“Sports sponsorship should be about storytelling and experiential.”
Edgar Kuipers, client services director, Havas Worldwide Amsterdam
I read that citation in an article in Marketing Magazine and the tagline sounds populist but nonetheless very reasonable in my ears. In my world (if I set myself free of textbook definitions of marketing), marketing is about relationships. Any brand must build and nurture a sound relationship with its consumers. Whether this discussion refers to tangible or intangible products (often seen in the sports industry), the persons or corporations behind these products, it comes down to RELATIONSHIPS. Apple has relationships with consumers buying its products, so does Audi with the people buying its cars, and it isn’t different for sports brands like FIFA, NFL, New York Yankees, Bayern Munich, LeBron James, Lionel Messi or Lance Armstrong. For these sports brands, stakeholders must also buy into what they have to offer – that being a baseball game, football game or simply the association with a brand and access to its related rights as it is offered by sports organizations, sports products or sports personalities to attracted sponsors. Relationships are not established and lifted to a well-driven commercial position out of nothing. Successful commercial sports relationships are founded on ‘common ground’ – metaphorically as portrayed by the handshake following the signature on a contract where the terms are laid out. In moving forward, keep in mind that relationships may mean different things to different people so sports brands must know the ‘pulse’ of their consumers. Find out what ‘drives’ the counterparts in business engagements in the sports business. Common understanding and staying on the right path are essential cornerstones in these relationships and if these frameworks are violated a relationship can come to an end quicker than you know it – think about what happened to Lance Armstrong recently after the USADA report or to Michael Phelps after a ‘bong photo’ was revealed.
As it was mentioned in the article in Marketing Magazine, sports sponsorship has moved away from a relative effortless ‘visibility game’ where sponsors spend money in return for exposure. New media platforms contain new opportunities for sports brands and hence for sports sponsorship but in many of these relationships between a sports brand and a sponsor (at least when the lens does not focus on top sports brands but on lower tiers of the sports world) sponsorships are not capable of communicating further than names on jerseys, cars, balls, or tickets. That’s a shame given the wonderful business opportunities linked to sports sponsorship. When executed properly, the relationships tied to sports provide corporate sponsors with vast resources of emotional capital and in such very loyal target groups, which whom they can engage in personal ways. Fans identify highly with their favorite sports properties and here is a unique business opportunity to take advantage of for smart and creative sponsors (but part of that responsibility also falls on the sports brand given the interactionist and dialogical nature of sports sponsorship and sports branding). In the article, the author points to an example where Dutch football club PSV Eindhoven and the online credit company Freo constructed a commercial partnership where the club and its assets went on loan to fans – an untraditional way of executing a sponsorship, but a set-up meeting the requirements of good storytelling, fan engagement and remarkable experiences, click here for more information. Designing remarkable and extraordinary experiences, with which fans can identify, serves a purpose. This is especially true, when sports brands add inspiring stories linked to these experiences to build rhetoric content and ethos, which back ‘live experiences’ and shape a vivid community, in which fans, sponsors and sports brands can interact when being away from live events. Dialogues are vital in shaping the best brand experiences.