With the excitement of 2017 ahead of us, we wanted an opportunity to ask some of the world's leading sponsorship executives what sorts of trends they anticipate to see in the coming year. The Sponsorship Space had a chance to gather insights from 25+ executives from Australia to Canada to USA to England. These experts include senior executives within the sponsorship realm and known thought leaders in the marketing community.
Each executive was asked the following "How has sponsorship changed the past few years and what are some trends to look out for headed into 2017?". Here's what they told us!
Focusing on sports, as that is where my expertise lies: The basics of sponsorship remain the same, with companies looking to leverage sports properties to connect with their customers, stakeholders and employees. The biggest change is led by the fact that fans are now consuming sports through new channels. Athletes are more closely followed on social media than traditional channels of reading about them in the news. Sports matches are now being watched through Youtube or 15 second clips on Facebook. Events are now being streamed live, bypassing traditional broadcast channels. This means that for sponsors, the market is more fragmented, and riskier given there is limited historical data to back where the spend should go, and what ROI can be expected.
The good news is that the lure of sports is not decreasing, quite the opposite, with more sports gaining popularity thanks to globalization (think soccer in the US) and the ability for anything or anyone to go viral (think everything Olympics). This means that more brands are investing in sports sponsorship. We predict for 2017, as we saw with influencer marketing in 2015, new brands will enter the market, looking to emulate the success of major companies like Verizon and Nike, they will start small and grow budgets seeing the ability for sponsorship to deliver a strong ROI and be used in multiple areas - social media, PR, field marketing, logo visibility, building trust etc. We predict that sponsorship will not become a marketing channel on the side, but integrated into the other channels such as digital or content, and used to drive more results to existing campaigns.
Sponsorship has evolved into a sophisticated marketing technique that goes much beyond promoting awareness and association of an event to a brand. Sponsors now know that the most authentic way in which they reach their targets is to provide and support an exceptional experience that the target will have with the event and their interaction with the sponsored product. Whether it is a team, a sport, an event, a cultural undertaking, the most powerful way in which a sponsor truly connects to a customer is to show that customer how their brand has added to the value of the experience. This can be through enhancing a live event, through digital or socially connecting with a customer as they experience the event through broadcast or even after the event where the sponsor allows the customer the opportunity to re-experience powerful moments of the event.
These areas of brand affinity are harder to measure and a future conversion is a harder connection to make to bottom line profits so going forward marketers and sponsored experiences will need to work well with research, data analytics, and people to see the fully realized value of a sponsorship over a longer arc of time.
Data continues to be the linchpin to sports sponsorship, the teams that understand their data are ready to deliver sponsor campaigns that hit the mark. 2017 will see smart teams offering fully integrated campaigns that have been the domain of traditional agencies. Only teams and leagues can offer intimate knowledge of what content will work while integrating the sponsor message on game day and digital platforms.
Increased content, distribution and consumption has had a bifurcated effect. On the one hand, teams have less share of voice because of the ability for players, fans and media entities to efficiently get their message heard, which does increase fragmentation and theoretically spread out ad dollars. And yet on the other hand, this creates a deeper & more frequent engagement with the team, the ability for the team to create their own narrative unbound by geography, and it's provided a cost-effective means for brands to leverage their partnerships to a broader audience. The above, in conjunction with many other areas of innovation within advertising, media and technology is driving more complexity to sponsorship buying and selling, and therefore I would look out to how the gathering, organization and use of data, coupled with technology will facilitate smarter & more cost effective decision making.
Biggest change I've seen is with digital, which is no longer a passing fling. The mindset has shifted from “digital marketing” and more towards marketing in the digital world where digital is the default. That’s a big change. And it’s influenced how brands approach their investments…I don’t think I’ve seen any campaign in recent years that doesn’t have a digital component.
It sounds cliche, but #sportsbiz will increasingly focus on what the digital/social experience for fans is like - with a specific focus on developing and bringing more relevant and personalized content. Almost everyone will probably say social and digital, but as we all know, those are just mediums and mediums require good content to work.
Sponsorship has changed dramatically in the past few years and it's more of an interaction in terms of showcasing your product. Also, brands are looking for ownership stake now in sponsorship from the ground up to create content and have dominance versus being one of many sponsors lost in the clutter.
Ben Sturner (Founder, Leverage Agency)
The days of a Sponsor only looking for a signage asset in left field, on the stadium scoreboard, or on the rink boards, are few and far between. Marketing executives are being challenged more and more by their company executives to prove the ROI and ROO of company sponsorship spending. Companies want tangible results, as budgets are further scrutinized each year.
Heading into 2017, sponsorship salespeople (clubs, leagues, venues, events) are being challenged more than ever. Sponsor companies are looking to take partnerships further, to integrate products or services into agreements and to customize property content so that brands feel immersed in the relationship. When all is said and done, the mark of a successful partnership in the eyes of the sponsor, is whether consumers can fully understand what the sponsor company offers in terms or its products and/or service offering. If a consumer cannot answer that question, the effectiveness of the sponsorship should be evaluated.
Today’s sponsorship equation is about finding a balanced win-win-win between 1) The Sponsor Company, 2) The Partner Organization and 3) The Consumer.
Digital that matters will be the differentiator in 2017. 2016 was dominated by social media, fake news and ''noise" on the Web. The next great opportunity will be for sponsors and for sponsorship properties to create relevant, timely digital and social content that the audience actually cares about.
The measurement of return on sponsorship investment has never been more clear, with the rise of social media. This year, for example, we learned that hockey fans value a Retweet more than an autograph. For 2017, we expect to see more innovation to personalize sponsorship using social, most significantly with video. Video sponsorship, specifically with our Twitter Amplify program, is a core focus for us this year in Canada, and the launch of a live 360 video experience on Periscope is just one example of the innovative video tools brands can take advantage of in 2017. We can't wait.
Changes in the sponsorship industry are directly tied to fan/consumer migration away from broadcast media to digital platforms. As sports consumption evolves, this directly affects both media rights holders and fans, but puts the sponsor squarely in the middle. How do they react to these changing times, how do they utilize their agencies differently? ESPN and Turner, for example, know they are losing subscribers so they are trying to re-capture audiences via their integrated digital offerings. This puts the responsibility squarely on sports advertisers who’ve grown accustomed to large audiences as they seek to align with marquee events, hoping hyper social fans will spark a conversation about their campaign activations.
Despite a falling ratings storyline early in the season, the NFL still accounted for more than half of the top 50 most watched broadcasts in 2016 followed by the Olympics, World Series and NBA Finals. According to Ad Age, very few of the top 50 most watched broadcasts were non-sports programming, cementing live viewership as the common denominator on the list and the single most important ingredient to advertisers today.
Combined scale remains critically important currency for brands so I expect advertisers will collaborate with networks/IP rights holders to find innovative ways to integrate into live moments (e.g. Burger King/Mayweather/Baffert , Heineken/UEFA Champions League, etc.) by sometimes paying a premium, especially if budgets don’t allow year-round alignment as an “official partner.” For those who have aligned long-term, the fusion of agency collaboration across creative, buying, sports and digital is quintessential to success. Brands need to be led by data analytics so they can “identify” where target consumers are migrating to so sponsorship activations can extend beyond the confines of traditional amplification environments.