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Volume 22 No. 44
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Forum: Tough conversations for sponsors and properties

Flexibility. Accountability. Research. Measurement. These four nouns aren’t new when it comes to what sponsors are looking for in their relationships with properties, but they bear repeating. It struck me that after more than 20 years of hosting conferences, it’s consistently what sponsors seek more of from their partners.The latest reminder came earlier this month at our Intersport Brand Engagement & Content Summit in Chicago.

When it comes to “flexibility,” the onus isn’t only on the property, as brands may need to be nimble and open-minded when it comes to their content strategy.

In a discussion on content partnerships, one of the stronger comments came from Tim Clark, NASCAR senior vice president/chief digital officer, who said there need to be some difficult, eye-opening conversations between the two sides. Too often, brands don’t recognize the value a property brings to the table when it comes to content. He noted NASCAR’s digital and social team “spends every waking moment, seven days a week, coming up with really good, engaging content.” But that expertise is virtually dismissed when brands push their own creative ideas. 

“It’s going to force some tough conversations during a negotiation process,” he said. “We certainly could go create this new content that you have in the back of your mind. But the rights owner and property are going to know their audience better than anyone. So, in the conversations, let’s find some content that has a built-in audience and some favorability that we can align with.” Clark cited a successful program NASCAR did with Credit One on the “Credit One, One Lap To Go” content segment. 

Dan Keats, Allstate’s director of sponsorship marketing, agreed, saying many brands don’t have advanced content strategies and need the properties to lead ideation and drive it through their distribution platforms. Keats then flipped it back to where the properties can help brands today. “More flexibility, more accountability and being a stronger marketing partner in helping us with our measurement, our ROI and research,” he said. “Specific, customized research that we can collaborate on makes a lot of sense, especially when it helps prove out our sponsorship. Because our people going to bat in the C-suites every day to get the resources to invest in this have to be able to prove that the partnership continues to work. So, the more customized research you can provide arms us to go up the line and say, ‘This is working.’ Be more proactive in research.”

But that wasn’t all, as he stressed the other commonly heard variable: Accountability. “Properties need to keep us feeling the investment is making more sense for us and working harder for us,” he said. “If we get that feeling, we are going to keep fighting harder every day to make sure we protect those investments.”

Tammy DeMarco, vice president of brand and experience for Xenith sports products, stressed the need for greater transparency in a shared vision during the upfront conversations. “What’s your shared win together? If you can establish that shared win, it’s so much easier. But sometimes people don’t approach it that way,” she said. 

Keats agreed, and offered an approach that he appreciates. “The properties that take the time to approach us from a business solution: ‘I’ve seen you’ve been moving to this area. We have something that may make sense to know about,’ rather than approach us with, ‘We want you to be a category partner.’ Those that take the time to learn our brand and come to us with a business solution, I definitely want to take those calls and emails all day.”

Closing out the discussion, Clark believes that as the industry has more research, data and fan sentiment, everyone gets smarter and the sales model can change. “Properties have to be better,” he admitted, “and there has to be a deeper understanding of what a client may be looking for. It’s those simple steps that we skip over a lot because we’re moving so quickly and under pressure to hit numbers or goals or deadlines.”

While the speed of the business and pressures intensify, it’s beneficial to remember that the fundamentals of a successful relationship between brands and properties remain the same.

First Look podcast, with issues Abe is watching this week, at the 12:10 mark:

Abraham Madkour can be reached at