If you’re not measuring what you’re selling, you don’t know Jack

Jack Birch solves problems. As sponsorship sales consultant to the pros, Jack coaches salespeople to keep the compass in mind. True north is to help brands  “teach your difference.”  You tell their story. What’s different. What’s better. Central to telling a brand story is sharing the “big idea” behind the brand with fans.

A brand is an idea. It’s not a product. It’s not a thing. Or a service. It’s a concept. It’s what the brand wants to represent in the minds of its customers. A brand is a premise with a promise. Brand partners want you to share this big idea so your fans become their fans. They want you to share brand meaning.

Shared meaning is the first M to measure, followed by Money, Medium and Momentum.


Properties sell the means to bring meaning to life.The big idea gets bigger when you share it with your fans.

Take a law firm. Please.

No one takes time to learn about lawyers until they need one. That changes when a law firm partners with a pro team. Passionate fans of the San Antonio Spurs know the Davis Law Firm “fights for your future” and overwhelmingly know their phone number is (210) 444-4444. New Orleans Saints fans know Dudley DeBosier is the official team partner that provides free Uber rides after the game, illustrating the personal attention fans get with the firm. And, yes, fans know their number is (504) 4Tres Amigos44-4444. Just goes to show when people need an injury lawyer, best not have them recall too many numbers.

Do you know the meanings of the brands you manage? The ones you’re pitching? If you don’t, you don’t know Jack. But, if you do know Jack (that’s him, far right), then you know the meaning of life. Well, at least you know to find the one or two words the brand wants to own in the minds of fans. The next question is: Are you measuring it?


Stay with us here. The two things all brands want to do are:

  1. Sell stuff.
  2. Grow profits.

Properties pitch and promise ways to help brands sell more stuff and grow profits. Properties promise to add more bank accounts, airline app users, weekly grocery shoppers, or daily coffee drinkers. We are in the business of helping properties include valid measures to prove they deliver on such promises.


Teams offer the medium of communication to reach fans. Teams don’t sell the rights to marks/logo, LED, scoreboard signage, naming rights, broadcast ads, website banners, social media, game promotions, and jersey patches. It’s not a media buy. Brands can get lower CPM elsewhere. Brands partner with the property to get access to effective media. Brands want to improve communications and inspire the community. Brands want to know if fan passion transfers to the brand.

Selling snake oilIf properties sell sponsorships because it works better than traditional media, it would be a good idea (it’s really our big idea) to measure just how effective the sponsorship medium is. In fact, it’s our moral obligation to measure what we sell. Otherwise, what are we doing? (→)

We help properties measure the effectiveness of each medium used by the sponsor to share meaning and make money. The sponsor sees the relationship between the price they paid and what they get. That’s the definition of value.1


The brand’s meaning differentiates it from competitors. The lift in brand equity from sponsorships assures the brand’s future. Our measures of differentiation and brand strength are shown to drive stock market price and allows the brand to charge more.2

Each brand then, one hopes, is different. Each has specific goals to benchmark and measure over the course of the contract and year-over-year. Toyota is the official partner of the Vegas Golden Knights. Partnership recall is great (51%) compared to average (~40%) and for the auto category (42%). Even better is knowing these fans are more than twice as likely to have test driven a Toyota in the past 12 months3 and twice as likely to have test driven a Toyota over a Honda. Better still, the number of fans who own a Toyota is up 78% among those who recall Toyota as the team partner.

When we measure results over the course of the contract we demonstrate the momentum will continue when the brand renews the partnership.


Membership has its privileges. Maybe it’s the fifth M. Join the 20 other pro teams that measure what they sell.



Does sponsorship work?

Sponsorship spending increased 70% from over the past dozen years (2006-2018) and people still ask, “Does sponsorship work?”

  • Yes, sponsorship works. Sponsorship works when fans make the connection between the brand and the team. We call that sponsorship recall.
  • Why does sponsorship work? Sponsorship works because passion transfers from the team to the brand. The stronger the ties that bind the brand with the team, the greater the passion transfer.
  • What builds strong ties? Brands build strong ties when they share brand meaning through the team via multiple channels of communication.

Average Sponsorship Recall & Brand Lift

Average NFL sponsor recall1 was 38-39% across eight teams over the past two years (2017-2018). Among 11 teams this year the average recall from preseason is up to 43% in the NFL. Adding eight more teams from the NBA and NHL, average recall remains about the same (44%). The increase is due to (a) adding teams measuring strong partnerships, (b) teams selecting more partners above a given spending threshold, and (c) our partners getting smarter in sharing brand meaning with fans. However, with 165 brands represented, it’s safe to say average recall across the leagues hovers near 40% (+/- a few points) over the past three years.

The data visualization demonstrates the biggest differences are across categories. Hover over each category to see the distribution within that group of sponsors. Above average recall comes from the brand’s active use of the team’s marks and often some kind of entitlement or dedicated branded space (gates, training facilities, etc.). Below average recall often occurs in the first years of a contract in non-exclusive categories. Nonetheless, 25% recall among an NFL team’s fan base of four million is still one million passionate fans.

Below the recall comparisons by category we can see the effects on the key brand metrics of differentiation2 and preference3 On average for the NFL, when fans recall brands as the partner of the team, they improve brand relevance, differentiation and preference by over 60%.

Note: All results are based on a scientifically designed sample of the team’s database accurately reflecting season ticket holders, single game buyers and all other registered users. These results statistically infer brand lift without directly asking fans about the relationship between recall and effects (e.g., “If brand X is a sponsor of the team….”).

Thanks to Ian Young for the cool data viz.

Select your partner: Why we choose one partner in each category

Which of these approaches to measuring sponsor recall do you think is best?

Best practice: Select one sponsor and two non-sponsor competitors in each category. Ask for “the” correct partner (Option A).

Why not select two sponsors if the category is not exclusive? Suppose you have two casino/resorts as partners. Why not ask about both at the same time?

  1. Specificity/Validity: Asking which brand is “a” corporate partner is a different mental process than asking which is “the” corporate partner.
    1. Asking which is “a” corporate partner using check boxes (as many as apply) induces more guessing and second-guessing.
    2. It’s like the dreaded test questions you had in school with “all of the above,” “none of the above,” or “All of the below are true except….”
    3. The best multiple choice questions that measure what you say you’re measuring have one correct answer.
  2. Results: Respondents develop different guessing strategies that may actually reduce recall results under conditions of greater uncertainty.1
    1. With years of experience experimenting with myriad methods of measuring recall, we found allowing for multiple correct choices reduces recall levels.
    2. Many will guess one or the other (not both) sponsors when they would have most certainly selected the correct brand against two non-sponsors.
    3. More respondents also guess the wrong brand. (“Hey, maybe I just didn’t notice or have forgotten?”) Since no penalty exists for guessing extra sponsors, they add choices they otherwise would never consider.
  3. Cognitive load: We reduce cognitive load with one correct answer that stands in contrast to two incorrect answers. Providing two potentially correct answers (sponsors) increases cognitive load and leads to mental errors.
    1. Asking respondents to identify the single correct sponsor allows it to stand in contrast to the competing non-sponsor brands, thereby enhancing brand equity effects.
    2. Having two major sponsors in the same category is like asking a mother to evaluate which is her favorite child. The question is much easier, requires less cognitive resources, to compare one sponsor (or one’s own child) to others that do not belong.
  4. Contrast effects: The elements of brand equity will stand in more stark contrast to non-sponsors, but will diminish when compared to similar others. In other words, the brand lift will not be accurately measured versus non-sponsors (viz., where the brand would be without the team) if we include more than one actual sponsor.

Finally, for business purposes, we offer and price reports based on one partner in each category. Adding a second partner within a category would mean another report. This adds additional programming for us and additional cost to the team. If both partners in a category would like to compare how they are doing with each other, then we simply replicate that category in a separate set of surveys–using the same non-sponsor competitors if desired. Then, we’re comparing apples-to-apples and we know respondents were not confused. We’re measuring what we say we’re measuring (validity) and we know if we repeated the measures in the same way, we’d get similar results (reliability).

8 Great Sponsorship Ideas

Brand objectives in an integrated marketing campaignA brand achieves over 50% partnership recall1Aided recall versus two primary competing brands when both the property and the brand effectively leverage assets to link and activate the brand in the minds of fans. One-third (41) of the 123 brands in 45 categories among eight NFL teams we studied achieved this feat in 2018.

Who will it be in 2019? The brands & properties with clear objectives (see right) that execute great sponsorship strategies like the ones we share from our partners (below) will achieve their goals. While there are many stellar sponsorship stories, here are eight we think are great.

Naturally, if you’re going to set goals it’s a good idea to measure progress. No one trains to run a race then never looks at the time. These partners set the goals and worked together to craft integrated campaigns that fans couldn’t miss.

Detroit Lions

Submitted by: Alex Ballew; Scott Olman

Partner: Henry Ford Health System

Brand Objectives: Differentiation, Preference/Consideration

The Lions teamed up with Henry Ford Health System to unveil a fully branded concourse prior to the 2018 season, which was the first of its kind at Ford Field. Branding is unmistakable throughout, including on the large walls, in the hallways leading to the seating bowl, on the window awnings, wayfinding signage and also integrated within the virtual photo fan experience. The wall graphics pair Lions players and Henry Ford Health System patients, showing key stats, facts, and interests for each. This theme helps humanize the players and makes them relatable to our fans.

Detroit Lions HFHS Concourse Wall

Partner: Kroger

Brand Objectives: Preference & Drive Traffic

Kroger was the perfect partner to integrate into a new Grab & Go concept at Ford Field. After the immediate success of the first location, Kroger doubled-down on the concept and installed a second Kroger Cooler in the building. Prior to the new concept and rebranding, both of these concession locations were among the worst performing in the facility. After renovations and branding with the new model, both locations are now Top 5 performers. In the minds of consumers, purchasing items from the Kroger Coolers is easy and quick, just like visiting an actual Kroger location.

Kroger Cooler at Ford Field

Houston Texans

Submitted by: Andrew Jacobs

Partner: Texas Children’s Hospital

Objectives: Increase/improve reputation (regard); Make the brand more relevant to people’s lives

One of Texas Children’s Hospital’s key objectives was to increase reputation and regard in the community through sponsorship of PLAY 60. During the season we created an entire “Play 60” week with events in the community to promote awareness and tie it to the team. Alex Comerota played a vital role in making the campaign a success.


Partner: RTIC

Objectives: To increase differentiation, trust, and preference.

RTIC makes excellent products that we are able to help differentiate from their chief competitor YETI. RTIC used the power of our brand, association with players, and special promotions throughout the year to increase their brand preference. They saw fantastic results, as those that recognized their partnership were far more likely to prefer RTIC to YETI. Litsa Darby did a great job with this campaign integrating the Texans with RTIC Outdoors.

Cleveland Browns

Submitted by: Vanessa Bryan

Partner: Bud Light

Objectives: Increase brand relevance & differentiation to increase consumption

Bud Light and the Browns created the Victory Fridges to help fans celebrate the first win of the 2018 season and the end of a long series of losses. Bud Light built a program based on several insights about Cleveland Browns fans in order to help them achieve their brand goal of associating celebrations with Bud Light. The brand also creatively executed several other brand elements, like the Bud Knight and the Dilly Dilly cam, to even further tie together the brand, team, celebratory moments, and the fridges.

Submitted by: Joe Hamlin

Partner: Sherwin-Williams

Objectives: To enhance reputation and drive consideration/preference for future purchase behavior.

For years the Browns were unable to wear our Color Rush jerseys we knew fans loved. When we were finally able to announce we were wearing Color Rush for three games, Sherwin-Williams jumped on the opportunity to present the announcement and the first ever Color Rush game with the Browns. Sherwin-Williams was the presenting partner of the first Color Rush game and a Color-Rush-Themed giveaway offered to fans.

For Sherwin-Williams, the synergies around a modern, new look with our colors was important. Equally important is being high in consideration for any customer coast-to-coast to get more shoppers to their neighborhood Sherwin-Williams store. The quality of the giveaway was important. Decades ago, Sherwin-Williams gave away painters hats. This time Sherwin-Williams opted for a more modern truckers-hat which has had amazing shelf-life since the promotion. We see them at almost every Browns event. The fact that this game was nationally televised, was Baker’s first game, and also our first win in 635 days also made the promotion lightning in a bottle.

New Orleans Saints

Submitted by: Kelly (Carroll) Batista

Partner: Cox

Objectives: Increase reputation and foster trust in the brand

Cox had a heavy game day presence both outside and inside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Prior to the game, their on-site activation was a virtual reality experience with high engagement and created a fun interactive opportunity prior to kickoff. Their in-game activation offered to give away free Contour TV service for a year to reward fans.Their ongoing distinctive creative strategy integrated the team marks well to show off the partnership and connect with fans. This creative lived on all billboards, web ads, program ads, and other media. Emile Moussa was instrumental in carrying out this campaign

Partner: Dudley DeBosier

Objectives: To enhance reputation to differentiate and build trust with the firm.

Dudley DeBosier (DDB) featured two outstanding campaigns in 2018. Their phone number is 504-444-4444 and to play into the theme of “4’s,” fans had the opportunity to enter to win a trip to the fourth away game of the season. Over 19,000 entries were received for the chance to win a trip to Minnesota. The social media posts gained 731k impressions and 16k engagements. The second cool campaign was in partnership with Uber. DDB offered safe rides for fans to and from Saints home games. As injury lawyers, it was great for them to message the need for safe rides to avoid the need for a lawyer later! This campaign resulted in 3.1m impressions on social media and almost 5000 fans taking advantage of the free rides. Kaitlin Donahoe Cox helped carry out these campaign executions originally sold by Juan Aguilera.


Need more information? Contact Kirk Wakefield (Kirk@WakefieldResearchPartners.com)

The Digital Media Value of Title Sponsorships & Promotions

Google trends for sponsors

Naming rights get plenty of media mentions, but what about directly tracking consumer engagement? What’s the relative payoff?

Including the effects of digital and social media in conjunction with the use of the team’s marks, we measure specific effects brands want fans to take as a result of sponsorship. These include what fans think, feel, or do because of the sponsorship, such as awareness of the Verizon Up campaign, preferring Heinz over Hunt’s, downloading the AT&T app, or owning a Toyota, Mercedes-Benz or Ford.

Tracking Media Engagement

But, one easy, free way to capture or track media engagement is through Google Trends.Entering key terms, we can find how frequently people search for information regarding the team and its sponsor. This speaks to the importance of the title sponsor promoting offers, deals or events connected directly to the team, so that fans search for “Lions” and “Ford” together. Of course, brands and teams get some co-branded search naturally. The question is, what can the brand do to promote more co-branded search?

People search for what they are interested in.

Comparing Naming Rights by Region

We can compare how AT&T’s sponsorship of the Cowboys fares against other naming rights in Texas–and compare it across time.  America’s most valuable team does produce more engagement than others in the state, but the Astros fare about as well and at times when the Cowboys are not in-season (and vice-versa). This chart illustrates the need for sponsors to establish complementary portfolios to reach consumers via passion points year round. (Hover over a point on the graph to see relative scores.)

Compare Naming Rights by League

We can compare with other NFL naming rights. Compared to the Patriots and Gillette, AT&T’s sponsorship of the Cowboys still reigns throughout the season, but the Patriots run lasts longer–right to the Super Bowl. Somewhat surprisingly, Ford’s sponsorship of the Lions fares about as well as the Gillette/Patriots and AT&T/Cowboys until peaking on Thanksgiving.

Compare Promotion Effectiveness

Google trends can also help track the success of promotions compared to other major promotions that might drive search behavior. This comparison shows that the Saints promotion with Verizon and the Texans promotion with the Texas Lottery drives consumers to get online to search for more information on behalf of the brand. Although on a smaller scale, the Lions promotion with Uber to help avoid traffic congestion also drives search behavior.

We continue to look for new ways to capture digital media value. Experienced marketers know the value is not in the exposure level. Everyone has heard of Ford, Verizon, Mercedes-Benz and Uber. The real value is in what people do because of the sponsorship. Measuring search behavior is one step in the right direction.

Can’t miss recall for sponsorship activation

The most important goal of sponsorship activation is to clearly link the brand with the property in the mind of fans. Without clear recall of the partnership, nothing else matters.

Brands with high recall produce activation elements fans can’t miss. They bring the brand alive in the minds of fans in a way that clearly connects with the team in an unmistakable way.

Since we travel to plenty of games in many places, we will post examples we see of activation elements we could not miss. Check back from time to time for new Can’t Miss Recall sponsorship activation examples.

Toyota @Rockies

Toyota partnerships typically fully integrate the use of marks and make the product the hero of their activation models. In addition to fixed signage assets, the product placement makes it impossible to miss when attending and difficult to miss during broadcasts. Partners know the brand is activated in the minds of fans when fans voluntarily stop to photograph and geek out over the display.

JetBlue @BarclaysCenter

jetBlue engages fans where they are, doing what they do, with can’t miss branding and clever, memorable messaging.

Honda @BrooklynNets

Honda attracts interest but not engagement. This branded space does little to invite people in. The activation elements on the wall help–and fans may recall Honda–but what could be done to more actively engage fans in the space? Compare the people in this branded space with the next one @Yankees.

AT&T @Yankees

Coca-Cola @Redwings

The interactive augmented reality by Coke captures fans as they walk down the corridor at Little Caeser’s Arena. Check it out.

Chevrolet @Redwings

The good and the bad: The good is that if you’re in the arena at intermission you can’t miss this Chevrolet competition and branding with the vehicles on the ice. The bad? Look at how many are in their seats during intermission.

And, this is cool @TheChampions. All it needs is a sponsor.

Brand amplification: The true power of the team’s logo & use of marks

Brand amplification is an industry buzzword for good reason. Organizations partner with properties to leverage the power and the passion fans bestow on the team. Met Life borrows brand equity from properties (Giants and Jets) to bring life and relevance to a brand in a category that fans might overlook. Dunkin’ Donuts leverages passion for the Colts to engage fans to process and act upon their brand messages.

Caring about the brand amplification or the power of the team’s logos & marks is all fine and good. But, it offers an incomplete picture. It oversimplifies the power of the entire package the brand gets in the bargain. Brands should use the marks of the team to clearly link the brand with the team in the minds of fans. But the question isn’t, “How much does the power of the team’s brand amp up the partner’s brand?” This misses the point on two levels:

  1. Assets don’t act in isolation. No one pays for the use of marks without the rest of the tool kit to build an integrated campaign.
  2. Brand amplification does not happen without partnership recall. Unless their fans link Lucas Oil (or Dunkin’ Donuts) with the Colts, Ford with the Lions, Mercedes-Benz with the Saints, or Reliant/NRG with the Texans, there is no amplification.

So, the right question is, “What tool is most effective to link the team’s brand with ours in the minds of fans to improve recall?” Like unto it, “Is the use of marks the most powerful?”

Anchor partners with rights to use the logo and marks of the team typically have the rights to communicate brand messages via the scoreboard & digital signage, fixed signage, gameday promotions & activation, broadcasts (TV/radio), social media, and the team website. The effectiveness of these assets are what separates the Jets from the Giants, Knicks from the Nets, Bears from the Cubs, or any other team from another in the market. What does the data tell us is the most effective?

Getting the Whole Picture

We can analyze the relative effect of the use of marks compared to the other assets–because we measure the effectiveness of all of these assets, across many brands across many teams over time among real people.1 Members in our research community can access average recall by category and assets across all partners. Now let’s answer our questions.

Is the use of marks the most powerful tool to improve partner recall?

The chart below shows the results of a regression equation using data from seven NFL teams, across 117 brand partners, with 103,704 fan responses. Baseline partner recall rate is 24%. In other words, what are the odds fans will guess a brand is the partner knowing nothing else? About one in four.2

Now, what is the biggest influence on increasing recall? Use of the team’s marks bumps recall 17%, followed very closely by gameday promotion & activation (16.7%). On average, if fans recognize the use of marks and gameday activities carried out by the brand, recall should be about 58% (24%+17%+17%). If fans recognized the rest of the assets–along with a highly passionate fan base 3–then recall approaches 100%. Of course, not every fan recalls every asset4 and not every fan is highly passionate. As shown elsewhere, average recall across all teams and brands is 40%. Read more here on how to improve it.

How does partner recall amplify the power of the team’s brand?

An important KPI of any partnership is brand differentiation, making the brand stand out from competitors. We ran another equation to show the effects of partner recall and assets on the partner’s differentiation (score range: 0-100). The baseline score is about 35. If fans recall the partnership between the brand & the team, differentiation jumps almost 20 points, which is five times the effect of any individual asset alone. You can add 2-4 points for each of the other eight asset categories recognized by fans. Click chart (right) to view. We get similar results, with different effects (weights) of each asset, on other KPIs such as brand relevance, trust, preference, usage and purchase.

The point is that without partner recall, little else matters. The best tool in the toolbox is the use of marks to increase recall. Each of the other tools play an important role to enhance recall of the right partner in a sea of competitors. Brands and teams need to know how effectively each and every asset performs to reach shared goals throughout the run of the contract, not at a single point in time for a brand not their own. That’s why members of this community transparently share scientifically and statistically sound results to make better business decisions.

What should brands do?

To flip the script, if brands want to increase recall and amplification, the #1 requirement is co-branding with use of the team’s marks. The biggest failures we see are brands paying for rights and dropping the ball by not using the marks. Most often these are national brands not integrating local or regional deals into their national campaigns. These national brands, and local brands with rights, need to capitalize on opportunities to display the team logo on websites, point-of-purchase, packaging or other avenues to fully activate the partnership and cement the brand-team linkage in the minds of fans.



What does it take to reach high partnership recall?

Average partner recall is 40% across a dozen NFL teams including over 100 brands across all major categories. Once brands reach 40% recall (among rival brands), fans more clearly recognize the channels used to reach them.

Effective use of the team’s marks in integrated marketing campaigns internal and external to the stadium and games drives recall. Gameday activation with prominent fixed and digital stadium signage is effective, but also critical are broadcast (TV/radio) and digital (website/social) assets that reach far outside the team’s DMA.

This heatmap for the Chicago Bears (click to go to interactive page) shows fans nearby notice many of the gameday, broadcast and digital assets partners use to communicate with them. The larger orange/red circles in the Chicago area indicate the large fan base that experiences a greater number of the assets. Partners also reach many other fans across the country, mostly via broadcast or digital. A surprisingly large number of game attenders travel from all of over the country to see the Bears.



What does it take to reach 50%, 60%, 70% or even 90% recall?

To get above 90% recall requires stadium naming rights, such as Mercedes-Benz, which tops 92% recall among New Orleans Saints fans. Naming rights for training facilities can do very well (60-80%), such as the Ochsner Sports Performance Center at the Saints or the Houston Methodist Training Center at the Texans. Entitlements for major stadium gates do well, such as the Bellin Health or Shopko gates at Lambeau Field, where NFL teams can typically count on similar recall rates between 50-60%. With effective use of marks in integrated campaigns and prominently named gates, established partners Tim Horton’s and M&T Bank achieve into the 70% range for the Buffalo Bills.

Just like any retail facilities, location is everything. You can’t miss the Mercedes-Benz Stadium if you visit New Orleans. Training facilities located some distance from the city can still do well, such as the Bears PNC Center, but partners must effectively co-brand in ways that remind fans of the association. Beyond the obvious, named gates can outperform if the stadium (and that gate) are on frequently traveled thoroughfares–because any fan who lives in or visits the city will at least drive by, if not tour, the stadium.

How long will it take?

Like any relationship, strong property-brand associations take time. Plan on 3-5 years to build to the higher levels, even with stadium naming rights. Add 2-3 years if the previous entitlement was strong and long. That’s what partners want–for the association to stick in people’s minds for more than just a season.

Is 40% still pretty good?

In a word, yes. Without some form of entitlement (stadium, facilities, or gates), few partners can achieve more than 50% recall. That’s not an opinion, just fact based on almost 20 years of measuring it. (For the curious, see here, here and here.) Further, while properties located in the largest DMAs (New York, Chicago, Bay Area) offer the greatest reach, the relative number of pro franchises and major college sports in these markets means the brand must increase the activation-to-rights spending ratio (currently 2.2X on average) to stand out.

Let’s remember–fans don’t come to the game or follow the team to find out about any company’s brand. The good news is passion for the team gives the lean-in factor that makes them pay attention to everything connected to the team. The stronger the connection, the better for the brand–and the higher the recall. Want high recall? Make unmistakable connections.