Sports marketing provides excitement in ways that few corporate marketing opportunities can do. A college athletic department or professional sports franchise holds inherent value in the local fan interest you maintain. Perhaps because of this, potential mishaps litter the landscape around you. You must make choices in the sponsorships you embrace, both to bolster the image you want to project and to let your potential marketing partners gain value from their decision to work with you. The best approaches take advantage of the deep roots they have established, and focus on relationships to improve the standing of everyone involved.
Assess Your Brand
Before you start looking at sponsorship opportunities, then, you have to take a look at your own brand identity. Your trademarks and your mascot all reflect your athletic and institutional identity that you portray to the community and the world. These bring great value for you, in helping you command attendance and ticket prices at premium levels. Your revenue comes largely from how you present yourself to the public, so you need to protect and cultivate your brand imagery.
For sports in particular, a large part of this identity stems as well from your past: from the athletes who played for you, from the people and moments that provide the high points in your history. The fans of your teams take intense pride in historical highlights. This means that any of your current branding already contains, in the minds of your audience, an inescapable link to previous branding. While uniforms, logos, and colors evolve over time, they do so not in leaps, but in increments that retain that connection over time, from past to present to future.
This becomes important when you begin to assess potential sponsorship opportunities. The partners you assess should make sense for you. Rather than thinking of your brand and your sponsors as separate entities, for the purpose of each opportunity you need to approach the details in ways that fit together. A college athletic department would not want to partner with an organization with branding that works against the college’s overall mission, and a pro team should not align itself with anyone that detracts from the image it seeks to portray. Blending the branding in a way that works for both sides makes the partnership more successful over time.
Connect to Your Community
Assessing your branding goes beyond the fit of color schemes and word choices. Sports franchises and school athletic teams occupy a unique position in the community. The reach of your brand may extend through state, the country, and even beyond, but your core constituents are the fiercely loyal fans in your hometown. Everything you do matters to them, because in many ways you represent them even while you represent yourself. Tough, blue-collar towns want to see themselves reflected in the sports teams they support—both on the field and off. Similarly, towns may be primarily conservative or liberal, or have a myriad of other identities they hold close. And they want to see themselves in the teams they support.
Your sponsorships must take this into account. Rather than focusing on available money and contract details at the outset, finding the right fit for you should be paramount. Your department or franchise depends on the local fan base to generate revenue and serve as brand ambassadors. Accordingly, they serve as the most important group to consider in every marketing act you perform. Your sponsors should have reputations and marketing that connects to your community in some of the same ways you do. Local pride should never be underestimated.
However big you think, then, you cannot disregard the people who mean the most to your sustained success. Building a sponsorship plan, just like building a structure, requires you to work from the foundation up. When you move too far from where you started, you start to lose some of the strength that makes you who you are. By keeping your community connections front of mind, you set yourself up to ensure your sponsorships accentuate what you do, rather than detracting from it.
Beyond connecting past and present, though, sports franchises and athletic departments must work toward the future. When working with sponsorship partners, this means you need to look not only at your own revenue goals, but at the sponsoring organization’s goals as well. Done best, a sponsorship does not merely fill a need in the moment; it offers you and the sponsor room and opportunity to grow together. Any relationship you ever have functions best, and longest, when both parties benefit, both initially and in the long term.
One of the initial steps you should take, then, is examining both your goals and the goals of the sponsoring organization. Both obviously wish to build revenue over time, and the agreements you establish should allow this to happen. In addition, visibility plays an important role; your stadiums and facilities need to work for you, while at the same time offering displays that meet the sponsors’ needs. Each party has in mind an image and a presence they wish to project: you for your in-person and media audience, and the sponsor for the customers they hope to attract. The needs of each of you need to play a role in the packages you develop.
When your goals align with your sponsors, developing the right opportunities becomes much easier. You need to identify early and work with the sponsors that fit who you are and what you do, both during competition and in the community. Too many deals come from short-sighted approaches that fail to look at longer-term ramifications of the alliances and partnerships you create. While both you and your sponsor should look at your own needs, considering and addressing the long-term needs of your partner from the outset helps ensure that you can overcome minor disagreements along the way. The road of continuity through past, present, and future runs most smoothly when both sides are trying to move in the same direction. Align with your partners to create and fulfill your strongest opportunities.