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You don’t have to be PepsiCo, Samsung or Nike to utilize the power of sponsorships. In between stadium-wide takeovers and company logos on youth soccer jerseys lies the opportunity to expand your brand’s reach in a way that fits your budget. What it takes is creativity, strategy and research.

Where to Begin With Sponsorship Marketing

What does it take to find the right sponsorship opportunity? Researching your target demographic, budget and objective. After 20 years of working in sports marketing and sponsorships, Matt Wiech, M.B.A., attributes these three elements as the starting point to an effective sponsorship. Having a defined objective is especially important as it gives you a clear KPI (key performance indicator) to measure sponsorship effectiveness. “You don’t want it [the sponsorship] to be a transactional churn and burn, you want it to be a partnership to achieve goals and continue onward,” Wiech explains. “Define KPIs and ROIs ahead of time, so you know how impressions or activations translate into sales.” Here are four ways to incorporate sponsorships into your marketing strategy.

Stay Current on Sport Sentiments

Bet you didn’t expect to see sports marketing on this list. We’re kidding. Commonly associated with sponsorship marketing, sports remain a popular and effective way to connect with audiences in an environment where they feel at ease (depending on the score of the game). Nielsen’s 2021 Trust in Advertising Study finds that 81% of respondents said they either completely or somewhat trust the brand sponsorships they see at games. Couple this with the resurgence in event attendance and the universal appeal of sports themselves, and you have a compelling reason to look into sports sponsorships (if the target demographic fits). Nielsen data suggests that many marketers made this move as sports sponsorships increased 107% in 2021.

Photo of football play Ada Hegerberg holding trophy alongside team mates.

Women’s sports, in particular, are becoming a focus. Reacting to rising interest, global sports properties and federations are unbundling men and women sports sponsorships. Marketers are using this as an opportunity to tap into both sectors to effectively reach a broader audience, clearly measure impact and quantify sponsorship values. Expanded its Union of European Football Association (UEFA) sponsorship to women’s soccer, beer brand Heineken launched a campaign to tackle gender bias in the sport by means of correcting inaccurate soccer stats online. The beer brand released the webpage Fresher Football to provide accurate responses to popular questions about the UEFA champions league. Heineken is also buying key AdWords around popular soccer questions to encourage search engines to do the same.

From current issues to current behaviors, marketers are also focusing on the way fans interact with sports outside of the stadium. For example, the rise in multi-screen viewing activities, such as watching the game while simultaneously playing games, scrolling social media or even watching other live content. Simulating that community feeling of a stadium setting online, Nielsen reports a 21% lift in Tweets during commercials on live TV sports. Fifty-nine percent of respondents also say they catch sports highlights on the platform. Brands are tapping into that passionate fan base by sponsoring relevant, hand-picked content through Twitter Amplify sponsorships. Through this partnership, 15-second or less pre-roll videos are played ahead of live video or video clip Tweets from TV networks, major sports leagues and professional news outlets. Encouraging app installs, SofaScore (a company offering live-score services) showcased its cricket score availability with sponsored content on premium cricket tournament coverage. True for sports and TV series alike (i.e. “Stranger Things,” “Insecure” and “The Mandalorian”), this type of sponsorship capitalizes on timeliness, getting brands involved in crucial TV moments on the second screen to connect with relevant audiences at the exact right time.

Dimly lit black and red gaming chair and gaming computer with accented neon lights in blue and red.

Get Personal With Gaming

You don’t have to be a game developer, publisher or hardware manufacturer to sponsor esports. In fact, 60% of esport partnerships are nonendemic, or sponsors outside of the esports ecosystem, according to data from McKinsey & Company. As one of the global entertainment industry’s fastest growing segments with dedicated audiences, esports sponsorships are being used by a variety of brands to engage with new fanbases. While Nielsen data finds that the esport female fan base grew by 17% within the past year, the International Data Corporation (IDC) cites that the majority of esports fans in the U.S. are male (72%) and their median age is 29 years old. With sponsorship deals continuing to increase, brands are uniting themselves with gaming to test new engagement approaches for niche audiences. Brands may be interested in esports if they’re looking to reach the 18-34 year-old audience demographic without the ticket cost of the Big Four sports, Wiech shares.

In terms of audience priorities, authenticity and value-add trump all else as discerning fans are quick to ward off anything deemed disingenuous. To connect with esports fans in an authentic way, brands must understand them – figuring out what it is they love about the game and which promotions draw them in. They’ve also found ways to creatively insert themselves into the narrative as Crocs did by sponsoring a World in a Minecraft and creating Crocs that Bitmoji avatars could wear. Pilot sponsorships allow brands to build knowledge and credibility in esports.

To connect with esports fans in an authentic way, brands must understand them – figuring out what it is they love about the game and which promotions draw them in, Orange Label shares. Click To Tweet

Taking up cause marketing as a partner to an emerging audience, fashion giant Burberry sponsored a four-part content series focused on women and inclusivity in the industry. The educational series covers issues related to the environment that female gamers face and funds the scholarship of a student to Gen.G, an esports organization. L’Oreal’s partnership takes a more “surface level” approach to gaming sponsorships with its Men Expert skin care range to keep Chiefs Esports Club gamers’ skin refreshed through late night gaming sessions, early mornings and gaming tournaments. Brands can also sponsor individual gaming personalities, who have established credible followings for themselves through streaming platforms like Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Gaming. Whether sponsorships consist of causes that are relevant to esports, tournament sponsorships and the sponsorship of individual gamers themselves, narrowing in on audience goals allows brands to see a world of opportunity in the gaming industry.

Red-hued image of event gather with neon sign illuminated in background

Enhance Event Experiences

From activations to activism, experiential sponsorships give brands the power to make an event better for its attendees in some way. The key is to choose events that not only meet budget in terms of size and scope, but match brand image. They can be check-ins for freebies, photo opportunities like art displays or another creative approach that fits your brand. A bar setter in terms of experiential events, Austin’s annual South by Southwest festival and conference is a great example to take inspiration from for smaller scale local events. Take Slack for example, the communication software company created an outdoor lounge to convey a tangible version of its product and the connection it breeds online, complete with inflatable furniture, a bakery truck and a profile picture photo opportunity as a sweet forget-me-not souvenir to attendees. Raising awareness for freshness and local roots, the International Fresh Produce Association teamed up with a local grocery chain to create floral crowns and floral braids for SXSW attendants and draw attention with a bike-drawn tomato cart advertising Nature Sweet “Tomatoes raised right” to draw them to food and cocktails made using the produce. Finding ways to complement an event, whether it’s relevant freebies (such as small clear bags) or fun photo activations when fans are dressed to impress, will get brands noticed by attendants.

Moving from fun to functionality, brands can focus on sponsorships that help event logistics. Brands that prioritize sustainability can sponsor and contribute to the sustainability of an event. San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival leads the charge on operating with a suite of sustainable features including comprehensive zero waste setup, an eco village with non-profit partners, a bike valet, refillable water program and more. Sponsorships of this kind align with the bulk of today’s consumers interested in supporting sustainable brands (52%) or seeking out eco-friendly brands (66%) that display meaningful, measurable effort, per Consumer Goods Technology research.

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Build Credibility with a Content Hub

Extending reach past the longevity of your sponsorship, dedicated content hubs are a popular way to enhance credibility and spotlight your brand to an audience through a publication they already trust. A win-win for publications and brands, this gives brands the reach to promote key news, thought leadership content and education pieces seamlessly on a well-known destination. Allowing brands to choose or collaborate on the topics, content plan and production facilitation, the goal of sponsored content is to naturally blend in within a featured platform and contribute to the overall user experience. Working with an array of publishers is an effective method for brands to establish known expertise in a desired market and drive website clicks. Brands looking to reach business owners, for example, may be interested in looking at partnerships with local business journals, entrepreneurial or business-focused publications and business sections of local or national news outlets.

One recent example includes Maybelline’s campaign “Dating IRL” which sponsors a content hub on media company Time Out’s platform and seeks to encourage real-life dating. Part of the Maybelline-sponsored interactive content hub is the revival of Time Out’s blind date series “The Undateables,” which was put on pause during the pandemic. Other content on the branded content hub includes sponsored articles on the dating and personality-style interactive quizzes, in addition to posts and videos on Facebook and Instagram to drive consumers to the content. Fitting for the “IRL” campaign theme, the sponsorship extends to live events at Time Out Market locations in New York, Chicago and Miami to feature Maybelline sampling, makeover stations and curated experiences consisting of food, music, drinks, comedy and speed dating. This sponsorship illustrates the possibility to curate a content hub that fits a niche audience and is completely customized to marry your brand and the publication’s audience.

Joining together for the better, sponsorships associate your brand with an event or organization that holds similar values. Molding your sponsorship to fit your brand, rather than the other way around, can lead to its effectiveness in achieving ROI and resonating with your target audience. For more on sports marketing trends and how to get the most out of a sponsorship, tune into our podcast with industry expert Matt Wiech. Get it delivered straight to your inbox – sign up below!

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