The crossroads of marketing and sport first appeared on the map in a meaningful way 86 years ago. When a photo of New York Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig appeared on General Mills Wheaties breakfast cereal boxes in 1934, the dice were cast for the little one’s branding- lunch of champions.
As of 2020, global investment in sports marketing and sponsorship was approaching $ 1 billion per week, according to UK marketing intelligence firm WARC.
The destination of investments in sports sponsors and marketing is part of our collection of unknowns related to Covid. What we do know is that the sports sponsorship game has changed in ways that we perhaps cannot accurately assess.
To help resolve the uncertainties, I recently asked Paul Farris, Emeritus Professor of Business Communication at the University of Virginia, to share some of his thoughts.
Paul Talbot: When we take a step back from the 2020 scrum to assess where we are now in the history of sports marketing sponsorship, what strikes you as notable?
Paul Farris: Most of the time, questions of whether stadium-related sponsorships, including remittance rights, will evolve into other sponsorship benefits and brand activation opportunities.
Even smaller local efforts, such as “Packer Bars” struggle to hold back enthusiasm like that generated by and in crowds of fans. Add the mixed and polarized reactions to the political positions taken by teams and players, and we may never go down this path again.
Talbot: Part of the marketing strategy is that the organization is not defined by the products it sells, but by the benefits it offers to its customers. How can this principle be most effectively aligned with an investment in sports sponsorship?
Farris: Not all customers are created equal and many sponsorships have the greatest potential to help sponsors create value with distributors and resellers. Golf tournaments and traveling with key clients to attend professional tournaments are just two of the many opportunities to use the sport to connect with clients.
Kimberly Clark’s sponsorship of NASCAR has already been leveraged by running contests among grocery store managers to see who could create the most creative and effective displays of their paper products. The “winners” were to attend the races, meet and greet the pilots and crews, etc. It felt like a win-win for stores, KC sales, and the potential loyalty and goodwill of their grocery customers.
Talbot: In 1954, the St. Louis Cardinals (MLB) changed the name of what was then Sportsman’s Park to Busch Stadium. Over the past 66 years, what have marketers learned about the value of naming rights and how have these investments been used most effectively?
Farris: I have nothing special to offer here, except that growing up in Missouri, it was hard for me to imagine any beer other than Budweiser (then Busch) being sold at a Cardinals game.
Talbot: Do you have any other sports marketing sponsorship ideas you would like to share?
Farris: Many years ago I wrote a case about the McDonald’s sponsorship of NASCAR. Not being a fan of NASCAR, I was surprised at the intensity with which fans followed and idolized individual drivers.
At that time, there was a cake mix sold that helped bakers create cakes that modeled their favorite car. I was wondering if this was a “flash in the pan” but Google NASCAR Cake Ideas and see what pops up.
Of course, the challenge of harnessing that kind of loyalty and commitment is the inability to control what Kyle Larson and Colin Kaepernicks do next.
I wish I had a good exit strategy in place.