Opinion: Sport sponsorship is opening up

11 Apr 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

In this exclusive feature for Sport Industry Group, GumGum Sports Commercial Director Sam Grimley explains how the tech-driven evolution of sponsorship is opening up the sector to smaller brands…

So far it has been difficult for lower-budget brands to break into the sponsorship market, with competition for teams driving up price points to the seven-figure mark.

But the world of sports sponsorship is evolving. Once the domain of only the wealthiest brands, we’re now seeing more unusual companies getting involved – from mattress company MLILY, who sponsor Manchester United, to Jaffa oranges, title sponsor of England’s Women’s Hockey Team. At the same time, brands with lower budgets are finally getting a slice of the pie, thanks to significant changes in broader consumer culture and better tracking technology around budgets.

It’s probably no surprise that women’s sports are spearheading this trend. Last year, a major global study revealed that 84% of general sports fans - more than half of whom are men - are interested in women's sport. Greater media exposure, consequently, has thrust women’s sports into the spotlight, with even mainstream fan communities such as Sportbible starting to pay more attention to the accomplishments of women.

It’s no surprise then, that big names like Boots and Barclays have started to weigh in on this. But, for the time being at least, women’s teams still tend to operate at lower price points than their male counterparts. And while this might seem unfair, it’s actually great news for smaller or lesser-known brands, because it means the possibility of securing a high-visibility opportunity – like getting their name or logo on the shirt of a football or rugby team - is much more realistic.

As global audiences shift away from traditional, binary views on sports, we will also see increasing pressure on teams to think outside the box when it comes to who they’re working with. This strive towards diversity is really going to open the door for smaller brands.

Meanwhile, the advent of social media means magnifying the value of even the most budget-friendly sponsorship deals has never been easier.

Traditionally, airtime has been a priority for brands negotiating sponsorship deals. Securing a match-side billboard for a big game, for instance, is still a holy grail opportunity. But with more people than ever consuming sports content through social media or via their mobile devices, it’s becoming clear there is significant commercial value to be generated across other channels as well – particularly social media.

That’s because every time a photo, video clip or GIF from a sports event is tweeted, re-grammed or shared on social, the value of that moment is magnified tenfold for the brand featured.

When Wayne Rooney moved to DC United in the US, for example, it brought in 3.7 million social engagements. This equated to US$1.7 million in media value for DC United’s partners.

At the same time, the availability of measurement tools like computer vision and in-image analytics mean it’s now much easier for brands to track spend vs ROI on all their channels, including social. Having an accurate overview of the full value gained from sponsorship deals is paramount for informing future decisions around spend, so for smaller brands, having all this information in one place can help them get a lot more value out of their budgets.

Sports evoke a passion in people that other entertainment mediums struggle to compete with, so it’s no surprise that brands of all sizes want to be right in the thick of it.

But between cultural shifts, increased social media exposure and the technology available to track the value of sponsorship spend more accurately than ever before, its time smaller brands aim for the goalposts by taking advantage of the unique opportunities the world of sports sponsorship has to offer.