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 (

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.