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).