For most of us, sports touch our lives on a daily basis. We play sports, watch sports on TV, read about sports in the newspapers, talk to friends about them, buy merchandise and attend sporting events. Sports take us away from our daily routines and entertain us. But while people realize that sports need sponsors (in fact, 74% actually think sponsorship is good), their corporatization can move them away from their fans. With ticket prices sky-rocketing, hospitality areas taking up all the good seats and every square inch of the arena emblazoned with logos, sponsorships are making sports less about the games and more about the names. Sponsoring can be a powerful passion-based marketing tool, and the financial support for those sponsored will always be needed, but marketers need to consider the brand-to-fan connection. Simply putting more logos in more places to get the most out of the investment is not going to get you any fans.
Brands support athletes, teams and events hoping that the sports fans will in return support them. Sponsorship is relatively Tivo-proof and can provide reach in an increasingly fragmented media world. So it’s no wonder that brands pay top dollar to get into the game. While naming and branding rights are part of the package, brands should add more than just their logo—they should add real value to the game and fan experience. Just as the Goodyear blimp brought the aerial view to sporting events, more brands are experimenting with innovative and brand relevant integrations into the game.
Enhancing the Experience: Polar
Of the 21 teams competing at the 2008 Tour De France, 11 were sponsored by Polar. Polar, a heart rate and fitness assessment company, used its cycling technology to stream speed, cadence, peddling power, location, altitude and heart rates of their equipped cyclists onto a microsite for fans to monitor in real time. This live telemetry not only gave fans an idea of how well their cyclist was doing, but whether they were holding back or over-exerting themselves at any stage of the race.
Enhancing the Game: Guinness
Guinness brought its positioning “It’s Alive Inside” literally to life by putting RFID technology inside rugby balls and on players. Fraunhofer Institute created the innovative technology to measure the ball’s location 2000 times a second (!) and players’ location 200 times a second. The real-time data allows coaches and fans alike to analyze running pace and acceleration, passing speed and accuracy, impact of tackling and kicking power like never before – potentially changing the game forever.
Inventing the Game: Red Bull
For some, it’s not enough to enhance an existing game, some brands choose to invent one entirely. Red Bull has become synonymous with extreme games and invented a series of gravity-defying sports. These unique competitions fit the brand in ways most off-the-shelf sponsorship opportunities don’t. Their ownable competitions range from Crashed Ice, a mix of downhill skiing, hockey and boardercross to Air Racing, where stunt pilots helm low-level aerial tracks with lightweight racing planes.