SBJ/20100913/Opinion

True partnership leaves room for growth

In the good old days companies were just sponsors. They might dress it up by adding such words as “official” or “exclusive,” even “proud,” but at the end of the day they purchased the rights to associate their brand with an event or a league, and this gave them signage and access to tickets.

As the relationships grew, and the expenses increased, simple awareness and hospitality were no longer enough. The enlightened among the corporate world wanted to become partners. They wanted to share goals, values and even start to work together on expected results. Smart properties invested in areas such as research, and started to look at themselves as brands that needed to be protected, grown and managed. And corporate sponsorship dollars provided the fuel to stoke that engine.

Now, as the economy remains tight and the cost of a sponsorship/partnership continues to escalate, the expectations on the property have increased. You need to deliver an ROI; you are now responsible for building a platform where I, your sponsor, can be successful, build brand loyalty, sell more product. If you don’t help me achieve my objectives, how can you expect me to renew, especially at these prices?

The risk here is that as sponsor/partners become more demanding, and the pressure falls on the property to deliver, the concept of partnership can get lost. One of Webster’s definitions of partner is “a player on the same team.” In that definition, both partners have responsibilities, and both should look for ways to achieve objectives in tandem. Allow me to illustrate through two examples:

Procter & Gamble announced it would help Team USA moms get to the Vancouver Olympic Games as part of the “Thanks, Mom” program. P&G committed to help defray the cost of travel and accommodations so that the mom behind each and every Team USA athlete could share their child’s Olympic Winter Games experience. The chief marketing officer of P&G even stated, “P&G is in the business of helping moms.” The U.S. Olympic Committee benefited greatly from this investment by being able to ensure that families had the opportunity to feel a true part of Team USA.

Deloitte chose to activate its sponsorship of the U.S. Paralympic Team by becoming the presenting sponsor of the “Warrior Games.” These inaugural Games featured Paralympic athletes from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard competing in seven Paralympic sports. Many of these athletes had recently returned from combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, many using these Games as a motivator to initiate re-engagement into society after military service. Deloitte’s sponsorship, volunteers and support made the event not only possible, but a true inspiration for many.

If you took a classic view of ROI, neither of these activities would seem to pass muster. P&G didn’t try to sell the families any products, and Deloitte did not ask the athletes to use or recommend any of its services. Both saw an opportunity to help the property achieve a key objective. Both took a longer-term view to the true spirit of partnership. Both brands will benefit from their association, and in the long run both will probably be able to measure a return. However, they undertook these efforts by understanding specific needs of the property and offering their assistance as true partners.

We all want the events, programs and properties we support to be successful. It is in our best interests. The opportunity exists to make their success self-fulfilling by truly working with the property to develop programs that help them achieve a positive return from a sponsorship, to help them achieve their objectives.

When cities vie for the honor to host the Olympic Games, one of the criteria is legacy. Namely, what are your Games going to offer that will leave a lasting enhancement to your city, your country and your world?

Moving forward, I humbly suggest that sponsors ask themselves: What is our sponsorship legacy? How are we going to leave a lasting enhancement through this association?

When those questions are answered, true partnership is achieved. 

Gordon Kane (victorysm@comcast.net) is the founder of Victory Sports Marketing, a sponsorship consultancy. He is the former director of marketing for the U.S. Olympic Committee and is assisting Deloitte with its Olympic sponsorship planning and execution.

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Related Topics:

IBL, Ping, TES, The Familie

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