Fans cheer the walk off home run, hoot-and-holler for a game winning free throw and go crazy over a playoff hat trick. As true fanatics, these monumental moments in sports ingrain themselves in our memories. But in the background—on television and across the arena—are words and images that help pay the bills. The sponsored segments, corporation-branded seating sections and in-arena signage likely appear blurred in your periphery, sometimes distracting and often ignored. But those advertising pieces require a lot of work and creativity, and mean a lot to sports organizations. If it’s done right, sponsorship works out for everyone.
Most of us understand the work that goes into an athlete’s preparation—you can read about off-season workouts, tough practices, injury rehabilitation and early morning shoot around and batting practice. But few of us realize the efforts involved in securing and producing the corporate sponsorships that blanket the arena and fill the pixels of our television screens.
Remember when advertising was secluded to the commercials we sat through during timeouts and between innings, periods and quarters? Some of us saw foaming pints of beer, shiny sports cars, muddy trucks and juicy hamburgers. Others went to the bathroom and made a sandwich (maybe not in that order) until the game was back on. Either way, there was a clear line between the event and the advertisement. Then DVRs skipped us past those well-produced TV spots and smartphones stole our attention. But organizations needed to keep up with escalating salaries and broadcasters had to pay more to secure rights to professional sports games. Finally, teams figured out that fanatics would tolerate the further commercialization of our viewing experience. So sponsored segments gave us things like: Lexus Keys to the Game, GMC Post Game and Miller Lite Countdown to Kickoff. And in-arena sponsored signage expanded significantly. But it’s not as simple as sticking a company’s name on a studio booth or baseball diamond’s backstop. Good marketing takes tact, care and creativity or the message just falls flat.
Matchmaking is an important part of corporate sponsorship. Whether you work for a company that’s looking to attach your brand to a team or you’re a team seeking sponsorship dollars, the best pairing is one that makes sense for everyone. Geographic pairing is a fairly standard practice. Because the headquarters of Bank of America is in uptown Charlotte, the company holds the naming rights to the Carolina Panthers football stadium. And the Giants and Jets play in MetLife Stadium because the Fortune 500 insurance company calls New York City home. It’s a way to tie your brand to your city. Another form of matchmaking is to determine if the team’s primary fan base is interested in your product or service. Athletico—a Midwestern chain of physical therapy facilities—is the chosen provider of physical therapy to the Chicago Bulls. There are dozens of Athletico locations across the Chicagoland area so having the brand tied to a successful sports franchise brings in a lot of new business. This type of association is vital for local businesses looking to attract and retain their customers. What if you’re on the sports team side? Always remember that you tie your image to the companies you accept sponsorship dollars from. Ones with controversial histories or off-putting products may not be worth the trouble, even if they’re offering up the most dollars. The pairing of team and sponsor seems like a monetary transaction but it’s really much more complex.
Once the match is made, it’s time to get to work. Create an advertising piece that works well for the sponsor, the team and the fans. Research the sponsor, it’s mission and market trends to develop creative, subtle branding. Keep in mind that corporate branding is a collaborative effort. The sports organization needs banners, signs and seating areas where corporate logos and taglines are clearly visible but not obtrusive. The sponsor pays the bills and must press for creative and memorable signage. Use bold fonts, striking colors and crisp, vibrant imagery to catch fans’ attention. The good news for companies is this type of advertising is proliferating the sports universe—outfield walls, basketball hoops, ice rink boards and even the netting behind field goal posts. The number of opportunities to bring attention to your brand keeps growing as fans soften on bolder television and in-arena advertising. So get into the action! Become a sponsorship matchmaker connecting sports teams to prospective advertisers.