The Recession’s Lasting Impact on Sponsorship

There is more evidence that sponsors are still pulling back. Sports deals are especially soft. Often the “must have” in every sponsor’s portfolio, Forbes Magazine reports that opted out of its relationship with the NFL. Citi dropped the presenting sponsorship of The Rose Bowl. UBS relinquished its role as main sponsor of The Players Championship.

While all of advertising has suffered, there are three perceptions that stand in the way of a full recovery for sponsorship.

1. Sponsorship is expensive. Many sponsors immediately equate “sponsorship” with big-ticket professional sports with heavy television packages. Plus, there is the cost to help execute the deals which requires staff time and effort to make them true sales opportunities for sponsors.

2. Sponsorship is inefficient. The fact that sponsorship is associated with human phenomenon delivered through live events piles on the logistics.

3. Sponsorship is tough to measure. Okay, I have to put my bias up front. ROI geeks tend to be the ones with clean desks and short to-do lists. Still, there has been a failure among people in the discipline to fully codify the art and science of sponsorship deals with metrics associated with direct sales interactions, intent to buy and willingness to consider/re-consider a brand as the result of a sponsorship.

No matter what, sponsorship needs redefining, if not a full-scale revolution. But the truth is, every brand wants what a quality sponsorship deal delivers. That is, intriguing, inspiring moments that consumers want to be a part of. The experiences that create a sense of collective momentum. That we can join together and be a community, and the brand is there to add to the fun or make the experience even possible in the first place. The result is that consumers have a sense of longer, deeper connections with the brands they encounter. Sponsorship won’t go away. It will get re-invented as part of a hi-tech/hi-touch mashup that is already emerging.

So while Forbes considers that sports sponsorship will become more conservative post-recession, I expect that the hipper deals ranging from live music, to festivals, to collective action to change the world, will become more ambitious…oh, and yes…more measurable. Check out Pepsi Refresh, Starbucks and Levi Strauss to see if you agree.