On sponsorship and platforms

The Economist’s special section (Aug. 2-8) on the business of sports has some interesting insights into sports marketing which left me missing an angle – the impact of digital media on the activation and ultimate value of a sports sponsorship. A quote by Tony Viniquerra, president and chief executive of Fox Network, “The more platforms you put the stuff on, the less valuable it is to us.” While he was quoted in the context of Major League Baseball webcasting games to exile (out of market) audiences, I found it ironic to read elsewhere – in the New York Times on Monday, that NBC was openly hostile to the internet as an complimentary platform to television as recently as Sydney, only to see these Beijing Games eight years later as very digital Games worthy of some 3,500 hours of streamed content, especially in the long tail sports, so much so that some corporate IT network administrators are dreading the impact of online sports streams on their corporate LANs these next few weeks.

I don’t expect to see a major transition away from the lean-back medium of television sports to the lean forward model of PC delivered streams – not on a mass basis as broadband and PC penetration remain uneven in most markets. And certainly am not holding my breath for some significant shift onto third screen delivery such a phones and wireless mobile devices. One doesn’t take in a first run blockbuster on a 3″ screen — there is a reason why Best Buy flogs really big televisions in late January for the Super Bowl – people want the spectacle of sport on big screens just like they want their special effects laden blockbuster on the big big screen at the Cinema Infinity.

The second screen phenomenon of a viewer watching sports on a television with a PC next them for stats and maps is compelling, especially to broadcasters and marketers, but as a fan who likes to watch the Red Sox out of the corner of one eye, I don’t find myself looking out the other at Redsox.com for serious geek-out stats. The 3D strike box thing generally lags the action, and with Tivo interrupting the synchronization as I step away for inter-inning pees, I don’t buy the benefit of the second screen phenomenon — nevertheless, a ThinkPad is in my lap during most sporting events, even if it is just so I can be a workaholic and check email during lulls in the action.

If one were a CMO looking at a dollar of sponsorship money, the first 10 cents goes to the team or league – FIFA, NFL, IOC, FC Barcelona, Williams F1 – the rest goes to advertising to tell the world about the sponsorship. The Economist cited WPP as estimating $38 billion was spent last year on sponsorships but $449 billion was spent on advertising. Joe Tripodi, CMO of Coke, Olympic sponsors since 1928, told the Economist: “In sponsorship it’s not what you have, it’s what you do with it.” My job is figuring out what to do with it online. The options are huge and a little daunting in terms of the sheer number of interactive channels available. I’d estimate of the 90 cents going for advertising, interactive is probably getting 20 cents, maybe 30, and the expectations for accountability and breakthrough results are huge.

Dropping a big check on NBC or Eurosport for a few hundred 30-second spots is a nice thing to be able to do, but we geek marketers get less money to play with, and frankly I for one am glad for it. I hate buying brand online through repetition and out-shouting share-of- voice tactics. Sure, the online publishers love to take the money, but the measurements just don’t support pissing the budget away on tattoo campaigns where the brand name is cycled through innumerable banners, pre-roll videos, and fixed placements on site sections. I don’t buy online awareness through repetition, but through surgical strikes that, if they hold any merit, get passed along or are addictive enough to attract their own audience. Maybe it’s my background in media, but I rather organically develop content that will build audience rather than rent someone elses. Yes, we’re getting NBCOlympics.com as part of our television play and I have full expectations that it will perform well. But I’m a “brought to you by” parasite to NBC’s host. A so-called Top Sponsor like Lenovo is in the position of actually enabling the Olympics – it’s our PCs that are powering the venues and the officials, we’re providing the athletes with the machines. The only other sponsor category that one would argue is genuinely on the ground is shoes – it you are Nike or Adidas this is it – the big show. It gets no bigger than this. But if I am (and I want to be careful not to disrespect other sponsors) the official drink, credit card, or film ….. what kind of content can I hope to build online that is going to be of interest to the fan or casual audience member. (The exclusive “provider of the Games” category is killer, I was freaked to sit in Berlin at the 2006 World Cup finals and see there was only one beer served in Hitler’s Olympic stadium, one beer of all beers, in a country that is the beer capitol of the world: and that beer was Budweiser.

Interactive sponsorship needs to change with the technology. The days of the online sweepstakes to win the trip for two to the Games is over. The 30-second spot, billboard, bus wrap, and massive logification will continue indefinitely, but the web ….things are only now beginning to get interesting.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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