It’s a pause. It’s the new normal. It’s a lot of different things depending on who you ask or who you choose to listen to, me included.
We don’t know when sports will assume a return state in which thousands of fans fill buildings night after night around the country and the world. No one knows when sports will be broadcast again to millions of viewers on any given night. And there isn’t anybody out there who can say confidently what kind of sports business we will return to, based on how much has changed in the meantime.
What we do know, is that there are a lot of sponsorship dollars tied up into something that no one can see the end of.
This isn’t a time for predictions. The truth is that no one knows how long this will last and what life will be like on the other side. So aside from gazing at your crystal ball (or your belly button), what’s the best way for sponsorship professionals to plan for emergence?
Now is the time to start building sponsorship deployments, platforms and innovative activations. When social distancing restrictions lift and budgets slowly begin to open up, first movers will set the tone, trend and perhaps even the lion’s share of dollars up for grabs. If you can’t be first, you better be different. Better yet, be both.
Let’s start by focusing on what we know.
There are some clear, large trends that have rapidly evolved over the past several weeks. These changes have always been developing, it’s the COVID-19 crisis that is speeding up that change, not causing the change itself. Each of these is accompanied by a takeaway or immediate action you can take:
1. The Pivot to Digital
Digital is hardly new, but just about every business out there - rooted in digital or not - has had to look at ways of extending into the digital space for relevance and even survival. Rapid digital transformation has pushed many organizations here and that’s not going to let up once the COVID crisis is “over”.
The takeaway: Increase the amount of your digital activations. This isn’t only where the world is moving, but digital can still work in a socially distanced reality. Kind of like being pandemic-proof.
2. Subscription-Based Models
Subscription models are everywhere. Dollar Shave Club. Netflix. Prime. And they are all focused on a Direct-To-Consumer model. I have even seen local flower shops where I live launch local “flower clubs” where customers sign up for a monthly fee and receive regular deliveries of fresh flowers. There are subscription-based skincare products, comic books… the possibilities are endless.
The takeaway: Collaborate with partners who can either quickly enable a subscription-based activation and benefit from brand alignment, or explore brand credibility transfer activations that involve a delivery entity to help elevate partner brands with shared sponsorship environments.
3. Building Owned Audiences
An owned audience is one in which the brand has control over the direct messaging to the end-user or consumer. Owned assets are your website. Email campaigns. Text/SMS. Owning your digital space should be a strategic priority right now for every business as digital transformation continues. Relying on distributed audience platforms, like social media still has value, but those platforms are simply not yours. Those audiences belong to Facebook or Twitter, not you. It’s time to deepen the digital footprint and gain more direct control over your digital space and messaging.
The takeaway: Consider partner activations that will enable sponsors to gain and grow owned audiences through your collaboration. Similarly, work with partners to convert existing social audiences into owned audience segments. Then build messaging and content development around maintaining owned audiences as a priority channel moving forward.
There are a ton of possibilities within these three categories. Some of these may seem challenging ("Nope - it won't work for us", Yes, it can) there may be a lot of unknowns, and that is exactly why you need to get moving on these options immediately. The one good thing about a crisis is that it will end – and when we move into emergence, it’s the first movers who benefit from having planned and are ready to help educate, guide and collaborate with partners in a new, digital, direct-to-consumer landscape.
Carson is a Faculty Member of the BCIT School of Business and Media as Instructor, Marketing Management. In addition, through his company Direct Brand Strategy, he provides strategy and consultation for innovative brands across marketing, advertising and business operations. With over 10 years of experience in sports marketing, his clients and selected projects include the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks and NFL Canada.