Sometimes, it seems obvious which club a business should sponsor. They play right around the corner from head office, most of the company’s employees follow the team, and everyone in the local area is a fan of the club. It might seem like a straightforward decision, but there are some other considerations to think about before jumping in.
Sponsorship is a business decision, and although there are emotional factors in play when making sponsorship decisions, it pays to make sure that this doesn’t get in the way of sound business sense.
In this post, the fourth in our Sports Sponsorship Vs. Online Ads series, we’ll run through the main considerations to help those businesses who are taking their first steps in sponsorship to make the right choice.
The most important thing to consider is the “fit.” Just like any business relationship, you want to make sure that the sporting organization that you choose shares the same values as your business. This can be difficult to judge if you don’t know the club, especially if it’s a small club. It goes without saying to do your research, meet with the club and get a feel for their organization. If you have plans to do great things together, you want to make sure they are easy to work with.
You should also think about how your sponsorship of the club fits with the sport and the fans. Sportswear, car dealerships, food delivery, finance, alcohol, sports drinks, insurance, and travel brands are all common sports sponsor categories with a natural fit. If your business is in any way controversial, the reaction of the club’s fans can be unexpected and damaging. In 2012, there was a huge backlash when short-term loans company Wonga sponsored English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United. With 99.9% of sponsorships, there won’t be any problems, but it doesn’t hurt to approach fan groups and get their input before finalizing a deal.
Sometimes what seems like a mismatch can actually be a good fit. Fast food and beverage companies such as McDonald’s and Pepsi have long relationships with many sports. It might seem strange at first, but these brands are attempting to change the perception of their products. They want to get across the message that fast food is okay as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise.
The McDonald’s Fun Football website, providing free access to sport for children in the U.K.
This is the perfect illustration of how a business can acquire some of the values of the sports organization it sponsors. Not just by “buying it” but by ensuring that the money they invest in sports goes directly to educating children and ensuring those from underprivileged communities get the chance to try sports and lead an active lifestyle.
Ambition is also a factor here. A small club and a local business might be happy with a basic sponsorship deal and some pitch-side advertising. A large sporting organization like a national league and an enterprise-level company will have entirely different objectives. Your long-term plans must be aligned.
The fans are the main reason for any sponsorship, so make sure you don’t overlook them. If the club’s followers have absolutely no interest in your products or services, then you will have a big problem. Get a feel for the club on social media, and find out who their fans are and what kind of consumers they are. How big is their fanbase? Where are the fans located? Does the demographic of their supporters fit your customer base or a new market you’re trying to enter? Are the fans happy with the performance of the team and supportive of the owners?
You also need to make sure that the club has enough fans to make the sponsorship worthwhile. A local store can benefit from a small, hyper-localized fan base of a few thousand, but an organization with loftier targets needs to find a club or sport with a much larger fanbase. A national or international business should consider sponsoring multiple clubs, entire competitions, or national associations. Of course, starting with one small club is a good way for any business to test the waters and learn about sports sponsorship before expanding its sponsorship portfolio.
If your services are regional, it’s wise to match the catchment area of your business with the team you sponsor. Think about your expansion plans and how sports sponsorship could help you achieve better recognition in new locations. This is an important consideration when choosing an organization to sponsor. Do you want to increase awareness and spend for your existing customer base, or do you want to branch out and introduce your business to a new demographic?
This decision should directly influence your choice of club or sport. In different countries, different groups of consumers follow different sports. For example, in the U.K., soccer is a working-class sport, while in the U.S., it’s seen as a spectator sport for more affluent consumers. It’s worth doing some research and finding out if your products and services have a perfect fit with the followers of a sport in your local area.
Depending on your objectives, results might not be a top priority, but you don’t want to back a club that’s in freefall. You want to get associated with a club that’s on the up, or at least one with stability.
Also, consider rivalries. Will you be alienating a rival club’s fans that are important to your business? If your local area has two fierce rivals, consider being a more neutral supporter of a league or association, sponsoring both clubs, or a team that represents your entire region or country.
Celtic and Rangers, rival soccer teams in Glasgow, Scotland, have shared shirt sponsors many times over the years
A good starting point is to look at the club’s existing sponsors and talk to them if you can. Also, ask the sporting organization if they have a sponsorship package with some evidence or case studies on performance. Find out how many games they livestream each season and what their plans are for the future. Do they put sponsor’s ads in their livestreams? What’s the setup?
Does their sponsorship package include any time with or use of player and club images and assets such as logos, video highlights, or interviews? What are the other advertising opportunities? Do they offer naming rights, co-branding, pitch-side advertising? Do they have a good social media presence?
Depending on the level of the organization you are sponsoring, this may be non-existent or surprisingly professional. A good judge is to compare their offering with clubs or other sports at a similar level. It pays to work with an organization that’s switched on in this area. This will help to maximize your exposure and prevent you from having to take the lead. Sport is now a digital business, and clubs with a strong presence compared to their peers are usually going places.
A good social media presence is vital because social exposures are a significant part of any sponsorship deal. If the club you intend to sponsor isn’t active on social channels or has very little engagement, it will be harder to get value from your sponsorship deal. In our next post in this series, we’ll explain why audiences on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube can be just as important as those at the game or watching live online. To find out more, read: When Sporting Moments Go Viral, So do the Sponsors (coming soon).