Sports Partnerships - An Evolution of Expectations & Assets

A Description of Tom Bridger - Sports Business Lead at Tradable Bits Authored By: Tom Bridger

Sports corporate partnerships have always been dynamic, but this past year forced a phenomenal level of evolution in the space. Whilst a lot of forward-thinking partners and teams have always pushed the boundaries of innovation and digital activations, most corporate partnerships were based on in-arena activations consisting of billboards and logo placements. If it worked, it worked. However, today's landscape calls for a different strategy. They say that necessity breeds innovation and that has been abundantly clear over these last 15 months.

Fans are slowly returning to stadiums (how awesome is that!), but despite a return to live events, I believe that some innovations in the activation space are here to stay. Having said that, let’s take a look at some prominent examples from the last year and what they did right.

The Evolution of Physical Assets

That's right, we're talking physical innovations. The focus of this year has largely been the transformation of digital activations, however, physical activations really shouldn't be overlooked. We've seen teams unleash their creativity to find new physical assets, whether that be partner logos on practice uniforms, the birth of helmet sponsors in the NHL, or the sensational stadium stand-in branding/activations that turned a disadvantage (empty stadiums) to an asset (quirky fan-engagement moments - We're looking directly at you Cinnamon Toast Crunch). These physical activations still hold great importance and continue to be a major source of revenue for teams and leagues.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cinnamoji Section - Marlins and Twins Stadium Image: The Cinnamoji Section at the Miami Marlins & Minnesota Twins left field stand sections 2020

What's in a name...

Perhaps the most extreme form of a new 'physical' partnership asset that we've seen this year is the naming rights of a team - Michigan State Men's Basketball Team. Michigan State Men's Basketball Team has reached an agreement where they are now presented by their major sponsor, Rocket Mortgage.

It will be fascinating to see whether more teams go this route, or if it was just a one-off example of a creative partnership make-good. The collegiate space is currently in a position where some sports desperately need additional funding, and in my opinion, this type of activation may be a legitimate revenue generating avenue for teams to explore.

Rocket Mortgage Presents, Michigan State Basketball Team

Physical activations continue to be attractive and lucrative; however they are limited by their reach and cost. This last year of increased digital literacy has led us to a more cost-effective and scalable solution: digital activations.

Adapting to Digital

What happens when traditional avenues are closed? An openness to activating digitally. Many industries that were traditionally hesitant to activate digitally, such as mom and pop stores, healthcare partners, and casinos - are now embracing the opportunities presented through digital activations.

With little to no ticket sales for over a year, finding new avenues for partnership revenue has been key. And adding digital assets to existing deals has been an integral component of that.

It’s also become increasingly important to explore new industries and verticals in the partnership space. The Health and Gaming Sectors (casinos, sports betting, etc.) have seen increased partnerships and activations, particularly when it comes to digital activations. However, when it comes to activating new partnerships, there is one key element that needs to be considered: authenticity. While this may seem obvious, fans are really quick to pick up on "activations for the sake of activations" - they can taste the inauthenticity. Which means, despite tanking revenues, it’s imperative that partner alignment is front and center in your strategy. Long-term, the repercussions of inauthentic partnerships can lead to apathetic or agitated fans.

Gila River Casino - an Example of Successful Partnerships + Digital Activations Image: Gila River Hotels & Casinos - a Gaming Company that has been strategic with it's Sport Partnership Activations.

From side-kick to superhero: digital is no longer an "add-on".

Digital assets have historically been viewed as a simple add-on in partnership deals. A quick, "oh let's throw them on our socials." Today, digital assets are becoming a focal point of partnerships. The digital world not only presents opportunities to increase engagement and create activations at scale, but it allows for a level of creative execution that used to come at an exorbitant price tag. Most importantly, digital assets bring two massive benefits to the table:

1) The ability to activate partners 365 days a year
2) The ability to collect first-party data.

Activate All Year Round

Sports are seasonal, but fandom is forever (well hopefully). Quite possibly one of the biggest advantages that the digital world brings is the ability to activate your partners all year round, as opposed to the seasonal limitations of in-stadium activations.

Because digital activations are not bound to the venue, they provide incremental revenue opportunities for teams throughout the year. In addition, these assets can be used to amplify a physical activation or event, providing much more exposure and value for the partner.

Trail Blazers 90s Lineup Campaign - Building Hype with Digital

Collect First-Party Fan Data

Data is the new oil, and while most of your corporate partners understand that, COVID has forced even the laggards to get on board.

Collecting fan data not only allows you to understand your fans more holistically, it also gives you the tools to personalize your marketing communication with your fans. By tailoring an offering or an ad to a specific segment of fans based on specific demographic, psychographic, and affinity characteristics (no, we do not mean just demographic details such as females between 18-24 years old), your ability to convert those fans increases exponentially. Moreover, your ability to understand who your fans are means that you're better equipped when it comes to establishing authentic partnerships. I often like to think of a fishing analogy: why cast a huge (expensive) net and catch a bunch of fish I don’t want, when I could use data to find out exactly where the fish I want are, and when they will be biting?

If your digital activations aren’t collecting data, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to take your marketing efforts to the next level. Verified data will help you increase your revenue prospects because it helps provide quality leads to your partners.

I Screen, you Screen, we're all Watching Second-Screen

Second-Screen Experiences...if you're anything like me, when it comes to gameday you've got the game on the TV, your laptop open on Twitter (to tear into the ref for a blown call), and Discord up on your phone to rally with your community. Broadcast isn't the only 'it' girl anymore. This multi-screen experience is becoming a lot more prominent. Fans are turning to second-screen experiences, not only to feel closer to their team, but more importantly, to discover a sense of community.

As a consumer of all things sports, it's been great to see teams building out second-screen experiences in response to their fans - and these experiences have become a key fan engagement and partnership activation tool during this past year. With fans barred from arenas, having a second-screen experience allows your fans to stay connected to your brand & one another, while interacting with partner offerings. The innovations we've this year are just the beginning of what second-screen experiences will become. Get yourselves ready for the creation of a truly Digital Arena.

The second screen experience has also provided teams with a means for executing make-good partner activations, such as branded 50/50 draws, naming rights, and branded gamified activations built directly into the experience.

The Future is Here, Down-Under:

If the fans in stands in Australia are any indication - second-screen activations are now a part of the sports experience. It's encouraging to see teams like the Sydney Swans innovate with their digital activations, to allow fans in the stands to engage from the palm of their hands, but also to open the doors for fans watching the game at home simultaneously.

That’s it for me folks, thanks for tuning in!

If you're interested in diving into the world of partnership activations, contact us so you can get started on your hybrid partnership strategy.


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