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Ever heard of a ‘badging exercise’?

Well, that’s what sports sponsorship used to be all about. Put your logo on the team kit and hope your brand gets recognized.

They were simpler times, when the only data sponsors cared about was TV viewership. Today, it’s a lot more complex. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Your fans aren’t just watching on TV, they’re scattered all over the digital world and sponsors want to know precisely where your brand overlaps with theirs.

It’s a perfect scenario if you invest in getting to know your pockets of fans and which industry categories they cross over. Not so perfect if you’re in the dark.

Here we’ll show you how to use audience research to your advantage, to help you get to know your fans, and ultimately bring in sponsors. And there’s an example of one brand doing it perfectly: City Football Group (owners of Manchester City and other teams you’ll have heard of).

Audience research in sport: the state of play

As with all business partnerships, proving ROI is what both parties want.

But it’s the job of the team, league or whoever is wanting to attract sponsorship to dig into the numbers and prove the value is there. That said, there are a few blockers preventing this from running smoothly.

1. The complexity of the modern fan

The modern sports fan is everywhere – and we’re not just talking geographically. They span most demographics, behavioral categories, lifestyle and employment segments and are active over a wealth of media types.

Anyone can be a sports fan, so presenting ‘truths’ to sponsors based on desk research, hunches or guesswork is pretty risky.

2. Getting a grip on the digital ecosystem 

It’s a common challenge in sports and beyond, but one media and entertainment-based brands will definitely feel. Knowing how many of your fans are exposed to your brand across each media type, and what they want from the content) is an undertaking.

Without being fluent in this and the potential crossovers with other verticals, you could be narrowing your scope.

3. Scrutinized budgets

Nothing puts ROI on a pedestal more than tightening budgets.

Sports felt the sting of lockdown. But with games back on our screens (for the most part), the business of driving sponsorship is in motion again. Proving bang-for-buck across marketing, research, and partnerships is a must.

4. The fallout from COVID-19

Certain industries have been impacted by COVID-19 more than others. According to Sponsorship Intelligence Database:

“Airlines, automotive, hotels and rental car companies represented 20% of the top 100 sponsorship spenders in the U.S.”

When your go-to brands have entered preservation mode and are trying to assess how their market (and audience) looks now, getting them to part with their money will take some convincing.

Give sponsors the answers

Whatever the type of sponsorship (whether it’s individuals, teams, leagues, events, you name it) there’s one thing they want to know:

“Will it raise awareness of my brand and build up positive equity?”

A lot of research is needed to answer this question effectively – so let’s get into how audience insights play their part in wowing sponsors and ultimately securing ‘the handshake’.

Get multi-market insight 

Most teams and leagues have fans dotted all over the world. 

Being able to drill down into international markets and segment by whatever attributes you choose shows you’ve got the bigger picture in front of you, but a laser-focused approach to targeting. 

Pinpoint crossovers with your potential sponsor’s audiences, and you’ll have validation for any international deals you’re looking to make.

Cover all categories

Sometimes fans hide in the most unlikely places. For example, our latest data set, GWI Sports, shows: 

Manchester City fans are 87% more likely than the average consumer to work in IT or telecommunications.

Something a B2B tech brand might consider. They’d want to check this regionally and against other teams to make sure you’re getting the most from your audience, but you get the picture.

When you have fans working in (and buying from) every industry under the sun, you’ll want a source that has the breadth you need to cover all categories, and the depth you need to scope out the opportunities.

Layer your fans over their audience

To demonstrate crossovers, you’ll need two access to two sets of audiences: yours and your prospect’s. That means having a data source, like GWI Sports, that gives you the flexibility to create detailed audiences and compare them against one other. 

With that, you can build up the layers of your personas, until you have a clear picture of your shared customer.

Cross-compare channels

“One of the key benefits of sponsorship versus traditional advertising has always been the ability to engage with consumers across a variety of unique touchpoints,” explains Dan Kozlak, Senior Director of Analytics, IEG.

You can compare channels like-for-like with a fully harmonized data set. With all your data collected using the same methodology, there’s way more scope for analysis.

For example, a disproportionately high number of people who watch the PGA Tour say Facebook is their favorite social channel (24%), with a steep drop off for the second most popular, Instagram (14%). 

A single source simplifies the digital sphere, making proving ROI that little bit easier.

Understanding the digital ecosystem: tick. 

Use psychographics

The big numbers are still important, like TV ratings, but now sponsors are looking for much more. 

To sell your fanbase to your prospective sponsor, you’ve got to show you know the person behind the stats.

For example:

Those who follow Chicago Bulls are 33% more likely than the average consumer to say they take risks.

Across any market, channel, or demographic segment, you’ll want to dig into the lifestyles, thoughts and feelings that motivate your shared audiences to engage, watch, research and buy. 

Psychographics are the cherry on top of any pitch – bringing your personas to life and painting a rich picture of the market.

Proof that audience insights drive sponsorships: City Football Group

You’ll have heard of the teams that City Football Group own – including Manchester City, New York City and Melbourne City. 

And as their portfolio suggests, they’re an international business, with clubs (and their fan bases) dotted around the world. 

They needed consistent, good quality insight into each market and audience. Without this, they struggled to quantify the size of the opportunities out there. 

“We speak to a vast number of brands every year across all of our markets and clubs, so we need a story that stands out”, says Pasi Lankinen, VP Partnership Strategy and Operations at City Football Group. 

It was their thirst for granular, multi-market insight that led them to GWI. 

To identify the strongest story, the team uses the global, local and regional data to do three things:

Graphic showing how city fg use sports data to drive sponsorship

It means they can zone in on specific regions, find the overlaps with sponsors’ audiences, and convince them they’re worth the investment. 

For Pasi and the team, this “extra layer” is where the brand is seeing the most value; it offers them something completely unique that’s transformed the way they pitch to potential and existing partners.

See the City FG case study in detail here.

Sell your fan’s story with insights

Sports sponsorship has come a long way since the days of the ‘badging exercise’.

Sponsors want their partnerships to drive meaningful brand-customer relationships, and it’s the job of sports brands to prove they’re the gateway. 

Getting the extra layer of audience insight and feeding that into your strategy brings a spark to your sales narrative – whether you’re digging into local markets, exploring a new category, or bringing your shared audience personas to life.
In a nutshell: sell your story with emotion and rationalize it with data.

sports data: woman holding basketball

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