Flexibility and purpose key to sports sponsorship in 2021, MKTG study finds

The sixth annual Frontier Study into the state of sports and entertainment sponsorship, undertaken by MKTG Sports + Entertainment, demonstrates how COVID has changed the way marketers and rights holders think about sponsorship.

The study was completed by more than 600 industry professionals from 30 countries including Australia, with respondents taken from brands, rights holders, and agencies working across sport, music, and entertainment, arts and culture, CSRs and charities.

The Dentsu agency completed the study in April and May this year, before multiple Australian states moved back into lockdown, and that was reflective in that 76% of respondents locally believe the sports sponsorship space will either remain stable or grow over the next year.

“Generally the market is quite optimistic,” MKTG strategy and insights director Dominique Down, told Mumbrella.

One of the key themes through the report was that flexibility and agility is increasingly important, with Aussie brands and rightsholders challenged early in 2020 to come up with solutions to COVID-impacted events and cancellations.

Chatting with Mumbrella, Down said the expectation from brands has now shifted from long-term sponsorship agreements with set deliverables to shorter contracts and asset banks.

“Before COVID, how we looked at negotiating rights holders [had] already started to shift. Shorter contracts, greater flexibility was already a trend. Then the COVID effect came in, and now it is now the norm that brands don’t want to be locked into a model that is going to specify how they use rights and benefits year-on-year.

“The conversations we had with rights holders are more now about looking at how we can create asset banks. We [would previously] lock in activations or ambassador signings or hospitality. Instead, now we are seeing people work to create an asset bank so throughout the season we can pick what’s appropriate [to use]. Flexibility was already such a key trend, now it’s the expectation.”

MKTG demonstrated an example of rights holders working with marketers earlier this year with a DoorDash sponsorship which saw the brand ‘deliver’ the State of Origin 2021 match-ball, a process that was interrupted by games being shifted to different states. As a result, MKTG moved to create additional digital content around the sponsorship.

MKTG strategy and insights director, Dominique Down

Despite COVID’s significant impact, the industry still understands that sports and entertainment sponsorship remains a powerful tool to create meaningful connections between brands and fans, the Frontier Study revealed.

Purpose in partnerships has always been a key aspect of the space, but respondents told MKTG that off-the-back of fans and consumers turning to sport to feel motivated and inspired during uncertain times, that purpose and connection are more important than ever.

“Sponsorship within sports and entertainment… it is [still] such a great platform to have a meaningful conversation with people. It allows you to speak to fans in a new and interesting way,” Down added.

“Sponsorship is no longer a logo on a shirt, it’s having a clear strategy, purpose for being within a space, supporting communities and fans. People really want to see brands making a positive difference within society [and] there’s massive opportunities for marketers to work with brands.”

While COVID has created challenges for those in the space, Down said it has also forced through more innovation and created new opportunities for brands. “We’re seeing more new brands entering sports sponsorship [more than those exiting]. Dettol is an interesting example, sponsoring the Australian Cricket Team.

Afterpay has also taken over Fashion Week with Mercedes exiting and ending a 25-year partnership. We’ve seen some really interesting movement for new brands and new categories. With perhaps the exception of travel, like Qantas leaving the Wallabies… [but generally] brands aren’t shying away.”

Another key change to the space is a move away from the reliance of in-stadium activations, and an increase in focus on digital elements on sponsorship. The study found that exposure as a metric for success has fallen behind digital for the first time.

Down added: “There’s a lot of room in the space to be innovative. We’ve relied on in-stadium activations. We’ve had to pivot away from that and to push the boundaries within the digital space. It’s now all about how we can keep things fresh, and help brands stand out.”


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