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Why we need to look at sponsorship as monetizing your influence.

Sports teams have been the pinnacle of influence in pop culture and our lives. We have pulled in fans, enthralled them with our stories, our wins, our losses, and made our brand a part of their lives.

We have amassed a huge following, but have we really done a good job at monetizing it? Many times I feel that we focus on real estate over where our influence lies with our fans.

Today, I want to dive into the idea of monetizing your influence. It’s a shift in mindset that ensures you are harnessing the influence you’ve built and monetizing it correctly.

Why we should be thinking about it as monetizing our influence.

First, I think we need to define our influence. The way I look at our influence is all of the following that our product (the team and games) captures.

Sometimes we only focus on OUR following from the team. But this is only a small fraction of the influence that we hold.

A key example of this idea can be found on YouTube. If you type in your team name on YouTube, are you the first video that pops up beyond the team account (Latest from [Team Name], etc.)?

If you aren’t, if your video is not the most viewed….you are missing out on monetizing your influence.

If a 13-year-old is putting out better content on YouTube and racking up more views…you are losing the opportunity to monetize your influence.

Worse, you are handing dollars over to them to do it.

This is why I think it is so important to think beyond the real estate you have and shift that into focusing on your influence. If you can understand where your influence is, you can monetize it better.

Now, are you monetizing your influence with in-stadium signage? Yes. Absolutely.

Your influence pulled in X fans to a central location (your game) and monetized with tickets and on-site activation.

But I think we need to understand that our influence outside our stadium is much higher (or it should be) than our in-stadium influence.

I dive into some stats on why below…

This idea is even more important with empty stadiums due to COVID.

Again if we shift our focus away from the real estate we have to influence, the hit of the pandemic would have been much softer of a landing.

A key stat that jumps out to me comes from Stellar Algo & FOS.

If this is the case, why are 90% of our assets physical signage?

If we understood this stat…we would understand that our influence is not in our stadiums. This is a HUGE issue within our industry.

This tells me, as an industry, we are over-leveraged.

Just as if you had your entire retirement portfolio in Oil…we saw a huge crash. We put too much into one type of asset class and didn’t diversify our offerings.

Now…did we think a pandemic would come and shut down games? No.

But if we would have understood where our influence was…we could have adjusted our assets easily to even deal with no games.

This is why it is so important to understand your influence. If most of our influence is outside of our stadium…why are we not focusing on monetizing that influence for our teams?

It leads to the answer to the question that many of us get of “Is it worth my time to build up my YouTube following & presence for my team?”

The answer, in my mind, is every out-of-stadium platform in which fans consume sports content should be looked at in-depth by our department and we should be pushing the ones we believe we have, or can build, massive influence.

Why? Because the majority of our fan influence is there. It lives online. It lives on digital platforms.

We, as an industry, would have been much better set up to succeed in the Pandemic shutdown if we would have noticed this.

We are over-leveraged with assets that only cater to 10% of our influence. The teams that flip this will win.

The key, it shouldn’t matter how big your influence is…it’s how you monetize it.

Notice that I didn’t remove this from the size of your influence. Size, in this case, should only matter in how large that monetization is (the amount you can charge).

What is the scale of that monetization?

If you know how to monetize your influence, it becomes a math problem. If we know we can monetize X followers to $Y, if we doubled our following how would that impact that equation?

Math problems are a machine. Our goal is to get this down to a math problem.

If you have a “small” influence, but can monetize it correctly, you are worth more than a HUGE team that can’t.

When we marry them both, scale and the ability to monetize….that’s when we unlock something special.

Let’s get tactical, step 1 is understanding where your influence is.

If we understand that only 10% of our following enters our stadium, we can start to see that our influence lies outside of our arenas.

The next question is, where? Where are fans consuming my influence? Do we know where our influence truly lies?

We can make assumptions. I would guess most would say Twitter is the top place where fans consume sports content like highlights. Instagram would probably be the second most answered among sports business people.

We need though to step outside of our internal assumptions and dive into the minds of our fans.

53% of sports fans watch highlights on YouTube….45% on Facebook.

Twitter is #6…Behind Tik Tok……..

Why do we in sports put such a HUGE emphasis on Twitter? Why do we choose a platform that isn’t in our top 5?

Again…a misunderstanding of where influence lives with our fans is where we fail as an industry. How can we monetize on these platforms if we are building in places that are opposite of where fans consume?

Let me show you who does understand this…The Hockey Guy

The Hockey Guy doesn’t have any fancy film sets.

He doesn’t have a team to edit the footage.

The Hockey Guy has a camera and content…which he has built to influence fans to watch.

The Hockey Guy has more of a following on YouTube than ANY OTHER TEAM IN THE NHL…

The video in the picture above has more views in 5 months than entire NHL teams have for subscribers on YouTube…

We are letting The Hockey Guy beat us, grab our influence, and monetize it. He is doing it better than EVERY NHL team.

How does he monetize? Affiliate links in the comments, YouTube Pre Rolls.

Who is running YouTube pre-roll ads on his page? Hilton….a brand on many of our sponsorship targets for prospecting.

Now as a brand… whom would you spend on?

Would you buy pre-roll ads for The Hockey Guy, who in one video reaches more hockey fans than you have in total subscribers…or would you buy a logo feature on a team curated content video…

The answer right now is The Hockey Guy. If I was a brand I would drop dollars on The Hockey Guy. I guarantee utilizing his influence is a more cost-efficient way to reach hockey fans.

My point here is as I stated before if you don’t know where your influence is…you will lose dollars. You have to know where your influence is before you can monetize it.

This isn’t just positioned to NHL teams. There are Youtube accounts right now that are utilizing the influence you build with your fans across all major & minor leagues.

This obviously is an overview, your fans may have different habits.

But overall, we can make a good bet that your sports fans consume much like the majority surveyed above.

My motto is always to challenge everything, but use data as a way to start that process. We can only start to challenge that YouTube is the best place to leverage our influence if we know where to start looking.

Step 2, how you monetize is the most important part.

Monetizing this has to be thought through further than slapping a logo on the content.

For one, slapping a logo on content is a bit lazy. Unless real-time impressions are your sponsor’s goals…it is taking something off the shelf and jamming it in.

Let’s say that sponsor wanted to sell more of their product. Would slapping a logo on a post-game tweet lead to trackable ROI? Probably not.

Now, what if every post-game your team tweeted a drop sale with the sponsor’s product? A link where for the next 5 hours a limited product would be available for purchase.

That is something that a sponsor will pay for. No matter the size of your influence (number of followers), if it brings a return to your sponsor…you can monetize this influence.

When we look to monetize our influence correctly, we have to look beyond what is industry standard and link it to what helps the sponsor to their goals.

Overall, we have to understand where our influence truly is in order to monetize it.

We can’t make decisions that move us forward without understanding our value. In sponsorship, we put an emphasis on physical assets for inventory when only 10% of our influence consumes in our stadiums.

In order to unlock our true potential as an industry, we must look beyond the stadium.

We need to understand where our influence is, how we are best equipped to monetize it, and execute to bring value to our sponsors.

If we can build this, we will be in the position to never let a stoppage in crash our teams.

If we can understand and build this, we can triple our revenues.

We can’t continue to ignore this…if we do, we will lose to The Hockey Guy. We’re better than that.

What is your sponsorship department the best in the world at?

In sponsorship, we are constantly competing for advertising dollars. Every day not only do we go head to head with other sponsorship advertising options, but we battle against other forms of advertising.

Digital ads are a big part of this competition. Brands ask themselves every time when looking at your package, “Why is this package better than targeted FB ads campaign?”.

With this competition, unless we are able to massively differentiate ourselves, we will become commoditized. Our assets will be a drive to the bottom on price.

There is an answer here. And it comes with focusing on a few items that will excel us to the next level of sponsorship value & revenue.

Using a model from the book Good To Great, we can position ourselves to drive maximum revenue and fight becoming commoditized with our brands. I dive in on how below.

The Hedgehog concept from the book Good To Great

First, if you haven’t read Good To Great by Jim Collins, it is a must-read. It will change your entire perspective on business.

In particular, though, there is a very important idea called the Hedgehog concept. At its core, it comes down to this description based on a Greek poem.

In this poem, a fox is looking to capture a hedgehog. In the dynamic between a fox looking to eat a hedgehog, the fox exhausts many options, constantly changing its core strategy to capture the hedgehog without success.

The hedgehog holds a simple core strategy and rolls into a protected ball with each of the fox’s attacks.

Each time the fox stops its strategy and bounds back into the forest to strategize on a new way to capture the hedgehog.

At the end of the day, the fox’s strategies are scattered and diffused, moving on many levels and unsuccessful each time. The fox sees the problem in all of its complexity, pursuing ideas many solutions at the same time.

The hedgehog, on the other hand, simplifies a complex world into one single organizing idea. A basic principle or concept that unifies & guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world is…the hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple hedgehog ideas.

Ultimately, the hedgehog is successful in its goal (survival) and the fox is unsuccessful in its goal.

The Greek poet Archilochus wrote, “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

A core idea to guide your decisions is in essence the hedgehog’s strategy.

But how do we choose our north star, our hedgehog concept? Luckily, the book gives us a way to answer this.

Behold, the Three Circles of the Hedgehog concept.

Ok, so can we implement this in sponsorship? Let’s dive into these concepts individually.

What are you (your department) deeply passionate about?

I like to start with this concept because it comes back down a lot to culture. No matter what north star we choose, we need to have unwavering buy-in on that focus. This part of the equation is the heart of your department.

For your team, what are you deeply passionate about?

What idea can you get your whole department behind?

Does your department have a mission beyond increasing sponsorship revenue for your organization?

For many teams it’s community. Our fans & the community is are our lifeblood, many times our team is the pulse & heard of our communities & cities.

Are we deeply passionate about our fans & the community they live in? If so, how? How do we show we are?

Pushing further beyond just our city and fans, what are the sub-sets that we are passionate about?

A focus on our Veterans? LGBTQ initiatives? Families? Early Education? Local Business?

The reason why passion comes into play here is if we know what drives our passions as an organization, we can funnel & focus that passion into action.

It helps us make decisions on our sponsorship prospecting strategy. If we have a passion for building up our local and small businesses, we can focus our attention on packages that serve them.

It helps us define the niche in which we will become fanatical about as we grow. If we can focus on that package, we can build assets and packages that are the best in the world for that customer.

And as a department, it helps us know why we wake up each morning. What overarching goal are we moving toward? How will this focus and passion build energy to come to work every morning around that goal?

If you don’t define this passion, the focus will turn to revenue.

In the long run, it is very hard to get a department to rally around “Our passion is driving revenue to increase the value of the club.”

That should be the result of our passion.

As we think about our department, we must come to a collective mission. Why does our sponsorship department exist? What mark will we leave? What results in 10 years from now will we be proud that we achieved?

When we interview a candidate for a sponsorship position, how do we know they will fit our culture if we don’t have a passion to rally around?

When we hire them, how do we know what direction to point them in?

It is a must to define what we are passionate about as a department. It gives our department a reason to wake up each morning. It gives us a tangible mark to hit (most local business accounts in the league and most dollars driven to them).

Most important, it gives us something that we can stand out on. We can be known for. This will help us compete against other advertising platforms.

What can we be the best in the world at?

This part is a massive part that I think we fail at in sponsorship.

As competition for ad dollars heat up, if you can’t answer this question you will lose out on dollars. If we can’t answer this question…we become commoditized in the industry. We put ourselves into a place where we become good at everything…but not the best in the world.

The answer shouldn’t be ‘We are the best at sports sponsorship’. That definition is too broad. I somewhat think even “we are the best in the world at reaching our fans.” is an issue…

Do you reach your fans better than a third-party as Barstool does? Can you prove that?

Do you reach your fans better than if the brand targeted your fans on social media?

This is why it is so important to define this as a department. It will open your vulnerabilities and blind spots.

By asking the question to your team “what are we the best in the world at?”, you start to see where your vulnerabilities are.

You also can understand where your strengths are. How do you reach your fans better than Barstool? What specific metrics, tangible and intangible, can you point to that make your sponsorship a better buy than other outlets?

Overall, it helps define the top reasons a sponsor should go with us. It creates a place where you can say “If you want to do [what you are the best in the world at], we are the place for you

For example, when I was selling restaurant ads in a traveler’s hotel book, I was hit constantly with “What about this publication or Yelp ads?” from prospects.

And honestly, Yelp was better than us at reach and trackability.

But when I sold, I focused on what we were the best in the world at: Reaching visitors.

I would respond with “ Look, the other publications are great for what they do, but there are over 3.2 Million visitors to Portland per year who spend over $15Bn on food. It’s a market you can’t afford to miss out on.”

We’re the best in the world at reaching those travelers through our Portland Hotel Book. It’s in over 30,000 rooms across the city and a guide for visitors looking for where to eat.

So if you want to umbrella reach with some of the other publications…great. Absolutely spend there. But if you see the value in reaching the visitor market and want to drive those dollars to your restaurant…our publication is the best option to do so.”

If a restaurant told me they weren’t interested in reaching the travelers market (which most didn’t)…I moved on.

The beauty of knowing what you’re the best in the world at is the ability to understand and convey why it is a no-brainer to buy with you. There is no competition. We are the best. You can go with a competitor with marketing dollars…but if you do you are doing so because you don’t believe my reach and influence can help you drive sales.

It also saves your team and department a TON of time in the sales market. It allows you to build a prospect list of clients that are much more likely to close.

It helps us focus our energy on clients that we can overproduce for. When we get a “We’re not interested in reaching the visitor market.” you can move onto clients who are.

Understanding what you are the best in the world at helps you stand out, focus, and become more efficient as a company.

Ask your department, what are we the best in the world at?

If answered truthfully, this is the gateway to breaking through your plateau. No matter the size of your team, if you can find what you are best at, you will win more deals.

Answering this question as a department is the key…but it won’t be easy.

If you asked your department this…you’d probably get blank stares.

You might get some mumbles about creating great experiences for brands and their clients…but is that really what you are best in the world at? I would argue that most sponsorship departments would say the above.

What this question is really doing is asking us to define our total value. In all of the services that we offer…what do we do the best?

It is vital that we ask ourselves that question. The answer is the foundation of our growth.

Let’s run through how you may be able to funnel this down to an answer.

Say you start with “We are the best in the world at reaching sports fans in the (city area) area.”

If I were a brand manager, I would ask you to prove it. Are you the best at reaching sports fans in the area? Over ESPN? Over-targeted Facebook ads to sports fans?

Can you prove that your in-stadium sign is better at reaching and influencing fan purchases overrunning an Instagram ad campaign?

Can we be the best in the world when put up against Instagram’s targeted ads?

As you can see, this exercise asks us to define why we are the best. We are defining how we stack up against other options in the same way our customers do when evaluating us.

As we define this, we can understand exactly what we are the best at, why/how we are the best at it, and this allows us to double down on our strengths.

It helps us stand out among other options. It also helps us understand where we take deals and how we structure and value our assets.

If we can define what we are best in the world at, we can build a plan to even more growth with focus.

I can’t stress this enough. Ask your department this, ask yourself this. It will help drive your value.

“What is this department the best in the world at?”

Last, what drives our economic engine?

This is the 3rd question to ask yourself because many of the answers to the above will drive this piece.

How do we make money? What is our business model? How do we generate revenue?

Can our team survive on selling signage? Will that asset drive enough revenue? Can we command a high price for it?

What is our portfolio of assets we offer? Can the team sustain with 90% physical assets that we offer?

Can we shave to 4 BIG sponsors over 100 smaller sponsors?

As we understand what we are the best in the world at, we can understand how to value the assets we do the best.

If we are a small team, and we can’t drive enough revenue through physical assets….we need to look to other avenues to generate it.

Look at your product offerings, double down on the ones that are the most profitable, and understand what drives your economic engine. But don’t forget your passion and what you are the best in the world at.

As you see in the diagram, your strategy comes in the middle of all three. If your economic engine doesn’t sync up with what you are the best in the world at…it is doomed to fail.

If you can understand these three, you can then build a successful plan for your team.

Flip-flopping over multiple growth plans becomes a tiring task in the off-season. With so many opportunities in advertising, so many new competitors, how do we know which are the best for our team?

By answering these 3 questions, we can make more informed decisions on the opportunities and threats posed.

We can also understand what aspects of new platforms we can take advantage of.

For example, let’s say Tik Tok comes out and is pushing through the industry like wildfire. How do we understand where our sponsorship team fits?

If we are passionate about small businesses in our city, and we are the best in the world at connecting community members to those small businesses, then the strategy all of a sudden becomes a no-brainer.

Can we be the first team on Tik Tok to promote small businesses with a series of videos? Can we pioneer a series on the best tacos in town?

Imagine being able to go to restaurants in the city and selling them on a platform that showcases their food trackably to fans in the state as well as out? What if that video gets 100,000 views in a week. What value has that brought the sponsor?

My point here is we know that Tik Tok can get you 100,000 views on a video….but do we know how we want to harness that reach and turn it into value?

If we know what our passion is & what we are the best in the world at…it is YES every time. Instead of strategizing for weeks, we can have the platform fit our thesis.

But most importantly, we can instantly identify the benefits of a new platform or opportunity and execute on it quickly.

When we thoughtfully execute quickly on an opportunity, we win. This is the super-power result of understanding these 3 questions.

So, what is your department’s passion, what are you the best in the world at, and what drives your economic engine?

In my mind, any strategy not built on these pillars is one doomed to fail. We will be in a constant state of ups and downs…but more importantly, we will miss out on executing quickly on the opportunity.

If Blockbuster had defined this, they would have probably gone to home delivery earlier. Netflix knew what they could be best in the world at and positioned themselves to take over the market.

What’s best is they didn’t even have to compete directly with Blockbuster. They doubled down on what they were the best in the world at.

In sponsorship, we are in the same position. We can build a place where we don’t compete with digital ads because we understand what we are the best in the world at. We can create a strategy around utilizing our digital reach to put our assets into a category that doesn’t compare.

As I said before, the first step comes with asking the hard question to our departments and defining each.

It may take some time…but it will be a foundation for our growth. It will help drive our ship and help us make decisions faster.

More importantly, it will help us define why we exist as a department in a better way than “we drive revenue for our team”.

So what is your department the best in the world at? I’m excited to hear the different answers from our readers.

Apple will significantly affect your sponsors and how they run digital ads.

I’ve said it here time & time again that our biggest “competitor” for sponsorship dollars are digital ads.

The efficiency and traceability of these ad platforms really make them attractive to brands to dump their money into.

Most valuable though is these platform’s ability to hyper-target AND retarget their customers. You can hyper-segment the exact customer you want to reach, and when they visit your site or interact with your ad you can serve it back to them for another at-bat.

In sponsorship, it is vital to understand these systems & platforms and why brands are shifting their dollars there. If we can understand them, we can find opportunities where our value and assets fit and flow to maximize value.

Welp, there is a MAJOR shift in how these platforms distribute ads…and with this shift, there is a major way we can instantly add value.

Below I’m going to dive into why Apple’s iOS 14 update has a new privacy feature that will significantly drop the amount of value they can receive from ads on platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram…AND how you can help them overcome it with your sponsorship assets.

The foundations of why your sponsors rely on data for digital ads

Let me start with a bit of a foundation of how your sponsors utilize data in apps like Facebook & Instagram. Within these apps, brands can set pixels that collect information on each user. Some of this may be interests, age, and how they engage with other users.

With this information, brands can create extremely focused marketing ads. For example, if you wanted to sell dog collars, Facebook will know which users either own a dog or are interested in dogs based on what they post and the

I watch a lot of sports videos…so the ads I receive come with a lot of training equipment ads. Someone is making the bet with their ad targeting that if I watch sports videos…I probably work out or train so I need an agility ladder or new workout shorts.

On Facebook ad tools you can build audiences based on actions and interests from the collected data and choose whom you send ads to.

Yup, that means that brands can choose to target your fans…in your city…who like a certain player and run ads to them. They can even use your colors in the copy to build that connection and play off the affinity they have for your team.

Yes, yes I know…they can’t use your logo, and “you have so much more power over your fans, this campaign will fail.”

But this is a real possibility that without “earning” a single piece of first-party data (email, phone number, etc.) they can serve ads to hyper-targeted audiences that they think will respond well to their ads.

Sorry if this is a recap, but it is important to understand the basics and why this move by Apple affects your sponsors.

Apple boosts privacy in iOS 14 that affects targeted ads

Recently Apple has been on a push to increase the privacy on their phones…you may have noticed the increase of questions about allowing apps to use your location in the last few updates.

Well with iOS 14 has added a question to opt-out of any type of tracking on an app when you open it. It will ask you if you would like the app to be able to gather information on the user as most pixels do for apps.

Here’s what Apple is saying:

“Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites — and they should have the choice to allow that or not, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice.”

For apps like Facebook, Instagram, and others that are ads based, this means the information collected to help companies strategically target advertising will be limited. If users opt-out of this collection, your sponsors won’t be able to hyper-target them with ads.

With fewer data points collected, the audiences brands can create will be massively limited depending on the level that users opt-out of having their data collected.

Facebook, and the businesses who use it for marketing, rely on data tracking to target users with personalized advertising. If your sponsor was running digital ads…this means the ads that worked in the past will be limited. The game plan and bread & butter tactics will be affected.

*Let me caveat this with however you feel about data collection…I am analyzing this from an aspect of what is happening. I think that it has been the wild west with our data for far too long…but regardless of how you feel about it, we need to understand what is happening and adjust.*

What does this mean for your sponsors running digital ads?

It means that the audiences that brands once relied on Facebook to create using data collected from interacting on the app will now be extremely limited. As more people opt-out of data collection Facebook won’t be able to help you reach as many of those users.

If they can’t collect data on you…they won’t know if you like dogs or not. Therefore your ads won’t reach as many dog owners.

Here is what Facebook is saying about the change:

“As more people opt-out of tracking on iOS 14 devices, the size of your app connections, app activity Custom Audiences, and website Custom Audiences may decrease.”

You may be thinking “well how many people use Facebook solely on their apps?” It’s pretty high:

96% of Facebook visits are made on smartphones.

So this will affect a large number of their users. Even though the majority of Facebook app users access through Android, most of their overall traffic comes from the mobile app that will be limited.

Your next question might be “Ok how many people will opt-out of data tracking?”. First with the recent developments in abuse of our data on social platforms…A first guess will be this will be very high.

But again, let’s hear what Facebook predicts. In a recent statement, they are saying that it could affect as much as 50% of their Audience Network.


Again bringing this back to your sponsors…but if they are running targeted ads based on the data that Facebook collects (demographic, interests, etc.) they could see half of the results they previously saw before this update.

Imagine running an ad that has a 4X return on ad spend and overnight you say it cut to half the reach.

Now, will this be an instant shift? We don’t know. Will Facebook and other apps find a way around it? Probably. They make $67Bn a year from ads…they have a lot of incentives to.

But we do know that in the near term, your sponsors will see less reach on the targeted ads they run. It should be a red flag for them.

What will this lead to and how can I help as a sponsorship department?

As marketers our job is not to complain about situations…it is to adapt. If we can adapt to the environment and obstacles faster than our competitors…we can win in a big way.

The same goes for this situation. If Apple takes something away, we in sponsorship can offer an alternative to fill the void.

So how do we do this…with our audience.

If this holds, and Facebook is affected on the reach as much as they expect, access to a targeted audience will become a premium to keep the momentum going.

Here are the two items that will trend:

  • Influencers: Instead of relying on Facebook to find those perfect customers, brands will shift dollars to the accounts that have sway over that same demographic audience. It won’t be as targeted…but it will be better than blanketed reach
  • 1st Party Data: In FB ads you don’t own the data that you target and re-target. Facebook owns it, you pay for the pleasure. This is 3rd Party Data…meaning you don’t own it and most of the time can’t see individually who they are. If you have 1st Party Data, you own the ability to build audiences and reach out directly.

Well, in sports we have both….all mixed into one.

As teams we are influencers. We can tell brands the demographics of our fans, understand they have a high affinity for the products we introduce to them, and send out messages that are going to be way more effective than a blanketed ad buys on other platforms.

As teams, we also have great data on our fans that we can segment and build audiences with. Sometimes brands pay us to collect some of that first-party data through contests (enter an email, win a jersey).

Both of these are adequate solutions to replace the lost reach on these social ad platforms. For a brand marketer that is scrambling to replace something that was probably the backbone of their strategy, if you can offer these as a solution you will win their business.

So what does this look like in a sponsorship package?

Some people may be looking at this and thinking “Perfect, let’s run a contest…collect emails…hand them over to the sponsor and let them reach out. We’ll throw some branded tweets in there too.”

We could do this…but it would only scratch the surface of results and honestly wouldn’t be recreating the value lost.

We have to dig deeper into what we offer. We are replacing one of the most powerful advertising platforms we’ve ever seen. If we go about it lazily…we will lose.

I always go back to a campaign we ran with an automotive sponsor and a team we helped run. Their goal was to connect car buyers with dealers to obviously lead eventually to a car sale.

Sponsored tweets and cold leads won’t do this. It will look good at the beginning…but the bottom results won’t be the same as if they ran Facebook ads.

We had to deconstruct the path of a fan to the dealer and lay the groundwork. So here’s what we did:

First, fans played Trivia to connect with the brand while collecting an email

It was a branded pull for the fan and something more engaging than just a logo on the side of a tweet. Fans answered a question about the team…and if correct they won a prize from the car dealer.

A great first touchpoint that conditioned them to further branding, but the most important part…it collected their email (1st Party Data).

Second, add those emails into a custom Facebook audience and re-target

I know what you’re thinking…I thought you said Facebook was losing its ability to reach customers. Why would we add them back to Facebook?

This is the key to 1st Party Data. You don’t have to rely on Facebook to find your customers. You know who they are and that they will most likely engage with your ads if you run them.

We know these fans have engaged with the car partner. We know they are fans of the team. And by asking for Zip Code, we can even segment by where they live.

We don’t have to rely on Facebook to find these people. We know who they are.

We created audiences based on Zip Code and had the dealers offer free tickets to the branded corner right on the rink. The ad came from the Winterhawks account…but tagged the local dealer. It was a gift from the dealer to build reciprocity.

We knew they would stop for the ad because of the team logo. We knew they would take the tickets because they were a fan, and we knew it would be more powerful coming from the local dealer as it was the one from their neighborhood.

We knew all this from 1st Party Data. We didn’t need to rely on Facebook.

Last, the connection came in the corner. The dealers hung out with fans and built a relationship in a non-sales environment.

Fans that said yes and took the tickets came to the corner and engaged with the dealers. They put a face to a name. When that fan was ready to buy a car, that would be the first one they go to.

As you can see, we not only recreated the power of digital ads…but we built in the power of the team’s brand to help drive results. We made it a better option than just running ads.

We took the value of a $67 Billion advertising powerhouse and made it even more beneficial for the brand. We superpowered their ads and results all without relying on the 3rd party data Facebook provided.

Ok, quick promo. At SQWAD our activations like our trivia, scratch & win, and others are built to help collect 1st Party Data and run campaigns like this. They are killer at closing more sponsorship revenue in your packages with assets that drive ROI for the sponsor. Click HERE to see more info.

If we can understand the dynamics of digital ads, we can build our value into them.

The best coaches look at their personnel’s strengths and adapt their gameplan to put them in the best place to succeed on the field. But in order to do so, we must understand the fundamentals of the game.

If you understand how these digital ads work, their dynamics, and the shifts in the industry…you can put your players (sponsorship inventory and strengths) in the best position to succeed.

I guarantee you the sponsors you work with who run digital ads are worried about their reach with this privacy change. They are probably scrambling to make adjustments.

If they aren’t…they will be when it is a bit too late.

In either situation, if you can come in with a solution that solves this problem for them, you can win their business.

No matter the size of your team. No matter the size of the company you are going after. No matter if you never thought you could close them.

If you can solve their problem, they will buy from you.

Again, I don’t know the full fallout that will come from this. No one does. But if you understand the possible consequences, you can offer assets that help no matter what happens. If there is a crisis, you will be uniquely positioned to succeed.

In sponsorship, our job is to anticipate the needs of our clients and build solutions to help them reach their goals. How can we know the struggles they will hit if we don’t understand where how they spend their money.

This is an opportunity every sports team can take advantage of today. If this truly shifts the industry the way I think it will…the teams that have solutions for it will win.

5 Opportunities In Sports Sponsorship Going Into 2021

2020 was a hell-of-a year for the sports industry. One that we’d like to forget. But as we look back at it, there are some shifts that will help shape the future of the industry.

We were exposed in many ways. But 2021 brings opportunities to thrive in the advertising industry.

We could all make predictions for the upcoming year…but really predictions mean nothing if you don’t take action on them.

This week on The Inches Podcast, Rich & I dove into the top opportunities we see in sports sponsorship for 2021.

Click HERE to hear the whole episode, but as always I’ve broken down the keys below.

Teams & leagues need to be fanatical about Gen Z attention

Some of you are probably sitting there reading this saying “duh”… but it will be more vital than ever to crack this generation, grab their attention, and be able to successfully connect them with your sponsors.

I think the biggest misconception here is the answer usually comes to “Well we need to be on Tik Tok”

That honestly is not enough. To really hit this target demo, we have to deeply understand what they need, how they consume, and how we can stand out to them in order to earn their attention.

Sometimes…it is as easy as asking.

For example, last year before the pandemic we had a 17-year-old come onto The Inches podcast and we asked him questions about how he consumes and engages with his favorite sports team.

A couple of keys came across:

Changing our business model to fit their needs

Tyler, the 17-year-old we chatted with, brought up a dilemma with the structure of ticketing prices.

He currently buys 10-game packs, a prime customer for the usual upgrade to a season ticket holder.

One key tactic we spoke about was a loyalty program, like a frequent flyer program, where Tyler could earn better deals as he purchased more 10-game packs.

His 10 game package would have earned him credit for this season and kept him in the system. A call or email to let him know that despite the increase in the ticket price… he could buy the same package and earn points.

As we look to attract these fans into our buildings, we have to start rethinking the way we structure our business models. In the same way Netflix disrupted Blockbuster with streaming and Amazon big retailers with 2-day shipping…we need to look for ways to stay relevant with this new type of fans.

Where they consume: Missing the boat on Snapchat & YouTube

We are pretty ass-backward on where we post our content to reach this generation of fans. And if we don’t go where they consume, someone else will steal our influence.

When chatting with Tyler, we asked where he consumes highlights the most, and his immediate answer was YouTube. It’s what he grew up with on consuming sports videos and is used to.

In sports, for the most part, we don’t have a great presence on YouTube. There are people who report on our sport in basements that have more subscribers than our teams.

We have to post our content to the places they consume. Many teams are missing the boat on this one and it costs us a ton of money.

Another key question we asked was “where do you consume your favorite team the most?” His answer was Twitter.

But in this, I immediately found a bias in my question. I followed up with “What platform do you consume the most on?”

His answer was Snapchat. If his favorite team put more effort into this platform, he said he would consume a lot more.

By changing the way we ask this question, we can open up so much more vital information that can point us in the right direction.

I can’t emphasize this enough. We are guessing way too much on how to reach this fan and are stubborn to change to fit their habits. The result is we will lose them to other forms of entertainment (think esports and other entertainment platforms).

This year, have conversations with your young fans. Understand where they consume and how they consume so you can adapt your channels to grab them.

The teams that do this over the next year will have a HUGE foothold going into the next decade.

1st Party Data & Fan Segmentation will be more important than ever

New advertising (digital) has a few big advantages over our legacy assets in sports sponsorship…targeting.

There is no more guessing if you reached your target demographic, with these platforms you can segment down to your perfect customer and test ad copy on them.

Even more, you can target different segments with different messaging. This means I can run an ad for 20–30-year-olds with one ad and a whole different message for 45+-year-olds.

For us in sponsorship, we usually have one segment. Our fans. You’ve all done it. Shown the buying power, age reach, and gender demographic break down on your presentation for your entire fan base.

This though won’t cut it moving into 2021. Any team that can segment their data into niches in their fanbase will win the dollars.

And it really is not so hard. If we can segment our fans into groups we can bring context to why the sponsor should pay for our packages.

Let’s say an apparel company is looking to reach families of youth players in the area. If we can segment out our fan base to the ones that have are a part of youth sports…we can build a package to target them.

This could be as easy as running a contest for youth families where they enter their email and which team they play for to win. Now you have segmented lists of fans you can batch together and send extremely targeted messaging, even to each individual team.

The package would have the overall messaging assets (signs, overall social media posts, and others) but without targeting we miss the opportunity to create messaging that really speaks to the fan.

With the above package, the sponsor feels better about the return they will receive. The assets show a clear path to their goals (reaching youth players and their families), you can prove the reach, and it is an asset that the sponsor can build a long-lasting plan with.

In addition, having 1st party data will be more important than ever with the recent changes in Apple’s privacy settings. Overall, brands will have access to fewer data points through ad targeting platforms.

This means they will rely on the audiences you have built more than ever to help reach their goals. Check out more info HERE on the change and what it means to sponsorship.

As my good friend Amir at Zoomph always says…the riches are in the niches. This unequivocally is true with your fan base. The packages that will win in 2021 bring context, segmented messaging brings context.

This will be another foundational piece to start building for your team. Start building your database and segment them. If you can create a menu for reaching your fans that is better than the overall demographics of your fans…you will win. Especially if other teams aren’t doing this.

Year-round fan engagement & sponsorship assets

Rich and I have talked a lot about this over the past 2 years on the podcast and I think 2021 will be the year it really takes hold.

What the pandemic did to us was expose our inability to reach our sponsor’s goals without the live game. So much of our assets were based upon having live-action and fans in the stands.

With this, it also brought out our creativity on how we can reach our fans without games. We saw cooking shows, throwback game streams, and countless other assets to keep our sponsors happy & paying.

And this is coming at a perfect time. I’ve talked about this before, but as we compete with digital ads the one item that really stands out is the seasonality of our assets.

With digital ads, they reach us while we are on our phones…which is all the time. The number of at-bats we have to reach the customer is every day.

With our assets, we have the length of the season….and sometimes only on game day. This limits our reach and the value we can reach our fans with.

As we look at 2021, your sponsorship department should absolutely be looking for ways to reach your fans in the off-season. What are ways we can keep in touch with them every day with content and pull them in?

What this will do by nature is double your revenue. More assets, more reach, more inventory to sell. This simple tweak can help your sponsorship department break records simply by adding more inventory.

I honestly believe this is the easiest way to take the North American Sponsorship industry from a $24Bn market to $50Bn and above. If we as a collective industry push forward with making inventory that works year-round…we will massively grow the revenue we can bring in.

Sponsors will make trackability mandatory. Your reporting should follow

I talked about this a bit in talking about segmenting, but brands more than ever will demand that we answer the question “How many sales did this lead to?”

Why? Digital ads do this in one swoop.

With a digital ad you can see how many views the ad got, how many clicks, if the person purchased, and then re-target those people to get them to purchase again.

You can even segment by customers that purchased and customers who didn’t to ensure that the messaging is correct when you retarget them.

In other words, they are efficient.

In sponsorship, many times we show how many fans saw the sign or tweet…and maybe who swiped up.

There is a missing piece to our assets to compete with digital ads. Marketing departments today are under pressure to spend money efficiently. The reporting is in real-time and they can say “We spent $X on this ad and got back $Y in sales.”

Today if your assets don’t have those metrics built in, it will be hard for the sponsor to buy them.

And if you are too late with adding this in, it will be hard to regain.

Humans are creatures of habit. The first company to build a stronghold on that habit usually takes a ton of the market share.

Think Netflix and Blockbuster. Eventually Blockbuster adapted, but by that time it was too late. Too many people had shifted their habits to home delivery and then streaming for Blockbuster to adapt.

This item is honestly the thing that scares me the most about our industry. As brands get more used to digital ads that show the results in real-time…they will pour more money into it. When they do, it takes away the budget normally spent with our team.

This though is also a huge opportunity for your department. If you can prove traceability to your packages, you can win those deals. More importantly, you can win by building a habit with your marketing managers.

When ensuring a package has traceability, I always turn to the sponsorship levels.

These are the levels we need to get our fans through in order to compete with digital ads. The more fans we get to the bottom, the more value it brings.

In addition, each level should be trackable.

We should be able to say to a sponsor:

“With this package, we reached X players who say your logo, Y of that X engaged with the content, Z of that Y took action and made a purchase, and of the Z that purchased we can retarget them with more authentic messaging.

You spent $A with us and it turned into $B in value.”

If you can offer that kind of traceability in your packages, your sponsors will have a reason to keep buying from you. Because you make them money and can prove it.

As you build these packages in 2021, you have to be able to prove the value further than views. If you don’t, with the slimmed-down marketing budgets we will see this year, you will lose dollars.

If you can prove this, you can build a habit with your brands for decades to come. In 2021, the teams that build in traceability win.

Live streams will see a BOOM in demand

The broadcast has long been the #1 revenue driver for sports. These huge deals will bring in Billions for leagues and Millions for teams.

In the past, we had to rely on local and national TV deals to get air time. There was no other alternative to reach our fans in a way that would make money sense.

Today, that has all changed with live streaming on social media platforms. You can add live broadcasts to your feed and reach your most avid fans and beyond.

I know what you are thinking. “I can’t stream my games, I don’t have the rights to that…my league does.”

This is true, but your league doesn’t own the rights outside of that time.

In 2021 every team should be streaming your:

  • Pregame
  • Postgame
  • Practices

Fans crave this inside access. It is why we watch programs like Hard Knocks and All or Nothing in sports. We want to see the behind the scenes, we want to engage locally for pregame, we want to consume far more than just during the game.

The best part is…it has never been easier for us as teams to set this up and run it. In all honesty, an iPad, microphone, and a person can achieve amazing results.

You don’t need to be a huge team with a studio. You don’t need to spend thousands on the setup. You absolutely can…but it is not necessary.

The amazing thing is sometimes a simple live stream can outperform entire legacy media casts.

This year we saw proof in many areas, but the above is one of the biggest representations of what is shifting in attention.

Verzuz set up a ‘battle” between Jeezy and Gucci Mane (both rappers) that launched on Instagram Live. The production quality was decent (nothing crazy like say an MTV Video Music Awards would be) and probably cost 1/10th of what a full-scale TV production would be.

They got 9.1M viewers compared to 6.4M that the MTV Video Music Awards got.

A small company had more reach at 1/10th of the cost by understanding where attention currently is. We can absolutely do the same within sports.

No matter what size your team is, this is an asset that will be worth a ton of money to sponsors in 2021.

Any time that you have rights to, whether it is pre-game or post-game, you should be filling with live shows. This will be an asset in 2021 that sponsors will want to be a part of and purchase.

The industry is a few tweaks away from reaching our potential. I hope that 2021 is the year we do.

When I played football in college, my coach constantly harped on our team reaching their full potential. His speeches focused on the fact that being good is not enough. Your goal should always be to reach your full potential.

Sometimes that means adding one thing to their game. Better blocking for a wide receiver that can make the deep catch. Perfecting the read on a zone run play for a linebacker.

We spend the time in practice to reach our full potential. And a team that can reach their potential can grow to heights they didn’t think were possible.

I believe that we in the sponsorship industry are a few tweaks from reaching our potential. We have perfected content and pulling emotion out of our fans…usually the hardest part for most industries. Where we are missing the mark is shifting with attention, traceability to prove sales, and offering 24/7/365 value.

We all have huge communities (fans) that have allowed us to build this industry. But we cannot be complacent with where we are. We are far from where we could be.

We are a $64Bn industry. We just got kicked in the teeth. But the path to our full potential is close. When we reach that potential, it will take the world by storm.

No digital ad platform can compete with us when we reach it. But we have to have the conviction, courage, and drive to get there.

Make sure your team is putting itself into the position to reach its full potential.