Once upon a time sponsorship didn't need to be accountable - it was all about hospitality, tickets and signage.
Sponsorship of sport evolved in the 1960's and was more about awareness than engagement or solid business thinking. Today, the dollars have grown exponentially. Sponsorship represents almost one third of all revenue globally in the sports industry (with media rights and ticketing) but until now has been the least professional in terms of sophistication, process or decision-making. But the growth of other forms of entertainment sponsorships (music, film, video-gaming) has put pressure on sports sponsorships which don't deliver, and as Ben Crowe (co-founder of Gemba) reports the tough economic times have fast-tracked the reality that sponsorships that don't perform will be the low hanging fruit in the inevitable budget-cutting process.
Today, successful sponsorship portfolios are treated like any other marketing tool - they need to have clear and measurable key performance indicators that are linked to the core business and brand objectives of the sponsoring company. The sponsorship department is no longer an 'island on it's own' but an integrated part of the marketing division with similar accountabilities.
The first step is evaluating how a particular sponsorship can achieve its objectives more effectively than other forms of media. Coca Cola is a great example of a company that applies a strategic, purpose-driven approach to review its sponsorship portfolio. Sponsorships that aren't delivering results for the brand or business are divested and those with a clear strategic brand role are leveraged robustly.
Sponsorship can be a particularly powerful marketing tool when a more direct or intimate relationship with your target audience is required. Sponsorships that evoke a passionate response will have a positive flow-on effect for your brand if the sponsor can offer something that not only enhances your customers' experience but also tells a story about your brand. Red Bull is an irreverent brand but it's marketing principles are extremely disciplined - and its sponsorships are always subservient to its brand positioning. When Red Bull could not find a sport to sponsor that complemented it's brand positioning (Red Bull gives you wings), it created it's own - the Red Bull Air Race. What better way to communicate that Red Bull gives you wings.
Toyota is another great example. The Toyota Legendary Moments campaign was born out of the insight that footy fans love celebrating heroes of the past. Footy fans have enthusiastically endorsed the campaign and the Toyota brand. The AFL sponsorship has greatly assisted Toyota in building a strong, well-trusted and well-liked brand, particularly in Victoria.
Although not everything that counts can be measured, measurement has become a critical tool in the process of developing a successful sponsorship portfolio. Accordingly, the more sophisticated sponsors are using research to measure the impact of sponsorship.
There is a new research tool in the market* which goes way beyond tracking sponsor awareness. Tracking people's passion for sports and entertainment is important, since highly passionate fans are three times more likely to remember a sponsor's brand. Tracking measures such as viewership, attendance, participation, impact on brand image attributes, purchase intention and sales are some of the other metrics that the best sponsors are using to measure sponsorship properties and the impact that sponsorships are having on their business.
* See: Gemba Sports & Entertainment Report. For more information visit www.gemba.com.au.