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Step Into a Sponsor’s Shoes and You May Not Like the Fit

Those of us who have never worked full-time on the corporate side of sponsorship marketing may find ourselves daydreaming about what it would be like to have one of the most coveted roles in sports business.

From the outside—and perhaps especially for the salesperson struggling to meet their quarterly goal or the agency exec juggling multiple demanding clients while constantly searching for more—sponsorship positions can appear to be “dream jobs.” Who wouldn’t want to decide how to spend a company’s money and be the one sought after rather than the one doing the seeking?

Well, my recent experience working with a number of brand-side marketers has reminded me that however rewarding a role as a sponsorship buyer can be, it is not as ideal as many perceive it to be.

I share this not so much as career advice, but as perspective for sponsorship salespeople, agency personnel, service suppliers and others who work with or want to sell to those in the corporate seats. Understanding what partners and prospects face goes a long way to making sure communications, negotiations and ultimately the partnership itself will be successful.

Here are just a few issues that most, if not all, sponsors face:

Stretched Thin. Most sponsorship operations run lean. It is not unusual for a team of three or four people to manage portfolios of 40, 50 or more partnerships. Even with agency support, it’s impossible to devote the time and attention to every relationship that would be necessary to achieve maximum value.

If you are a sponsored property (or are pitching one) that’s not among the most prominent in the portfolio, manage your expectations about how many activation and other resources will be devoted to the partnership.

Fighting for Every Dollar. Even if the human resources allocated to sponsorship were properly in place, budgets for research, activation, measurement and other elements required to successfully execute all partnerships are inadequate. As one sponsor contact recently said to a seller, “I’m fighting as hard for budget as you are for the sale.”

Even when opportunities arise that would clearly benefit the brand, if they require funding not already budgeted, sponsorship staff face an uphill battle through procurement and finance procedures that often require more time and effort than they are worth in the end.

Priorities and Decision-Makers Constantly in Flux. The same sponsor quoted above also said, “As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, or that you have a pathway to get something done, a priority changes, or who has the decision rights changes. Who you need to engage, or who you need to get support from for the decision, or who you can and can’t upset with the decision that gets made are all constantly changing.”

Those three conditions are not new and are unlikely to abate in the future. What has been added to sponsors’ plates, however, are novel issues that all of us are dealing with, including the impact of continuing COVID concerns; ensuring partnerships are in line with diversity, equity and inclusion principles; addressing sustainability; and how to incorporate response to calls for social justice.

Although there will always be a power imbalance in the buyer-seller relationship, the role of sponsor representative is not entirely enviable. Properties and others that recognize that fact stand a better chance of building positive relationships with brands.

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