Sports Sponsorship is a booming industry. According to Darin White, Founding Director of the Sports Marketing Program & Professor at Samford University, “Sponsorship marketing is one of the fastest growing forms of advertising around the globe. It has exploded into a $60 billion industry in North America.”Being that it’s such a thriving industry, I wanted to learn more about how sports sponsorship works. In writing this article, one thing became glaringly obvious. While other digital marketing and advertising efforts are held to the highest degree of scrutiny to measure impact and ROI, sponsorship deals are not. Deals are signed without an implementation strategy and without understanding of who they are reaching, and they run year after year without questioning brand lift or effectiveness.

Teams are jumping at any opportunity to engage fans

Not only are success metrics often optional for sponsorships, but their strategies for engaging fans are too. Without long-term strategy, brands and teams will jump at the ‘latest and greatest’ to capture fan attention. The most recent example is trendjacking the Pokemon GO craze. According to Chris Yandle, Sports PR Consultant and Podcast Host of #SportsPR, “teams are jumping at every new opportunity to engage their fans and appear relevant. They have a fear of missing out on the ‘shiny’ opportunities.” Chris added that, “if you have a good strategy, you will always be relevant.”

So, these deals are signed without a clear idea of how to make them valuable and there’s no clear way to understand if they make business sense. This got me thinking: What about the fans?

On the team side, sponsorship is about the dollars and cents. They have a checklist to fill; once that’s done, it’s done. On the brand side, the appeal to sports sponsorship is the wide and diverse audience that teams attract and the many channels in which they can reach the fans; in-stadium, TV, print, digital, and social. Because these audiences are so large and diverse, it’s easy to see value in having your brand in front of these audiences.

This may have been enough for brands—up until this point. The fusion of digital activations introduces an opportunity for brands to take advantage of the audience intelligence available today. This allows them to understand what sponsorship opportunities make sense, not only for their brand or team (or stadium, player, etc), but what makes sense for the fans.

Harnessing fan passion

As explained by Darrin White, “utilizing social media and cutting edge analytics, marketing researchers have discovered highly effective ways of fostering the transference of fan passion from the team to commercial brands.” Armed with this knowledge of who the fans are and what makes them tick, brands can learn how to best activate the sponsorship.Monitoring fan affinities over time will also allow you to understand fan adoption and response of the sponsorship.

Katie Lebel, Sport and Social Media Researcher, shared her thoughts on the digital activation side of sponsorships: “I think it boils down to the fact that digital sponsorships have the potential to be far more dynamic than some of the traditional activations we are used to seeing. Digital sponsorships in particular must offer value to their consumers in order to be successful. The focus should be on the consumer. With the power of social intelligence, we have the ability to gain insight into audience preferences and tailor content that has personalized, relevant meaning. This type of “fan-centric” approach can be crafted to foster a fan’s passion for sport, and in so doing, build stronger fan connections, hopefully cut through the clutter, and ideally result in much higher levels of brand engagement.”

The fan experience continues to evolve with the release of new technologies, new platforms and channels to engage and interact. Where is their attention? With this inundation of fan options — what hashtag to use, what platform to share their experience, whether to attend in person or stay home with friends — how do you make a connection? Instead of jumping at the latest ‘shiny’ topic or gadget, what if you knew what would resonate with them? Affinity data and audience intelligence can help create sponsorships that resonate with the fans and offer the ability to measure sponsorship success.

There’s a lot of questions here, and I am not a sports sponsorship pro by any stretch. I’d love to hear what you think. Let me know in the comments below.

This post originally appeared on the Affinio Blog.

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