A recent Financial Brand article about whether sports partnerships are worth their investment for financial marketers sparked quite a lively discussion among our team. “Are Financial Marketers Wasting Their Money on Sports Sponsorships?” addresses some high-profile sponsorships that include everything from naming rights to prestige placements, but are sporting sponsorships where brands form the most authentic community connections? What we know from our work in the partnership space is that one type of sponsorship is not – on its face – inherently any better or worse than any other. When developed strategically and deployed skillfully, sports sponsorships can bring real value to organizations.
There is no doubt that sports sponsorships are big business. Lots of brands, including those in financial services, have prominent partnerships. According to the Financial Brand, “The biggest institutions have their names all over baseball, soccer, golf, football, and many other sports. Bank of America and Citi are among the largest bank sponsors of sporting events, each spending between $80 million and $85 million per year.” When it comes to naming, The Comeback reports that 24% of the major sports teams in the U.S. – 30 out of 123 – compete in venues named after banking institutions. And it’s not just the big banks, either. Credit unions and regional banks alike are getting in on the action, too.
With brands competing over sponsorships – especially with well-known and beloved sports franchises – there is often a mad-dash to get to the signing table. That means in their zeal for the deal, brands can be tempted overlook key elements, like whether the sponsorship is a strategic fit for the organization and their business objectives. As with all of our services, we advocate taking a strategy first approach to partnerships. What makes sports sponsorships successful is not whether you see your brand’s name in lights or placed on the side of a stadium, but rather whether you get more than simple impressions out of the deal. Impressions may look like a clear barometer of success, but they’re often a red herring.
Without understanding the value they deliver, impressions alone will tell you very little. Brands with successful partnerships know what they want a sponsorship to achieve. Awareness is part of it, but ensuring demographics align with your target is far more vital. Brands also must know the property will be a true collaborative partner that will work to ensure the creative development of assets. Successful partnerships measure awareness, lift – aided and unaided, product adoption, and incorporate an activation plan that is measured by how you're executing against it. In short, you should be looking at how a sponsorship fully integrates with your marketing communication strategy.
For developing an effective sponsorship strategy, the Financial Brand article touched on ways that brands are doing more than building awareness – they’re spurring action and creating connections. In the case of SoFi, their 2016 Super Bowl ad raised awareness of the brand, driving consumers to its website where they came to understand exactly what the online lender did. In its 2016 sponsorship, awareness was enough. Building on that Super Bowl presence, the brand sponsored the Big Ten men’s college basketball finals at Madison Square Garden in 2018, where credibility was the clearly the goal. Here, SoFi stood together alongside other larger consumer brands Gatorade, State Farm and T-Mobile.
In the case TDECU and the University of Houston teaming up, that sponsorship provides the opportunity for a deep dive into one market. The credit union isn’t getting residuals, but they want saturation that comes with naming rights to a 40,000 seat football stadium. One strong component of that sponsorship was the ability for TDECU to go beyond impressions. Here, it’s the secondary assets that shine. Getting in front of undergraduate and graduate students and opening a full service branch on campus gives the credit union the ability to begin a relationship. Elements like the alumni association affiliation deepen those relationships and speak to the value agencies bring to the table with their consultative approach.
To speak with one of our partnership experts or for more information about developing a holistic sponsorship strategy, contact us at email@example.com.