Sports Marketing is unlike any other business you’ll experience. It’s one where the most powerful business people and visionary CEOs succumb to their fandom and make incredibly bad choices. I have witnessed this many times throughout my career and, initially, because it suited my short-term goals, I was a big fan of the ego buy – you know, when someone purchases something not because it makes sense, but because it feels good to do so. Too often, decision makers buy sports sponsorships and hospitality to fill their own needs rather than the needs of the company. It isn’t as bad with hospitality, because it is not so visible, and it’s hard to say that entertaining customers at a sporting event doesn’t fit with every company’s mission (if actually utilized for clients). But sponsorships and promotions are glaring when they do not fit the goals of a company.
I realize that teams, venues, and events believe that their job is to generate as much revenue for their organizations as possible, which is true. But sports marketers still must have the discipline to engage in deals that make sense for all parties. When I was with the New England Patriots and Revolution, and now with our sports clients, I always said that we sell signs, logo rights and media to recognize revenue, but we are in the business to help people do business. Because of that, the success of clients should be far more important than the inventory you sell them.
The quick money-grab approach ruins the true value and impact of utilizing sports marketing assets. The people in the industry who are doing things the wrong way are hurting the industry and the image. It’s no wonder that Congress was all over the banking industry a couple of years ago when they were scrutinizing their sports sponsorship deals. All of the bad deals out there led them to believe that sports marketing is a gluttonous act of spending. Once again, Congress was inaccurate. Sports sponsorships are a great way to separate a brand from its competitors and build relationships with its customers. Congress went about it all wrong, and in broad strokes stated that all sports sponsorships were bad. They were wrong. Sports sponsorships are typically right on target for banks; the questions should have not been about the sponsorships, but how the banks used the assets to drive revenues.
We all witness the lack of discipline and expertise in executing well-developed sports marketing programs every weekend when we watch sporting events. The myopic agendas are eroding the validity of the power of thoughtful, well-executed initiatives. I met with a brand a few years ago, and the “bright light” creating programs for them bragged to me that a player he hired wouldn’t “put the product to his lips” in the commercial shoot. Did this “expert” cancel the shoot and enlist a new athlete? No, he continued with the shoot, and in the process, committed sports marketing fraud. It’s frauds like these that hurt our industry. This guy fancies himself a savvy sports marketer. He’s not, and should have been fired. But, because he aquired tickets to events for his bosses, he was viewed as a guy who got things done. That type of situation hurts the industry. That kills the perception of its true validity, and it happens all too often.
If you are getting into the sports business, adopt the discipline of only entering into deals that make sense for both your organization and the one you are doing business with. That “win-win” approach will create longevity in the partnership and your career. This means also not giving a potential client assets that they think they want, but do not fit with your brand. If you are a major league organization, you should not have “the official paving company” of your team. That type of deal erodes your brand, and is not fair to your real official partners. There are other assets you can provide to the paving company to help them achieve their goals and help you recognize revenue. The key take-away is to forget about the glut of inventory you possess and focus on what helps your partner do business.
Sports marketing is a spectacular mechanism to separate brands from their competitors and to drive consumers to forge relationships with products. Possess the discipline to not succumb to bad deals; point out to your bosses and C-level managers when the programs do not make sense, and most importantly, call out all examples of poor sports marketing. Do your part in taking the ego out of sports marketing.