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Time for Sports Properties to Focus on Their Brands

In the vernacular of sports and other partnerships, corporate sponsors are often referred to as “brands,” while sponsored organizations are typically called properties or rights holders.

While this works as industry shorthand, it partially negates the consideration of leagues, teams, events and other properties as brands.

In speaking and working with both rights holders and sponsors to determine how sports organizations can best deliver what their corporate partners need, it’s clear that many properties could become better partners by making brand building and stewardship a higher priority than it currently seems to be for many.

Corporate marketers have shifted sponsorship priorities from amassing eyeballs and seeing teams and events as merely the purveyors of assets and inventory for branding.

They need to know much more about the organizations they are partnering and spending money with beyond “We’re the only (pro, major college, etc.) (football, basketball, baseball, etc.) team in town.”

In response, rights holders must be able to convey their brand equity, strength and value—and their components—to prospective partners.

Understanding the brand and being able to communicate its positioning and impact is an important step in transitioning from a one-dimensional transactional relationship between property and sponsor to the more dynamic and profitable model of a partnership in which each party delivers value to the other and has a stake in the other’s success.

Today’s sponsors seek partnerships with rights holders that understand the meaning and worth of their brands and practice all of the elements of good brand management—conducting and responding to research into audience and stakeholder attitudes; developing strategic marketing campaigns that differentiate the organization; collecting, analyzing and drawing insights from fan and customer data, etc.

Every property must recognize its brand as a strategic asset that defines the organization for all stakeholders and directly impacts the value of its corporate partnerships. The brand should be at the core of the organization, with everyone involved committed to understanding, articulating and managing it.

Corporate marketers seek partner brands that have the ability to raise their own brands by association, as well as foster loyalty and turn fans into loyal customers and ambassadors. Among the practices that brand-centered organizations must be committed to:

· Communicating brand meaning and value to everyone who represents the organization. This acknowledges that every deed, even seemingly inconsequential actions or decisions, either builds or takes away from the brand.

· Going beyond merely understanding the target audiences’ impressions of the brand and using that information to make improvements that will strengthen the bond with consumers.

· Developing relevant products, content and marketing and communications programs that will expand reach and impact.

As corporate marketers seek more relevant and meaningful partnerships that will create deep connections with fans and customers, winning the sponsorship game will belong to those not necessarily with the biggest number of fans and followers, but those with the strongest and most well-developed brands.

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