A sports sponsorship needs to align with the sponsor brand's wider marketing and business strategies and directly drive business. It’s a line you hear from brand representatives at almost every sport business conference. But marketers at US telco AT&T and financial services company Citi spoke of how that mantra has become increasingly important in the face of rapid industry change, driven by technology.
In a wide-ranging panel midway through the second day of the Leaders Sport Business Summit in New York City, Ryan Luckey, AVP, corporate sponsorships at AT&T, said the brand had been somewhat surprised at the rate of mobile data consumption among its user base. He said that no sooner had AT&T installed better infrastructure to deal with customer data demand, then users almost instantaneously began to push the infrastructure towards its capacity.
This growth, he said, was fuelled primarily by video content and this has fed directly into the company’s sponsorship strategy and become its number one priority in any contract. “The first thing we used to ask for [in the contract] was IP rights, now it’s video content,” Luckey said.
Perhaps that gave some insight into the AT&T’s decision late last year not to renew its partnership with the US Olympic Committee (USOC), which had been in place for 32 years. When asked why the company had decided to step away, Luckey simply said “as a financial agreement, [the deal] just wasn’t viable.” US rival Comcast replaced AT&T with the USOC from 2017.
Tina Davis, director, sponsorships and marketing at Citi, was a little more straightforward in her answer about why the brand had also decided to step away from the USOC at the end of last year and provided another example of just how quickly a business strategy, and an associated sponsorship strategy, can change.
“Our credit card business had always been 50:50 with Visa and MasterCard. In mid-2015, that shifted 100 per cent to MasterCard and so strategically it made sense [to leave].” Visa is a TOP Sponsor of the International Olympic Committee. The USOC is yet to replace Citi in the financial services/banking category.
Davis also highlighted a problem she saw for the banking sector in protecting its sponsorship rights moving forward: the rise of mobile payments. “The system as it stands has multiple stakeholders. I have Google involved, Apple involved, telcos involved on the processing side. How do I ensure that my rights and my brand is protected when I activate my partnerships?”
NFL and Cubs
Elsewhere, NFL chief operating officer Tod Leiweke spoke frankly on multiple topics.
First he returned to yesterday’s talk about the future of live media rights – “We've had a great relationship with the broadcasters and I think that will continue for a long time to come” – questions over whether the league was ready to take a vote next week on the Oakland Raiders’ proposed move to Las Vegas – “I think we could very well be there” – and often-discussed concerns over viewership figures for the 2016 season – “Ratings is one thing, reach is another. We feel Super Bowl 51 reached the most people ever”.
And finally, Chicago Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney expounded on the challenges the club faced in the years prior to the club ending its 108-year World Series drought.
From unofficial mascots harrying fans outside Wrigley Field to neighbouring businesses and landlords outside the team’s control erecting stands overlooking the ballpark and selling their own tickets, Kenney and his staff faced a multitude of unusual obstacles to creating a solid foundation from which a championship team could spring.
Kenney’s favourite memento from those days? A Chicago Tribune column that called for his sacking in early 2012, listing his apparently many flaws. That piece is now framed and takes pride of place on the wall of his office. The reason for this? “It’s a reminder that no matter how good a job you think you are doing, there’s always someone out there that thinks you should be fired.”