Sports Advertisers Are Demanding More Than Awareness, and You Should Too

Definitive action trumps the noise of mere visibility

Let me tell you a secret from the marketing industry: “building awareness” is the absolute easiest assignment you could give an agency. That’s because when you ask an agency to build awareness of your brand or product, what you’re really saying is: “I just want you to get my message to people, and you’re not accountable for making those people do anything.”

Telling people something is easy. Getting people to do something is much harder.

For decades, the vast majority of sports marketing has revolved around awareness.

No one expects you to immediately go and buy printer paper because you went to a concert at Staples Center, or to buy a pack of razors because you watched the Patriots play at Gillette Stadium. Kia doesn’t expect you to rush out and buy a Sportage when you learn that they’re the official automotive partner of the NBA.

[To read more of Mike Schaffer’s thought leadership click here]

There’s even some pretty strong evidence that this type of marketing doesn’t help a company’s bottom line. A paper from 2016 analyzed the financial performance of companies that sponsored top European soccer teams, and found that this type of sports “sponsorship is more charity than commercial investment.”

Despite this evidence, awareness marketing still has a big place in sports. But it’s not what’s driving growth in that industry. That growth is coming from sports sponsorships that can be tied to trackable results that have a direct, measurable impact on the advertiser’s bottom line.

In Moneyball, Jonah Hill’s character says, “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins.” Replace “players” with “awareness,” and you’ve gotten to the crux of what’s driving the growth in sports marketing today.

Take, for example, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Instead of just paying for exposure, the beverage giant executed a carefully structured, incentive-laden contract that rewards the Timberwolves for delivering sales and fan interaction to AB InBev. Thanks to one clause, when the team made the postseason, that triggered a bonus that increased the value of the contract. Postseason games give InBev the opportunity to sell more beer to thirsty fans, and more direct exposure for their brand at the sold-out games.

The Timberwolves also had the opportunity to earn incentives for social media activities that promoted InBev, and for successfully expanding their market share in the region along with viewership numbers.

The hottest bidding wars of the year haven’t been for TV rights; they’ve been for streaming rights that give outlets the chance to accurately track viewership and interact with fans in new ways. 

At the end of the promotion, InBev will be able to take a close look at the campaign’s data and see a clear, data-driven ROI. That ability is something that’s all too frequently missing in sports sponsorships.

InBev isn’t alone. Visa uses events like the Olympics to introduce new payment technologies. Chase and Amex use sponsorships to provide their cardholders with exclusive access to premium experiences and early ticket-buying opportunities. The hottest bidding wars of the year haven’t been for TV rights; they’ve been for streaming rights that give outlets the chance to accurately track viewership and interact with fans in new ways.

Which is all to say that sports marketers are finally waking up to the gospel of results-­driven marketing, and data that can back up those ­results.

Whether you’re bidding for exclusive rights to be the official tube sock of the NFL, or pursuing a more modest advertising effort, here are three questions you should ask before you spend a single dollar on advertising.

1. How Will This Help My Bottom Line?

Any time you’re considering a new advertising effort, this is where you should start. Draw a clear line between the money you’ll be spending and how that will come back to you in improved revenue.

If that line takes too many detours, depends on too many “ifs” or just can’t make a clear connection, consider spending your money somewhere else.

2. What Data Will I Use to Track Results?

There are so many reasons why data is important to good campaigns. Not only does it let you know if, for example, your campaign actually works, but it also gives you the chance to make adjustments midstream that can sometimes help turn a campaign from a failure into a success.

3. How Will I Judge Success?

Before you start a campaign, know what the line is between success and failure, and the data it’s tied to. I’ve seen companies that are both thrilled when they should be disappointed and underwhelmed when they should be thrilled with a campaign’s results—all because they didn’t have a clear metric for success from the outset.

The truth is that building awareness is easy and often ineffective. To succeed, you need to stop spending your ad budget to buy awareness and start spending it to buy wins.

[For more on Echo Factory’s approach to Digital Agency click here]