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Communications Sports Marketing

Signs fade and times change: Communications and the future of sports marketing

By Jason Teitler, managing director, consumer & brand marketing

April 1, 2016 | 4 min read

An enviable piece of advertising hangs about 370-odd yards from home plate at Yankee Stadium. Bright yellow and red, visibly popping with contrast against the Yankees’ navy right field wall, W.B. Mason’s classic, home-run territory sign stands out from the many brands paying a pretty penny to be seen in New York’s outfield.

But these days, even the best-placed signs aren’t nearly enough.

For decades, brands have negotiated sports and entertainment sponsorships and endorsement deals primarily through a marketing lens, often leaving communications out of the negotiation process. From Michael Jordan and Nike flipping the sneaker industry on its head to brands like AT&T, Budweiser and Delta paying top dollar for iconic sign placement in stadiums and arenas across the country, this has been a popular—and effective—strategy for what feels like forever.

Signs fade and times change, though. Traditional sponsorship activations such as billboards, onsite activities and contests have become significantly less effective due to many technologically based distractions and one underlying reality: buried up to their necks in 24/7 content, fans are only going to pay attention to what they care about. Communications is and has always been the solution.

The modern fan—a catchall term used to describe a demographic of consumers, business partners, employees, media members, etc.—wants content specifically curated for him or her by the people who understand his or her passions. Across the board, brands have been slow to adjust—often doing nothing or generating cynicism and scorn through cumbersome attempts at appealing to consumers (especially when it comes to non-natural sports brands, like airlines and cellular companies). The fact is, the modern fan can sniff out insincerity from a mile away; today’s fans are smarter, more discerning, more passionate and utterly dismissive of blanket marketing.

To meet this shift in expectations, it’s imperative that brands incorporate communications into the negotiation. A successful activation of a sponsorship or endorsement deal should deploy creative public relations initiatives rooted in an overall brand strategy. Most brands fail to involve their communications experts in the negotiation stage and many still intentionally leave them out or forget to include them during the activation stage. This is a widespread and major mistake often resulting in tremendous lost value from what could be extremely lucrative partnerships.

A collaborative environment used to be a luxury, and now it’s a necessity that forward-thinking brands have benefited from greatly. Take MetLife, for example, which instantly integrated its communications team into the pre-activation process for the MetLife Stadium naming rights sponsorship. Or Staples, which negotiated a sponsorship of the North American leg of Katy Perry’s Prismatic World Tour with its PR team by its side, ensuring communications was part of the platform. Incorporating communications isn’t a one-sided proposition—leagues, teams and spokespeople who understand the value delivered by an effective PR strategy all stand to benefit.

Simply put, communications is the discipline best suited to explaining the why. A smart PR strategy can make fans understand why a brand matters on a personal level, why a brand is worth 15 seconds of their time; why a brand is relevant to the sport, team, or player they love; and ultimately, why they should give a damn about a particular brand. By failing to integrate communications into the entire marketing process, brands are unable to realize the true value of any sponsorship or endorsement effort.

The billboards that line the outfield of a baseball stadium, circle a hockey rink or loom in the sky right off the highway say something, but they don’t say enough. Can you glance quickly at a sign and decide between beer brands or phone companies? How can you agree with “Who But W.B. Mason?” when you don’t really know who or what W.B. Mason is? Communications has been the answer all along. It’s time for brands to start talking.

Jason Teitler is managing director, consumer and brand marketing at Burson-Marsteller

Communications Sports Marketing

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