"Self-interest drives sports sponsorship"?

Updated: Jul 22




By Ian Thompson


In many respects, sponsorship has been through a period of boom. Over the last 5 years or so, revenues have grown by 4%-5% pa (source: IEG), the scope of opportunity has expanded and the options for activation and amplification are only limited by budget and imagination.


Additionally, there’s far more and indeed much richer data about fans and their purchasing behaviour – with new and evolved companies offering it to brands and the sector.

Further, new brands are investing in sponsorship. Evidence Cazoo’s recent sponsorship purchases at two Premier League clubs.

Done well, sponsorship is proven to drive long term brand equity growth and provide short term sales opportunities. Done poorly, sponsorship is simply a waste of money.

Yet, and despite these positives and sponsorships proven capabilities, it’s also remarkable how little the sponsorship sector has changed.

Some of the issues prevalent 20 years ago remain today. Two of these issues significantly undermine the credibility of the sector.


For starters; why is it that the sponsorship sector has such an ambivalent attitude towards measurement and evaluation (M&E)? - Why do so few (19%) in the sector have confidence about M&E (source: Frontier survey)? - Why do brands invest so little in M&E (78% spend 1% or less of their sponsorship budget on M&E. source: IEG)?

Believe me, sponsorship outcomes for brands and business are measurable. So perhaps too many within the sector are comfortable with the status-quo! Why rock the boat?

Well, by maintaining the status quo the sponsorship sector has opened the door to the related and potentially bigger issue of self-interest. Remember: * It’s in the interest of the property owner to sell their rights * It’s in the interests of the agency representing those rights to sell them – because they are rewarded by the property owner * It’s in the interests of the other ‘independent’ agencies that brands buy their sponsorship ideas.

Indeed, everyone listed above, and entirely understandably, has an interest in ensuring that sponsorship is seen to work. Have these vested interests contributed to the sectors current attitude towards M&E?

If M&E is undertaken, it’s usually geared towards proving success and justifying the investment – rather than objectively assessing performance. ​ Self-interest has discouraged independent scrutiny and rigorous analysis. It has therefore limited learning and insight development. Self-interest has meant that long held beliefs go unchallenged. As a result, too many strategies and recommendations are based on assumption or wishful thinking.


All this probably sounds harsh or negative. If I’m wrong, why do any of these myths survive?  Why is it assumed that more branding is the better, that it’s noticed and drives brand outcomes?  Why do media values still blight the sector when they do not correlate to brand outcomes and mislead more than inform?  Why do so many get hung up on output measures such as social media likes or video views, rather than focusing on brand and business outcomes?  Why should fans have a natural affinity for sponsors when people generally don’t care about brands? Why do so many brands and their agencies talk about shared values as a basis of connection, when fans don’t think this way?


Perhaps now is the time for the sponsorship sector to take a step back, put self-interest aside and embrace M&E.

To learn, to understand and to improve so that sponsorship can do what it does more effectively and efficiently. Adopting this approach will not only improve investment decisions and outcomes for brands – it will significantly boost confidence and credibility in the sector.


Surely this is an outcome that’s got to be in everybody’s best interest.

Ian Thompson is an Independent Sponsorship Strategist


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