Bigger Isn’t Always Better: How Brands Can Hit Sports Partnerships Out Of The Park

Bigger Isn’t Always Better: How Brands Can Hit Sports Partnerships Out Of The Park

The sporting landscape of 2024 looks significantly different to what it did 15 years ago. But what does this mean for advertisers? What mistakes are being made, what has worked well, and what opportunities are still being overlooked?

Interest in sport is at an all-time high and, thanks in part to the Matildas, the landscape looks more diverse than ever before. Sports partnerships have long been a way for brands to connect with target audiences, but with all the changes in the landscape, critical mistakes are still being made, and vast areas of untapped potential are being overlooked.

B&T sat down with Jo-Ann Foo, senior director at marketing measurement company Analytic Partners, to discuss important insights into sports marketing and how brands can effectively utilise these partnerships.

Think outside of the box

Put simply, you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Too many brands make the mistake of putting their total investment into naming rights and not covering other branches, leaving no funds to amplify or support that investment. It’s not enough to simply have your name associated with an event or code; more commitment is required.

Connecting with more minor sports and women’s divisions also offers excellent value. These divisions have been found to deliver a two- to three-times better ROI than some of the opportunities that mainstream men’s sports offer. “Think about things that not necessarily everyone is trying to get in on so you have less clutter, and there’s less noise. So there’s more opportunity to make the most of that position that you’ve got,” said Foo.

“It pays to not get too hung up on your passions and take an objective view in terms of what you’re assessing and what you’re buying. And make sure you’re not necessarily just buying the team’s sponsorship but also having things to support it”.

Chris Colter, chief strategy and product officer at Initiative, knows a lot about thinking outside the box when it comes to sports marketing. Colter has been instrumental in several successful sports partnerships, including the B&T Award-winning cricket cover campaign (more on this later).

“Too many brands invest millions in sporting sponsorships to simply surround the experience and hope the halo delivers for them. Brands that go beyond this to actively contribute to the experience in a way that’s distinctively ownable to them achieve disproportionate returns,” he said.

Thinking only in the short-term

Brands tend to think purely in the short term, not considering how to leverage a partnership over the long term. It’s about more than what comes back after a one-year partnership; brands must commit to the long term to develop a decent financial return and a positive association with a team or competition. Think about brands like XXXX’s connection with the Brisbane Broncos, which is now entering its 30th year – longevity has supported the success of both parties.

“Sponsorship does pay back over time; you can’t expect the impacts to come through immediately. I looked at the short-term ROI sponsorship within the year; it will probably look pretty bad compared to the other more traditional types of media you can run. But if you look at sponsorship over two to three years, that’s when it comes back. So you can get up to two or three times back over that long-term period,” said Foo.

Thinking bigger is better

When investing in advertising around sports, the pinnacle has long been considered the Super Bowl. However, this is not always achievable or practical for brands, and interestingly, there is also not much evidence to support this as the best option in terms of return on investment.

Analytic Partners found that when unpacking the Super Bowl results, the campaigns delivered a short-term ROI that was 20- 50 per cent lower than a comparable alternative investment. This number was even higher with more recognisable brands, which offered an ROI that was 75 per cent lower than other marketing activities.

“Brands tend to think that’s enough. But actually, what we know from even broader sponsorship is that you can get four to five times back outside of the event itself,” said Foo. It’s about making sure that you’re supporting pre-event activities, that you’ve got post-event activities happening as well, and that you can tell people things beyond just the ad itself. It’s really about ensuring you’re engaging the customer and that you’ve got longevity beyond the event itself”.

Keeping it relevant

Too often, we see brands associating with teams in a way that doesn’t really add up, and this can lead to a brand becoming lost in the noise of more relevant partnerships. “It comes back to just making sure that your brand has a reason for being there,” Foo said.

A perfect example of a relevant partnership is McDonald’s or KFC’s partnerships with several major sporting teams and organisations. Fast food is often criticised for partnering with sports teams, but given how we consume sports, it makes perfect sense to put these brands at the forefront of our minds when we will most likely want to engage with them. “You go to a game, and you want something afterwards. You’ve had beers all afternoon, and you want something quick and easy to eat on the way home, and therefore, having those brands makes sense,” Foo said.

Overall, the key for brands entering the sports sponsorship world is to be creative and think outside the box to find new ways to engage potential customers and extend the game experience beyond what can be seen on the field.

NRMA & Initiative – A Masterclass In Successful Sports Partnerships

Last year, NRMA Insurance became the naming rights sponsor of Australian Test Cricket, but it recognised that that would not be enough to connect with fans and that brands must add value to sports rather than simply sponsoring the code and resorting to excessive logo slapping.

Historical weather data interrogation uncovered that, while Australian cricket is synonymous with the sun, the most-watched iconic Sydney Test is consistently the most washed-out. Lousy weather had the potential to increase the risk of sponsorship washout. Protecting the pitch is critical to the integrity of the game, resulting in the rollout of weatherproof covers at the first hint of rain. Yet despite their significance and century-long use, their giant plain white design has never been altered. With that revelation, NRMA, in partnership with Initiative and MBCS, transformed the most untapped media asset in professional sport into a new distinctive media device, one that acted as a powerful manifestation of NRMA’s commitment to HELP.

Bigger than any billboard in Australia, the new out-of-home channel delivered unrivalled cultural visibility, ensuring inclement weather didn’t ‘washout’ NRMA’s sponsorship but strengthened it. This campaign proves the power of finding exciting and differentiated ways to reinforce NRMA Insurance’s brand purpose and, through a media-led idea, helped create disproportionate fan and cultural attention.

“This dormant media channel, left unbranded for centuries, would not have been unlocked for any advertiser, but the right one and the cultural shortcut to protecting the game against climactic events proved too symbolic to ignore. That activation alone unlocked over 35 minutes of Ultra HD in-broadcast coverage for the brand, which helped NRMA Insurance stand out vs. other sponsors who chased sporadic 30” spots in highly cluttered space,” said Colter.

“This not only helped NRMA Insurance deliver record first-year sponsor recall scores but propelled them to the third most-synonymous brand in cricket, behind CBA and KFC, both brands with 20+ years involvement”.

Interested in what else has worked well?

In our Spotlight on Sponsors series, B&T has unpacked all the major sponsorship news outside of the AFL and NRL.




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Analytic Partners Sports Sponsorship

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