Sponsorship vs. Media

Quite often sponsorships are lumped in with traditional media even though they offer distinct possibilities with unique attributes.  There are several reasons for this occurrence.  The biggest one is marketing budgets regularly do not include a line item for sponsorships.  Therefore, by default sponsorships fall under “media” dollars.  As a result sponsorships become media driven in order to justify the expense.  In some cases sponsorships do include some form of media, which if used correctly can be a valuable asset.  Nonetheless, sponsorships with media as the primary focus may miss the mark in regards to fully realizing the potential impact. 

Semantics may play a role in the confusion as well.  It is very common for a TV or radio salesperson to position a media package as a “sponsorship”.  A typical media sponsorship may include entitlements such as “halftime show presented by …”, on-air graphics in the form of opening or closing billboards, logo ID and on-air mentions in addition to traditional commercial spots.  Some tickets or hospitality may be thrown in and even some type of on-air contest.  All of these things provide value and are essential to a strong media buy, but this is not a true sponsorship.

A sponsorship of a sports team, an event or entertainment property is much more than a media buy.  If done correctly, it should include an integrated marketing platform with multiple consumer touch points.  Stronger properties customize this based on the sponsor’s objectives and include a variety of assets such as logo rights, promotions, brand interaction, business development opportunities, grass roots and community tie-ins.  It may incorporate some form of media such as TV, radio or on-line, but this usually serves as a support mechanism versus the heart of the deal.  A sponsorship must provide a real connection with the property and allow the sponsor to tap into fan affinity.  This is something a simple media buy can’t do.

Because of these differences, sponsorships need to be evaluated and managed accordingly.  Utilizing a traditional media buying or planning agency to evaluate a sponsorship opportunity with a team is like jamming a square peg through a round hole.  It just doesn’t fit.  A sponsorship can’t be measured in CPM’s or rating points alone.  Tickets and hospitality are not “added value”.   Sponsorships still must be evaluated and the costs justified.  However, they need to be looked at through a different lens and assessed in the context of the overall marketing strategy.  Viewed in terms of activation and how each asset may be utilized. 

A good sponsorship brings a brand to life, makes it relevant to the experience and provides value to the fans in some way.  It creates a point of differentiation and a competitive advantage.  Buying a sign at a stadium by itself won’t accomplish this either.  It may help with brand awareness and create an association with the team.  The same way buying spots during a sporting event on TV may help reach a specific audience (assuming they are not skipping the commercials).  Nevertheless, the integration and activation is not there. 

This is not to say traditional sports media is worthless.  Buying media to reach a target demo is beneficial.  Billions of dollars are poured into sports TV advertising each year for a reason.  In the best case scenario sponsorship and media complement each other.  Media may be used to support a sponsorship and is a great way to help with activation.  It will reinforce a brand’s association with the team or property.  Especially if the creative showcases the sponsorship assets such as team logos not allowed for use by competitors.  The key is to understand the unique aspects of sponsorships and to make sure the right resources are in place to make them work.