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Volume 20 No. 42
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The challenge: Stand out amid the clutter

Sponsors continue to voice concerns over clutter as sports properties carve up categories and make it ever more difficult to stand out to consumers.

While a recent survey presented by GMR Marketing found that executives on both the team and property side agree with corporate marketers that clutter poses a serious threat to the viability of sports sponsorships, the problem persists.

Industry experts say the issue is complicated by the endless barrage of media — smartphones, tablets and computers are as aggressive as anything pumped out by TV, radio and signs — which creates more of a wallpaper effect that leaves consumers fatigued and uninterested. All of the new and expanded marketing avenues also mean that the chances of owning a category or a sport has all but evaporated.

Capital One wants consumers to associate the company with college sports and uses multiple programs, including the annual Mascot Challenge, to drive home that connection.
Peter Laatz, vice president at Repucom International, an industry consultant, points to the difficulty of sorting sponsors from advertisers in NASCAR as an example.

Sprint owns the wireless category as NASCAR’s largest sponsor, including naming rights to the top-level series. Yet targeted ads and in-broadcast statistics featured during Fox telecasts leave many viewers with the impression that AT&T is immersed in NASCAR. Pizza Hut has taken a similar tack.

“Certainly the Pizza Huts and the AT&Ts of the world don’t have all the other trappings of a sponsorship,” Laatz said. “They don’t have driver appearances and they don’t have all the [business-to-business] opportunities. But if the name of the game is eyeballs and integration, those are two examples of brands that have come in and sat on top of some stuff that’s been done ahead of time and certainly for potentially more money and certainly more effort.”

Repucom research determined that 1,800 to 2,000 brands, on average, are seen during a NASCAR race, compared with 200 for a typical Major League Baseball game. Still, the company’s research also found that among major sports properties, NASCAR fans are the best at sponsor recall (see chart).

Even when fans learn the nuances of advertising versus sponsorship, however, the lesson rarely sticks.

David Bohnsack, vice president of insights and analytics at GMR Marketing, said he has watched plenty of focus-group discussions that begin with an explanation of how the two differ, only to find by the end of a session that the two terms are routinely intermingled without distinction. Such are the nightmares of marketing and sales executives alike.

Another concern is the endless slicing and dicing of what exactly an exclusive category can be as teams and leagues

search for more revenue. “A property might say, ‘OK, we’re going to have the alcoholic beverage category,’ and promise exclusivity to a beer manufacturer,” Bohnsack said. “Then the property might decide we can have a malt beverage category and a distilled spirits category. That way they can promise exclusivity to two different brands.”

All of which makes it harder to stand out. Dave Grant, principal at Team Epic, tells clients to forget about ambush concerns and to stick to an objective with consistent, effective tactics.

It’s a strategy that seems to be working for Procter & Gamble’s sports campaigns. Between this summer’s London Games and 2020, the $80 billion consumer goods company will use the Olympics to push brands including Tide, Pampers and Pantene, among others.

Clutter demands that companies create a cohesive theme that resonates with the audience, P&G believes. In this case, the emphasis is on the moms who raised the latest crop of Olympic athletes, or on athletes who are now mothers themselves (SportsBusiness Journal, March 19-25).

“The insight is that for every athlete out there, there is an equally fantastic mom behind that athlete,” said spokesman Glenn Williams. “If you look at P&G’s products, we are in the business of serving moms.”

Financial services company Capital One gets around clutter in college sports by deploying a multipronged approach to help consumers make the connection.

Capital One started placing its name on an upper-tier college football game 11 years ago and is an official NCAA corporate champion, a designation that makes Capital One part of all of the major title events. But those milestones mark the beginning of its links to college athletics, not the end.

If you have any interest in March Madness, the College World Series or college football, it is all but impossible to avoid the ubiquitous Capital One ads accompanying almost any televised game. Then, too, there is the Capital One Mascot Challenge, an online contest held each fall as a companion to football season.

Other threads include the Capital One-backed Academic All-America program, honoring student athletes for matching brawn with brains, and a points competition among Division I schools to determine the best overall men’s and women’s athletic performances over the course of a year.

All of which is by design: Capital One never wants anyone to forget the company when it comes to college sports.
“There’s definitely some increased sponsor clutter in the college sports space,” said Byron Daub, Capital One director of sponsorships. “We feel like we’ve really created a platform that gives us the opportunity to create a sustained program throughout the year. We’re not just in college athletics in one season; we look to create a robust program.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

The greatest threat to sponsorships

GMR Marketing presented results of a survey in which top sports sponsors and advertisers were asked: What are the greatest threats to traditional sports sponsorships? The following are highlights of the results, and some of the comments submitted by the respondents:

1.  Lack of measurement  (31%): “The biggest threat is the inability to completely track the impact of the spending in terms of sales. We have a hard time measuring the impact all the way through the cycle.”

2.  Clutter  (28%): “There are too many other [sponsors] involved. You’ve got teams running other peoples’ sponsorships at the same time as they’re running ours. After a while [fans] stop listening to our message during the games.”

3.  Cost  (15%): “Sports price themselves out of the market — the cost per customer is too much.”

4.  Activation  (11%): “As rights fees rise, there are not as many dollars for activation, and under-activating a property is the death of it. When properties are doing partnerships, they should have as much in the purchasing as in the activation.”

5.  ROI  (11%): “Properties and rights holders need to understand that they need to help their partners sell more products instead of just focusing on their own business objectives of reaching their sponsorship revenue goals.”

6.  Category exclusivity  (4%): “You have to look at properties that continue to carve up their categories. It used to be the ‘official car’ or whatever. But now it’s the ‘official foreign car,’ the ‘official domestic car’ … the ‘official truck.’ Sponsors will end up saying, ‘Enough.’”

Note: Survey was conducted in the fall of 2011 with 54 sports sponsors and/or advertisers.
Source: GMR Marketing, NSF Corporate & Industry Survey


Repucom asked consumers if, over the past 12 months, they could recall seeing or hearing any sponsorship while watching a game/event on television. This would include signage on or around the field of play as well as any sponsored segments of the broadcasts, such as a halftime show or play of the game. Television commercials were not included.

The survey found that the highest sponsor recall on television was among NASCAR and NFL viewers. Here are the overall highlights:

* Men and women
Note: Repucom, through its SponsorLink product, conducts an online survey each month among 1,000 sports enthusiasts. The results shown are for the January 2012-March 2012 waves.
Source: Repucom International