Now more than ever the sponsorship market is full of opportunities. Rights holders are beginning to understand the value of their inventory from the stadiums to the talent. And with the help of digital marketing and technology, sponsors and rights holders have never had a better opportunity to reach passionate audiences and create engaging experiences.

Sponsorship is not a new marketing channel. It can be traced back to the Roman Empire. Back then the arenas were the home of gladiators, attracting mass crowds. Political leaders would sponsor these events for the chance to influence the public favour, and the public engaged with a simple thumbs up or down.

Sponsorship has obviously come a long way since then. Today’s deals can be huge, from Nike’s £150m sponsorship of Rory McIIroy to Adidas’ £750m 10-year kit deal with Manchester United. Now, mere exposure is simply no longer enough: when huge amounts of money are changing hands, you need something special up your sleeve to ensure that your brand stands out from the crowd.

The challenge today is not how to reach a wide audience – because social media has made this possible – but how to leverage sponsorship deals to enhance the brand image. This helps to build advocacy with an audience that is bombarded with brand messages and prove ROI with activation of sales.

This requires a deeper and more collaborative relationship between the sponsors and rights holders. Here are some great examples of how sponsors and rights holders have used digital in and around events to leverage the sponsorship opportunity for maximum user engagement and business benefits.

Create shareable content

Making the most of the assets at your disposal to create sharable content is something that Mercedes-Benz has done to great effect. The car manufacturer sponsors some of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments. The reason? Mercedes says, “We believe that only the best is good enough, a belief shared by our partners in golf.”

For a niche audience of Mercedes-Benz advocates, this is something they already believe the brand represents. However, for the masses there needed to be a way to demonstrate what ‘good’ really meant.

To do this Mercedes-Benz performed a stunt. In this video, David Coulthard caught a golf ball in a moving car that was hit by pro-golfer Jake Shepherd. The niche audience was turned into over 2 million YouTube views.

Sponsors and rights holders can create these viral content opportunities by collaborating to give users what they want whilst staying true to their brand truths. If they create content that is fun, extreme and entertaining, they can reach a wider audience much more easily.

Give fans an exclusive experience

Few fans actually get to attend live sponsorship events. Digital technology such as social media, however, has opened up a global audience to ‘at event’ content, but this isn’t always very rich or engaging and often fails to attract much attention.

Turkish Airlines are sponsors of basketball’s Euroleague Final Four, a tournament involving the top four basketball teams in Europe. The airline wanted to give the fans the opportunity to experience the Final Four excitement no matter where they were, so it created Eye of the Fan.

Using a head-mounted camera and the power of social media, it was able to bring fans from around the world right into the action. This allowed the fans to have live access to places traditional media couldn’t or wouldn’t go. Viewers could then tweet directly to the event, exposing their message to millions.

Sponsors should always look at ways they can give the audience more. Owning the content experience and coupling this with digital or social media opportunities can create a platform to involve and engage a wider audience, increasing sponsorship awareness.

Think beyond storytelling

Great content goes a long way to reach and excite users. But as sponsors start to experiment with digital technology, we can see innovative ways in which they can also tap into their target audiences’ passion.

Back in 2011, UEFA Champions League sponsors Heineken launched a live football game called Star Player. This was a second screen experience where users interacted with their mobile device whilst watching matches on TV. The aim was to predict what would happen at key moments via their mobile phone, and in doing so, they could score points to win prizes, including tickets to the matches.

Although this is a few years old now, it remains a great example of how to turn passive viewing into active engagement. And it does so at the optimum time – where being front-of-mind could lead to sales.

Activate the fans

So you have fans and your product together in the same room. You have badged every surface and populated their online experience with rich, fun and exclusive content. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get them to buy your product (or at least make it easier for them to start that journey)?

RFID technology is widely becoming the user tracking technology of choice by many sponsors at events, replacing QR codes. A Radio Frequency ID card is provided to users who register their details which allows them to collect content and engage with the sponsor’s activations in one easy tap for the duration of the event. These activations can range from digital brochures of each product to interactives that allow a user to bespoke build a car’s features.

Mercedes-Benz (again) uses RFID technology in its car showrooms at sports events to help users learn more about its cars. When a customer taps their RFID card, Mercedes-Benz is able to track which products that user is interested in to enrich the lead generation data for the sales team.

In competition to the RFID are Beacons. Apple has launched iBeacons, which allows Bluetooth-enabled phones to receive content pushes once the user is within a close proximity to the product, further simplifying how sponsors can activate users.

Creating a connected user experience

As digital technology evolves it will continue to open up new and richer ways to create a connected user experience.

To attract the right brands and the most valuable sponsorship deals, rights holders need to not only open access to their inventory but also provide an infrastructure that encourages digital innovation. This goes beyond the basics of providing Wi-Fi to considering other ways in which digital can be utilised, such as digital displays and touchscreens.

However, digital technology is merely an enabler. Leveraging the sponsorship is about thinking beyond simply badging an event. Sponsors need to think creatively about how to use rights holders’ inventories. With unique, fun and shareable content in their armoury, sponsors can engage and please fans and generate interest to a wider audience to improve awareness of their sponsorship.

Second screens experiences also offer sponsors the chance to involve a wider audience immersed in sponsorship from the comfort of their sofa, whilst RFID and iBeacons will continue to become a popular way to engage users at event.

With passionate target audiences and many ways to reach, activate and engage them, sponsorship doesn’t need to be passive. True ROI comes from taking advantage of the digital opportunities at every user touchpoint.


By Daniel Henderson, Business Director at Athlon

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