Comment: Sponsors go digital

Sport Business News

The increasing complexity of sports event sponsorship has coincided with the changing interests of fans. Long gone are the days when a company could plaster a stadium with banners and sit back while consumers flocked to its products.

Now, media–saturated customers barely register such one–dimensional product placements, forcing sponsors to seek new, more interactive and innovative ways to grab their attention. At the same time, the stakes are higher than ever because buying into event sponsorship has become a lot more expensive. For example, sponsors paid up to $29m each for rights to the 2008 UEFA European Championships (EURO 2008) – about 40% more than eight years prior to that – and likely spent twice or three times that via ancillary events, leveraging, activation and exposure. That makes sponsors even more keen to ensure a return on their investment and objectives. Sponsors however often find it difficult to quantify the economic impact of supporting major events. Iain Ellwood, head of consulting at Interbrand in London, said it is almost impossible to correlate specific sponsorship deals with extra revenue because the events represent only one element in a company's overall marketing strategy. " The key is to leverage [the deals] into extra brand recognition, " he said. In terms of approach, some major event sponsors still follow a broadly analogue programme, providing live experiences at the events or offline promotions to fans across the world. Others however are embracing more innovative strategies to get their messages across. For many, that includes an internet presence – either through standalone microsites or in conjunction with the events site – to offer extra services and promotions to sports fans. However, whilst investment in sponsorship microsites shows positive progress and a commitment by brands to invest in the important digital marketing space, it has also created a beast. What the industry is now seeing is a raft of generic websites with the same tired format and content that often fails to capture and engage with target audiences. Creating a dialogue with consumers has become the name of the game. However, more time needs to be spent understanding what online consumers want and how they behave as well as considering what is already out there. It is important for a brand/sponsor to appreciate that building a relationship with its target market will take time and wont happen as soon as the first ball of a tournament is kicked. The audience encompasses fans of the sport first and foremost and needs persuading that it should be brand fans too. Telling fans the score or showing them what the weather is going to be like is probably not going to achieve this.

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