on a certain product…not many people like to be hit at first with education on it.

The best teachers in school that I had encouraged me to learn by tying it to something that I was passionate about. For me, it was sports. I had a math teacher that showed me how averages and standard deviations could be used to predict sports stats and immediately I went from hating math to liking it enough to learn for my love of sports.

This is the same for your fans. If you simply throw up a piece of educational content without context…your fans will most likely ignore it.

Going back to the Toyota example, we’ve pulled them in by violating their expectations. Once we have them hooked on the content, we can add the educational piece for the grills.

Let’s say at the end of every episode we have a local dealer salesperson dive into the specifics as to why the Tundra’s grill has different shapes. Maybe one has a certain pattern for more airflow intake because the model of Tundra has a larger engine for more towage.

This type of education builds context. With context, we can teach fans without it feeling like a classroom.

I want to pause here for a second and jump back to the impact that this has on the fan that is greater than simply slapping a logo on. 

If we just do a logo, you are aware of the company. If we build in the educational piece we get you immediately to the consideration stage.

If you watch a piece of content that tells you why a certain grill on a truck is designed so you can get more towage…you are considering that asset as you think about your next vehicle.

We have gone a layer deeper with our awareness and transformed it into consideration. This is what every brand wants to get to.

As we grab attention, use context to build in education and help get the fan from aware to considering.

Offer Participation

We could stop at just having the educational items built into the campaign…but our goal is to maximize the value and connection between the sponsor and fan. Participation is a way to put the icing on the cake.

Participation makes fans feel like they are a part of the action. It’s why sports betting is so popular. They have skin in the game. A sense of ownership.

When we invoke these feelings in fans…it increases recall and memory with the brand. 

Going back to the Toyota example above. If you added a way for fans to vote on their favorite facemask story, the fan has a vested interest in the video series.

Not only that, if we build in participation to the video series, a way to vote on their favorite story…the fan must watch all the videos. This means they will see ALL the different models of grills for each truck.

Last, if you have fans enter their email in order to vote…you are actively building an audience while you are educating them. This gives your team and the dealership another at-bat to turn them into a buyer.

Participation is the icing on the cake. It is how you back your education bet and ensure that this campaign and sponsor will stand out.

A More Educated Fan Turns Into A Buyer

As I mentioned before, a logo on a sign will get logo awareness…but our goal should be to get our fans as far down the marketing funnel as possible.

When we settle for just logo awareness…we commoditize ourselves as sports teams. Why wouldn’t the brand buy a billboard outside the stadium for a fraction of the cost? Wouldn’t that have the same awareness effect as a rink board in reaching fans?

When we build product education into our campaigns we do something a simple sign cannot. We authentically get our audience (our fans) to the consideration stage in the sales process. This is something that has more power than many other advertising vertices.

For example, let’s take Crypto.com. They are putting their logo EVERYWHERE in sports. On stadiums, billboards, and spending a fortune doing so.

But with such a new concept of crypto, the general population is not quite there in wide adoption. It will take a lot of sign views to get them to the consideration phase and actually purchase crypto…let alone on their platform.

What if we added a campaign that anytime on social media, in the stadium, anywhere the fan sees a dollar amount…we add the equivalent in Etherium or Bitcoin.

Here we are naturally introducing them, and educating them, on cryptocurrency…further than that, we are getting them in the habit of equating money to cryptocurrency.

The natural progression here? Make it so you can tap to pay with your Crypto.com app at games.

Again, if we can build a path from just awareness to consideration…we can make our assets more valuable to our sponsors. 

Education is the key to getting a fan from “I know your brand” to “I am considering buying from your brand”.

The Value To Your Team, Proving ROI and Longer-Term Deals

Some may think “This is a lot of work, brands are buying signs…why change it up?”

First I would argue that as an industry we should always be looking to evolve. Just because our sponsors are buying our assets today, does not mean they will buy them tomorrow.

Second, if you can build in items like education, you can increase your package deal size and length.

By showing a path & strategy to push fans to consideration, you are proving value. Most CMO’s see strategy in the form of a marketing funnel (or circle). If you can show assets that help them take your audience through the funnel…you will be able to command a higher price for your packages.

By also thinking about education, you can justify a longer package. Why? Context.

When a brand asks “Why would I buy a 3-year deal?” you have a great answer. It should be around education, tell a story that shows over 3 years your goal is to educate as many fans as possible and get them to the consideration stage of the funnel.

This is something a brand can get behind over multiple years. If the path

Education is a perfect strategy for renewals. Inevitably the question will be asked, “Why should buy more assets? Why buy another sign?”.

Education gives justification to the why. If you build an asset package that can move fans from aware to considering the brand, they will spend more with you.

If you aren’t convinced on the above…then there is an even simpler answer. Most teams will continue to just sell signage. 

In the same way we are trying to violate expectations with fans through our campaigns if our sponsors see the same old sign package over and over again…and you come in with an education piece…you will stand out.

Those that stand out win more deals.

As I wind this down, I hope I have convinced you that the next generation of sponsorship assets must include education. Not only will it grab the fan’s attention, but it will pull them further down the marketing funnel into the consideration phase.

All of the above means more value and success for our sponsors when they spend money with us. This leads to more trust, more value, and more revenue for our packages.

Gone are the days when we can simply throw logos up. We must do more to earn our sponsor’s revenue. Building education into our assets is key as we enter the new year for our teams.

Sports Sponsorship Predictions For Growth In 2022

It seems as though each year we are met with new opportunities, obstacles, and trends in sponsorship. It’s something that I love about our industry.

It is forever progressing as our brands and fans change with the times.

With change comes items that should be on your radar each year. Change breeds opportunities if you can identify them early and react accordingly.

For the last 3 years, Rich & I have done a top 5 prediction for the coming year in the sponsorship industry. It is always fun to look back and see what unfolded, but that all starts with making the predictions at the beginning of the year.

This week on The Inches Podcast we dive into the top 5 predictions we have for sponsorship in the year 2022.

You can listen to the full episode HERE, but as always I will run through them below.

1.  A spike in Influencer’s value and ad spend

The influencer market is a $13.8Bn one in the U.S alone. Brands have clearly shown their desire to advertise here with their dollars.

In 2022, we’ll see this grow even more.

It’s always good to dive into why this is such a lucrative industry so we can understand what brands see as a value here.

A few attributes of influencers are:

  1. They are digital, meaning they are on the channels where the brand’s customers live
  2. Most of the time they are authentic…meaning when they post brand items they do it in a way that doesn’t feel like an ad.
  3. They have built trust with their audience. When that influencer shows a product, they trust it will be good by association.

I think the beautiful thing about the above is we many times can emulate this with our teams. If we build the right processes, trust, and reach we can grab some of those dollars.

On the team level, if we shift some of our assets to include more digital connection with fans, add more authentic content than slapping a logo on a tweet, and really build trust with our team as an organization…we can essentially become an influencer.

I will admit, this is no easy task. As humans, it is much easier to connect and trust a person than an organization…but as we see dollars driving to influencers, I think it is extremely important to try and build these attributes into your team.

If you don’t fancy your team becoming an influencer…no problem. Internally you have human assets that you can leverage into influencers in your organization.

Some examples:

  • The people in your front office. Yup I mean your ticket salespeople, activation specialists, and in-game talent. They have products they are passionate about…you can absolutely leverage them to great authentic content around a sponsor.
  • Your coaching staff. They have passions outside of your sport. Maybe they are huge sushi fans. How can you tie that into your local restaurant?
  • You mascots. Probably one of the most underrated influencers on your roster. The amount of sway your mascot has with fans is usually immense. Look at Benny the Bull as a great example. He is a huge influencer on TikTok.

As brands look to spend more dollars in this type of marketing, you will need to adapt your assets to match if you want to grab those dollars. The teams that do this will really set themselves apart in the revenue aspect.

2. Brand loyalty is dropping, we can make up the ground

This is a bit of a blanketed statement, but an interesting trend has popped up for many brands with the pandemic and supply shortages they face.

As the supply shortage for many items has increased, consumers have started to break their brand loyalties and try other products out of necessity.

This has been especially prevalent in the auto industry. If there is a certain model of car on backorder, customers have been jumping brands for an available alternative right now.

This is a huge threat for your car partners. They will be looking for any way to keep top of mind and engaged with their brand.

This means if you have assets that provide a solution to fans not jumping ship, they will pay a lot more for those assets.

Maybe you set up a marquee club level only available to people who own certain models of cars. Maybe at your local drive-thru if you have a certain model of car you get a discount thanks to the team.

Assets like these will become premium in the next year. Brands will be dumping money into solutions to keep fan loyalty as they weather this supply chain storm. 

As you talk with partners, see if this is a worry for them. If it is, be ready for sponsorship activations that can help.

3. Sales personalization / physical touch will be key 

The pandemic has shifted the way we sell. We’ve become more digital, more efficient, and have more information than ever before on our prospects.

The problem with this…if everyone is doing the same digital prospecting tactics it becomes hard to stand out.

As Rich brings up so eloquently…this is the perfect time to go against the current to really stand out with prospects.

When reaching out, you will see an increase in results for really personalizing the outbound. This comes with taking the time to do the research on the brand, point person, and sending a more personalized note to connect.

When you do this, you stand out from the other sellers that are sending out 1,000 emails in one hit. You increase your odds of grabbing their attention.

This, as Rich brings up, also helps build trust before you even jump on the phone with a prospect. You took the time to really understand their needs, you aren’t just another salesperson automating email outbound to see what sticks.

You can also take this a step further and add a physical touch. Obviously, this doesn’t mean necessarily an in-person meeting…but adding a physical element to your outbound.

For example, when Rich is looking to get a prospect’s attention he will drop off a WHL regulation puck with his business card.

On the back of the business card is handwritten “ My GOAL is to get a meeting with you!”

Now compare that tactic to the 100’s of sales emails this prospect gets a day. Which one is going to be remembered by the prospect?

As we dive into the digital and automated sales season of 2022, the salespeople who look for ways to stand out and personalize their messages will beat the competition that sits behind a keyboard.

4. NFT’s

How could we do a 2022 list without diving into NFT’s? Non-Fungible Tokens are all the craze right now and dubbed the next internet.

Mostly, people know that they are important…but don’t necessarily know what exactly they are.

I do think that we are a few years away from mass adoption…but with that being said you should be looking at the space, understanding the technology and benefits, and seeing how it can fit into your sponsorship strategy.

For example, each NFT comes with a built-in smart contract based on the Ethereum blockchain that most are built on. This is like a more formal “If this than that” agreement built into the item.

With this smart contract you can create a campaign for sponsors like the below:

  • Create a campaign where everyone who checks in on the app at the game is eligible to receive an NFT of the Freaky Fast Goal of the game. If a player scores a goal in the first minute of the game, everyone registered gets an NFT to commemorate.

 

  • Built into that NFT smart contract is a sponsor coupon that states every time that player scores another goal this season, they win a certain offer from the sponsor.

 

  • Fans could then buy and sell that NFT openly…with a royalty going back to the sponsor for each sale.

Imagine the above NFT value for a Sidney Crosby card. If you are lucky enough to get that NFT in the contest registration you would be going home with a ton of say… free fries… throughout the season as he scores a lot of goals.

Now imagine the open market price for that item. It would be very high as the utility of more free fries is more likely to happen.

What I have just described above is how I think sponsor coupons will evolve over the next 3 years. This gamifies the coupon experience, makes it so much more valuable to a fan, and puts the sponsor top of mind for the team.

In essence, the sponsor offer would feel so much more real because you’ve earned and OWN that offer for the year.

Again, I don’t expect every team to become an expert in NFT’s. Honestly, the space is changing so rapidly that it is hard to become one unless you are building in the space.

But just as with social media…it is important to understand the basics and see how you can capitalize on it in the future. The teams that do this will be successful when mass adoption hits.

5. Sustainability will be top of mind for sponsors

Rich brings up a great prediction with this one, and honestly one that went right over my head.

Climate change is a big problem right now. We are seeing flooding, fires, and extreme weather like never before.

With this, consumers have never been more mindful than ever about sustainability when it comes to purchasing from brands. It is something that brands in turn are adapting to be more conscious and actionable about.

As this shift happens…it will be something that they will want to spend money on marketing and adopting in your sponsorship packages.

We’ve seen it in Seattle with the new CLimate Pledge Arena, we see it in our stadiums with a focus on solar power and recycling.

In 2022 you should be thinking about how your team can maximize the sustainability initiatives for your sponsors.

And the beautiful thing here is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many times your sponsors already have sustainability initiatives and campaigns in progress that you can piggyback off of to promote. Maybe there is a carbon offset they are already doing…you can adopt that into your organization, build assets around it, and maximize the promotion with your sponsor.

Just as brands have buckets of budget money to tap into for community and charity promotion…you will start to see more open budgets for sponsorship campaigns that focus on sustainability. It will become a fixture in what your sponsors are looking for in 2022.

Those are our 2022 predictions for the sponsorship industry

Again, by far these are not the only ones. Our industry is constantly changing because we as a society are constantly shifting.

What you can’t do as a sponsorship department is not pay attention to these trends and have a plan to capitalize on them. Changes bring new opportunities to those that jump on them early. 

Sometimes you will jump and fall on your face. That is ok. The failures of implementing tactics that never pan out into meaningful changes are the small fees we pay to the ones that become wildly successful.

Don’t watch those opportunities pass you by. Take action. Your future revenue will thank you.

Dealing with game postponements in sports sponsorship

As we sit here in the early stages of 2022, most of us are probably feeling a bit of bad deja vu. Just as we thought we were out of the impacts of COVID to our industry, cases are spiking across the country and world.

The good part, we’ve been here before. We are a bit more prepared this time around (hopefully).

But even the most prepared teams should have a plan ready to go for each sponsor should they have postponed games.

In this episode of The Inches Podcast, Rich and I dive into how your team should look at dealing with postponements.

You can listen to the whole episode HERE. But I’ll dive into a few key points below.

Communicate early with your sponsors

Being proactive with your sponsor is always a must. They aren’t just buying your assets, they are buying the trust that you will help them drive business returns on your goals.

If you think your sponsorship team is worried about postponements, think about what is going through your sponsor’s head who has even less information.

The first key is to proactively communicate what is happening, what your prediction is for the coming months, and how you plan to deliver value if things go bad.

This shouldn’t be a blanketed or generic message you send to all your sponsors. Again you have built a relationship with your partners, They buy from you because they trust you. A blanked statement will only make them feel like they are a customer, not a partner.

Carve out time to set up a call with all your sponsors just to update them on the postponements and how you plan to make sure they receive the value they paid for. Some may just ask to send a plan, and that is fine. 

The ones that want to get on a call are probably the most important as they are concerned about the value. If they have full trust in you to solve the problem, you most likely will only need to follow up with an email plan.

This is also a great litmus for seeing who is concerned overall in their partnership spend with you. If they would like a bigger call to go over postponements…they may not be totally satisfied with the partnership overall.

Being proactive with your partners on these game postponements is vital. Even if your team hasn’t had one yet, being proactive will immediately build trust with your partner. 

Send an email to see if they would like to jump on a call to talk about how you plan to make sure they are still receiving value despite any postponements.

Remember the goal

Every sponsor that I’ve worked with either at SQWAD or my time before selling sponsorships has had a business goal they are looking to address with their sponsorship spend.

It might be community initiatives, lead generation, driving store traffic, or even just building awareness. They always have an outcome they hope to achieve by spending with your team.

As we create a plan to replace the value lost on gameday with postponements…we must remember that goal.

We cannot simply say “we’ll add more promotion onto social media with logo placement” if that does not help reach their goal. Even though you will be giving them value, they won’t see the congruency with what they previously agreed to.

This again is also a great exercise in general for our sponsorship department.

Not knowing your sponsor’s goal is like cooking dinner for someone at your restaurant without showing them a menu. You can create the most beautiful filet mignon dinner… and it has no value if the guest is a vegetarian.

In sponsorship, we must be as fanatical about their business goals as they are. Every asset needs to be a step to maximizing that goal.

For example, if the sponsor’s goal is to earn leads from boothing in your stadium and connecting with fans, a logo on a tweet simply won’t cut it.

Instead, maybe a zoom conference with a member of your coaching staff where fans can log in and listen. Have a salesperson from the partner’s local location be the moderator so they can build trust with the fans that tune in.

Add an “enter your email to win” contest and you fulfill the lead generation part.

The above example may not reach the same amount of fans as a booth on the concourse on game day, but they will definitely get a more in-depth connection with the fans that tune in to the zoom conference.

Before you even think about what make-goods you will have to make up for the lost value of postponements…you need to re-familiarize yourself with the sponsor’s goal. That is where it all starts. 

Don’t start with the assets you have to make good, start with the sponsor’s goal and find the assets that work.

Get creative with make-goods

As I mentioned above, we can’t just look at the digital assets we have and slap logos on them. They won’t see it as an equivalent value for what they paid for.

Once you have defined the goal of the sponsor, you need to look at how you can create something to reach fans.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be something outside of the game. You could add a new contest or asset that can be played at future games. But many times the sponsor has already spent on being present at those future games.

This is where your reach outside of game day comes into effect. How can you re-create the reach on gameday through your channels reaching fans outside of it?

The first that comes to mind is social media. Obviously, a campaign here can help with reach. Can you run a social media campaign to reach fans that would have a similar value?

When the pandemic hit our company SQWAD was working with the Chicago Bulls on digitizing their Dunkin’ Race in the stadium. For those who don’t know, it has been a Bulls staple at home games since the time of Michael Jordan.

Then the pandemic hit. No more games.

Dunkin’ still wanted to reach fans for the remainder of the “season”, but with no game how could they grab attention?

We worked with the Bulls to bring the Dunkin’ Race to fans at home through their social media channels. Each Friday was a new race that they could watch right on their mobile devices.

The results? Thousands of offers were sent for fans to use on mobile orders. The Bulls were able to prove value despite the shutdown.

Sometimes it’s as easy taking what you already do in the stadium and bringing it to fans at home. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel each time.

For example, one of the least utilized marketing channels I see in sponsorship today is email marketing. You have a group of insanely loyal fans in your season ticket holders.

Should you spam them? Absolutely not. This is the quickest way to hurt the brand building of your team and sponsor.

But if you give value in the email, you can create real and lasting results. 

With a car partner what if you had a player and service team member at the local dealership do a “how-to” guide to changing a tire. Funny enough this is an afterthought for most people.

If you can bring some comedy to the video it can really be a trust-building asset that fans will resonate with. This value can be as good, if not better, than the one they originally purchased.

The ideas you generate here will last long after postponements

Only about 10% of your social media followers will ever walk into your stadium. This is a huge untapped market that you can monetize.

Sometimes when I talk with people in the industry about a postponement plan they bring up the fact that it is a lot of work if the postponement never happens.

I push back on that. For one, you can never predict a postponement. If you have a plan ready to go it will make it so much smoother on your sponsorship team.

But take that element out of it. This is a great way to add even more inventory for upsells.

If these elements work during the postponement and are successful, you have just set a precedent to adding an upsell element.

If the postponement doesn’t happen, you have the new element you want to push for the next renewal season.

Either way, you are putting yourself in a position to gain more revenue. This is not a waste of time. This will in fact help your sponsorship team sell more assets for next season.

Now is the time to get proactive on postponements

It’s been said about this pandemic that customers will remember how you helped or didn’t help, in this tough time.

Above is the easiest way to build trust with your partners and campaigns that will lead to more revenue down the line.

There will be teams who do the above…and teams that don’t. The teams that don’t will be remembered.

The teams that do will ultimately win more deals.

Which side do you want to be on at the end of this come renewal time?

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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