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Is Sponsorship ROI an afterthought?

Sports rights holders continue to come under fire for failing to measure success and show ROI. A survey in 2019 by Kantar explored advertisers’, agencies’ and brands’ understanding of marketing channels, and found that sponsorship is the least understood from an ROI perspective. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy that sports partnerships can’t be measured?

It is commonly on the agenda at conferences and criticism is widespread about how to measure investment in the sports industry. It doesn’t need to be like this. The situation is not as dire as is often made out!

The industry has the knowledge, expertise and access to the technology to be able to provide brands with the information they require. The tools are at our disposal, but in order to break the monotony of the measurement criticism, measurement must be placed at the heart of the sales conversation, on-boarding and renewal process; if it is treated as an afterthought it’s already too late.

Being part of a team that has just closed a partnership deal is hugely exciting. Months (sometimes years) of hard work across departments culminate in a new brand coming into the partnership family. Personnel on both sides talk enthusiastically about activation plans, how they’ll leverage assets and which events they’re most excited about. However, more often than not, how all this will be tracked and measured isn’t discussed at the critical time.

Instead, six months into a deal, questions start to be asked about partnership effectiveness and ROI, but the research framework just isn’t in place to show the successes over that honeymoon period.

If brands and rights holders alike are serious about measuring partnerships, the frameworks need to be planned long before a partner is announced – it should be talked about alongside rights and assets. If an asset or activity can’t be measured against the brand’s objectives, what is the point of that asset? If rights holders are happy to absorb costs on merchandise and tickets, shouldn’t they be more than prepared to collaborate with a brand, co-investing in proper reporting structures? After all, this is what brands want and perhaps expect.

Whilst the onus is on the rights holder to measure success and demonstrate ROI, brands should also play their part in pushing this agenda during the negotiation of a deal.

Creating a sophisticated evaluation framework before a deal is announced allows brands and rights holders to leverage real-time reporting to ensure KPIs are being met and campaigns amended if they’re not delivering the forecast outcomes. As well as supporting partners, rights holders can leverage this partnership data to drive engagement with new industries and brands, providing these brands with the kind of insight they’re accustomed to in their other marketing channels.

By placing data and measurement at the heart of the deal development phase, it might finally be possible to end that self-fulfilling prophecy that sports partnerships can’t be measured, and show what success really looks like.

Richard Thomas is an experienced Research & Insights Manager

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