Building Brand Awareness Through Athletic Sponsorships

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Thoughtfully chosen sports sponsorships can be an effective way to market a new or existing brand. However, a company must choose its partnership carefully and weigh many factors before entering into a sports sponsorship agreement. Sponsorships, when executed intelligently, must have clearly defined objectives and valid, reliable measurement methodology for determining whether or not it is worth the cost.

Sports sponsorship should be part of a broader strategic marketing plan that takes into consideration both the long-term goals of the brand, but also of the company as a whole. The constant challenge for companies that choose to use sports sponsorship is implementing a plan for success, and then finding a method for effectively quantifying the return on the sponsorship investment.

There are four main areas of the marketing mix that a major sports marketing agreement will impact. How effectively the sponsorship plan impacts these areas will be something each company will have to devise a method for measuring, but in order for the sponsorship to be successful, each area will need to benefit. The four subsequent questions address how sport sponsorship can be an effective marketing strategy.

Does The Sponsorship Re-Shape Consumer Attitudes?

Re-shaping consumer attitudes about a brand can be extremely difficult. However, when a brand is used to sponsor and athletic team or sport, it automatically re-frames for the consumer how they see the brand. It creates a new association with the team or sport that it had not previously been.

This new association forces the consumer to think of the product or brand differently than he or she previously had. This is effective for a consumer that already had loyalty to the product or brand, as it reinforces the beliefs and trust in the product or brand. In addition, it rapidly builds a strong association for consumers that were not familiar with the brand or product. Often they have an intensely personal relationship with the team or sport, and there is the appearance that this new brand or product shares their allegiance. The marketing plan must take into account these allegiances and understand well the local history that brought them about.

Does The Sponsorship Produce Differentiated Marketing Platforms?

It is important that a new sports sponsorship marketing plan develops a new market or reaches new consumers that are not already exposed to the product or brand. Perhaps a sponsorship agreement could leverage an under-served market or expand into a geographical region that had not previously been entered. One way to effectively measure differentiation is by surveying new customers and comparing their demographics to those of existing customers.

Another method for introducing a new marketing angle for a brand or product is to leverage prior sponsorship success and expand to a complementary market segment. For example, if a company is experiencing success on the professional level of a particular sport, they might want to utilize that loyalty and expand into a geographically similar area on the collegiate level. Also, sponsoring a single event rather than a team can be an effective way to test a sponsorship agreement on a smaller scale to gauge the reception and interest level.

Whatever the method or scope of differentiation, the goal of a sports sponsorship marketing plan should be to grow an existing consumer base, expand into new markets, or create a new market that did not previously exist for the product or brand.

How Well Does The Sponsorship Drive Sales?

Clearly, the primary goal of any sports sponsorship agreement is to increase sales revenue. However, measuring a direct link from sponsorship dollars invested to sales revenue generated can be extremely challenging. There are two methods for measuring this link that can be effective. The first relies on accurate survey data from consumers of measurable such as “propensity to buy,” or “willingness to consider,” etc. These sort of measurable can then be evaluated alongside revenue trends to evaluate a correlational relationship.

The second approach utilizes the concept of “reach” and attempts to estimate the new number of media contact points a sponsorship creates and connects the increased level of “reach” to the increase in sales revenue.

The way in which sales revenue changes are calculated and correlated to sponsorship marketing initiatives is vital to having an accurate picture of how successful the initiative was. The key is that sales data sets are inherently backward-looking. No matter what the results are, the company must be agile enough to react to the sales revenue trend (either positive or negative) and have a plan to adjust the sponsorship agreement quickly. This is a particular challenge in the case of a seasonal contract, where the company may be obligated to fund the sponsorship throughout the duration of the sport’s season, which could be 9 months or more.

Does The Sponsorship Generate Positive Publicity?

Inherent to a sport or team sponsorship is a certain level of exclusivity. For the most part, a team will likely only enter into a sponsorship agreement with a single company for each product category (i.e. a single shoe company or sports drink brand). This is frequently spelled out concretely in the sponsorship agreement. As a result, the perception of fans of a particular team is that the team and the company exclusively support each other. The challenge for the company is leveraging this exclusivity into an increase in sales revenue. When exclusivity is not enough, a company must cultivate goodwill with the fan base.

Since sporting teams are supported by a uniquely local clientele, an effective way to build local goodwill is to collaborate with the team on philanthropic endeavors. For example, a charitable cause that is co-branded and co-supported by both the sports team and their sponsor simultaneously builds on the perception of exclusivity and augments goodwill.

On the reverse of the publicity coin is the situation where the sports team is not competitive or there is some sort of scandal. In these cases a strong correlation between the sponsor and the team could be detrimental to the image of the brand. Marketing Management should always prepare a contingency plan for such an event. It is important for the brand to cultivate its own image, independent of the team is it sponsoring.

Prior to entering into a sports sponsorship agreement, a company’s marketing management team must carefully consider the prior four questions. To do so, they must develop a system of measuring the impact of the sponsorship agreement. Then, with trust in their data, they must remain agile and have contingency plans to be able to adapt to the results they obtain. With the four questions in mind, a sports sponsorship can be a highly effective way to grow a brand and increase sales revenue.

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The Ohio University online Master of Athletic Administration program specializes in developing interscholastic Athletic Directors, building on the students’ passion for serving young student-athletes and running a highly-successful athletic department. Ohio University is the pioneer in sports education. By establishing the first academic program in the field of sports administration, this online program is recognized today as the premier professional training program for candidates seeking careers in the sports industry.


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