What do shortened seasons with no in-venue fans mean to sponsors of both collegiate and professional sports teams?
Well, obviously it means an entirely new way to buy, execute, and evaluate your sponsorship assets. It means that you should absolutely be looking to formulate a modified strategy for a season that has been abbreviated, altered, or perhaps even stands to be cancelled altogether.
Even more obvious is the need to push all non-TV advertisers into either a linear or digital asset that makes better sense for them. I say ‘push’ but it’s probably better stated to ‘strategize’ with each partner to properly perpetuate their brand’s affiliation with the team, while also making sure what you’re doing is helping them in what is now a suddenly sluggish economy.
That is key… sports teams must show that they have marketing sense during these difficult times. This is how they prove to you that you are a partner, not just a client.
In other words, now, more than ever, teams need to be in the idea business. They must proactively assess a partner’s needs and what assets they have available to exceed the needs of a sponsor who may be experiencing a serious disruption in their business. To be clear, this should always be the goal but more difficult times, as well as extraordinary circumstances, make this need even more pronounced.
Every major sports team in this market has solid leadership at the top. I am sure each one of them has sat down with each rep as well as each partner to ascertain the impact that COVID-19 has had on their business and on their marketing efforts. It would then be critically important for the team to play a role in what can be done to respond.
This level of response is what sponsors seek. They don’t want to be ‘sold’ new assets, they want to be strategically repositioned to make certain that their investment is being maximized. As I said earlier, ideas are paramount. Teams that are capable of generating better ideas will win the day.
Whereas I try not to write in absolutes, it would make sense that almost every partner has a revised plan for 2020 with an eye on what the future may hold for the team, the market, and the sponsor moving forward.
COVID-19 has challenged our world and our nation. How we respond says a lot about what kind of person we’ve been all along. One of my favorite metaphors shared with me by one of my best past bosses (Bob Freeman) states “ All captains show mastery in calm seas, only the best can weather a storm.”
Sports teams are in the midst of an unprecedented and challenging storm … how they respond will tell you whether you were truly a ‘partner’ or just another client all along.
About the author: Ed Olsen is the CEO of Line Drive Sports Marketing. He is an adjunct professor at Arizona State University and has lots of opinions on all things sports.