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Do Sports Marketers Need a Trade Association?

Companies and individuals who are part of the North American sports and entertainment marketing ecosystem don’t lack for opportunities to join trade groups.


Brands have the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), agencies have the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), PR professionals have the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and the list goes on.


But there is no trade association specifically for those engaged in the business of sponsoring and partnering with sports and entertainment properties, talent, venues and content.


The fact that sports and entertainment marketing has survived for decades without one demonstrates that the need for such an organization is not critical. However, the existence of one would provide some advantages to the businesses and pros across the sector.


In general, a trade association takes on the responsibilities of promoting its industry, both to the public and key target audiences; lobbying for or against legislation at various levels of government; organizing industry conferences and meetings; providing professional education and networking opportunities; and establishing and maintaining standards for best practices. On a less tactical level, industry groups also encourage and support collaboration and information sharing between members.


Our peers across the pond have such a group. The European Sponsorship Association was formed in 2003 when two previous organizations—one representing agencies and one representing brands—merged. With a “mission…to inspire, unite and grow a welcoming and diverse sponsorship industry,” ESA offers a number of programs and services to its members, including helping to qualify professionals through professional development programs, such as its ESA Diploma, ESA Sponsorship Sales Certificate and ESA Leaders Programme.


I would argue that with the exception of conferences—of which there are many quality options already in the marketplace—North American sports marketers would benefit from having an institutional advocate for what they do, as well as a body that could take the lead on developing and setting standards and guidelines across a number of areas, from valuation and measurement to training and agency compensation.


It's no secret that sports marketing and sponsorship often faces outsized scrutiny from fans, news media and government officials, with individual brands and properties left to defend themselves against mostly unfounded charges of over-commercialization, reckless spending, etc.


While most are able to handle the negative attention, wouldn’t it be nice to have an industry watchdog that would be consistently educating key audiences about the positive aspects of partnerships between corporations and rights holders, not to mention offering networking opportunities, training programs and other services?


Trade groups don’t appear out of thin air, of course. It would take multiple players in the industry to agree on the necessity of an association and to provide funding to get it up and running, including crafting bylaws and hiring staff. So far, that initiative has been lacking and may never emerge, but even though it may not be a must-have, a body to represent our collective interests would certainly be welcome.

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