You may have attended a college sporting event and seen an organization’s name and logo featured on the scoreboard or streaming across a digital sign that wraps around an indoor arena, or noticed branded signage posted in the food court or lobby. Those are just a few examples of prime real estate that Colleges offer to organizations for sponsorship opportunities, and they generate a lot of revenue.
In fact, over the past twenty years, spending on college sports sponsorships has been steadily increasing with no signs of slowing down. Statista reports that spending on college sports sponsorships in the United States grew year-over-year since 2005 and amounted to approximately $1.24 billion in 2018. So, including a sponsorship in your strategic marketing initiatives is definitely worth considering.
Done correctly, it’s a great way to help build brand awareness and connect with both existing and prospective customers on a personal (and fun) level. However, to ensure that your sponsorship is a success and that your organization gets the most bang for its buck, there are several important things to consider.
Choose the right college sports sponsorship for your business
First, determine which college or colleges you would like to align with and which sporting event is best suited for your business. You should consider the college’s reputation and fan base, their connection to the community, performance and popularity of the events that are tied to the sponsorship, and of course, the cost.
Take a look at target audiences
Always consider the audience profile and make sure the venue and event(s) you choose attracts and aligns with your organization’s target market. As with all MARCOM initiatives, look at the number of attendees, demographics and geographic reach. This information will be available from the college or management company responsible for promotions and sponsorships.
Tap into your communications agency resources
Your company’s communications agency, particularly the media department, often has expertise in this area and will most likely have established relationships with various colleges in your area. They can do the research, gather and analyze the information, work within your budget and make sure you get the most value —so consider enlisting them at the outset. Essentially they act as liaison, garner the best exposure for your company, negotiate the best packages, and help with measurement.
Look for the added value and make the sponsorship work hard.
Speaking of the best packages, don’t forget to ask about value-added or “free” items that are frequently offered to sweeten your sponsorship deal. If you’ve enlisted the help of your communications firm, they will most certainly ask for these items. Depending on your level of commitment, these can include obtaining extra tickets to an event, display advertising on the college website, additional arena signage, garnering air time on game broadcasts on radio and/or TV, showing your video or TV commercial before a game, and more. It’s important that you look beyond the stated elements of the sponsorship package and brainstorm enhancements that help you accomplish your marketing objectives.
Seek out superstars
Take advantage of any opportunities for involvement with team coaches, athletic directors, athletes (obviously, “playing” by NCAA rules), and college presidents. Find out if they can stop by your suite to greet your guests, check possibilities for photo opportunities and community event appearances, etc. Team mascots are typically made available for photo opps. And those photos should make for great content to be used for social media.
When it comes to college sports sponsorships, sometimes exclusivity is possible, particularly with premium packages. For example, if your company is a bank or credit union, you should ask if there are other financial services company sponsors. If exclusivity isn’t possible, at the very least, you won’t want your signage appearing next to a competitor.
Host customers or prospects at an event
College sports sponsorships are ideal for enhancing existing customer relationships and cultivating new ones, while giving you a chance to engage with people without the hard sell. Many college indoor arenas offer premium seating, suites and luxury boxes. Consider renting a suite, order some great food and drinks and inviting a dozen of your best clients or prospects.
There might be multiple ways to use the sponsorship. If your package includes tickets to various events throughout the year, use some for internal use for team building and boosting employee morale. You might also consider donating game tickets to local charities and youth groups. This will not only foster good will, but will lead to additional public relations and social media opportunities.
Use games and contests to connect with audience
An important advantage of a sports sponsorship is that you have a captive audience that’s in a celebratory mood, especially if their team is winning! To tap into, and contribute to, this positive atmosphere and connect with the audience on a personal level, find out if there are any games or contests available for your organization to “own.” There may be an existing feature (or maybe one that you can create) in which an audience member is called upon to shoot a puck, make a basket, or answer a trivia question. Branding that promotion will provide your organization added exposure and an opportunity to provide your products and/or services to the winners.
Ensure branding is consistent at the venue
Once the sponsorship package has been determined and it’s time to submit creative assets for posting at the venue, work with your creative team to develop the material needed for the sponsorship promotion. Logos should be consistent, bold and featured prominently throughout the venue. And don’t be shy about the use of animation to gain greater attention. You want to maximize your company’s exposure by “taking over” as much of the arena as possible.
Keep your creative fresh throughout the entire sponsorship
If you have a long term sponsorship (often, there is a three-year commitment attached to these types of promotions), make sure you keep the creative fresh. Swap out graphics so they complement and reinforce your current brand campaign. Incorporate product promotions and follow appropriate seasonal themes. With increasing use of digital signage, it’s now easier than ever to rotate creative.
As you continue planning for 2019 and the future, consider a college sports sponsorship. If you do your homework, negotiate the best deal, and work it the right way, you’re sure to enhance your brand, strengthen relationships and form lasting new connections within the community.
Lynn Butler is a senior account executive with more than 20 years’ experience in marketing communications and public relations. She leads the charge on various banking, healthcare, and B2B accounts. When not at work, she enjoys time with family and attending an excessive amount of baseball games to watch her sons play at the college and high-school levels.