It is unbelievable to think how the world has changed in the past four months. Where do we even start? How do we try to separate business from social, political, health and personal feelings right now? It is difficult to compartmentalize nor should we look at anything in a vacuum. However, we do need to forge ahead and figure out what to do now with sponsorships as leagues, teams and events hit restart. Albeit, under an entirely new set of circumstances with no fans in attendance, change of venues and virtual replacing physical events. We head down this path with an underlying caution, fragility and uncertainty of what may happen over the next quarter, month, week or even days ahead.
We start by assessing what has been lost in regards to number of games, events and assets. For MLB, it’s 63% of the season lost with 37% now scheduled to play or 60 games. For the NBA it’s 20% of the regular season lost with 10% replaced for 22 teams. Then we must factor in the new circumstances. For MLB, it’s home ballparks with no fans in attendance. For NBA and NHL, it’s neutral locations with no fans. For MLS, it’s a tournament in Orlando with 3 to 7 matches per team and then the possibility of more played in each respective market.
As we look at assets, certain inventory is now worthless or significantly devalued. Suites, tickets and hospitality are negated completely. Non-TV visible signs, premium giveaways, and on-site activations are also not applicable. It’s debatable whether LED, video board and game entitlements are worth something. With most of the value shifting to the broadcast, TV visible signs, features, drop-ins and live reads become the most coveted inventory. Digital and social, which is already a big focus for many sponsors will become even more valuable as the only way to engage with fans outside of the broadcast. Unique content, virtual tailgates, watch parties and second screen experiences will move to the forefront.
After evaluating the lost assets and figuring out the prorated value of relevant existing inventory, we then begin factoring in make goods or new opportunities. This is not easy as it creates a new set of challenges. Properties are turning to a combination of virtual and new static signs. This requires collaboration with the TV rights holder (both RSN and national) to determine shared inventory, placement, duration, exclusivity, etc. There is also a level of uncertainty regarding the value of these new assets and how it will appear once games begin. There will most likely be some trial and error. Unfortunately, these new opportunities may ultimately add more clutter and actually devalue existing inventory. It’s a fine line to walk.
Lastly, we look at activation. With all the changes happening in the world, business objectives are evolving too. As brand marketers, we can’t be tone deaf. Sponsorships can provide a vehicle to support the community, enhance the fan experience, and drive business. Condensed seasons now overlapping with each other will require more bandwidth and precision at a time when resources may be limited. There is only so much you can do at once. Properties are also attempting to make up for lost time and satisfy as many partners as possible while under the same limitations.
Looking ahead to the fall and winter, feels like driving through a fog bank. The NFL and college football outlook is murky at best. The possibility of partial fans, limited schedule, etc. makes it very difficult to figure out. However, like with the other sports, we keep planning, adjusting and waiting to see what happens. Having live sports back this month will be so great. We will go from almost nothing to an abundance to choose from. Hopefully it will continue throughout the rest of the year. Creative marketers will adapt and ride this wave during this unprecedented time. Good luck and stay healthy.