Mar 24, 2009 at 10:57 PM
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Cause vs. Sports. Rethink.

Just had a 3-hour lunch with one of the sponsorship industry's foremost thinkers and I'm even more pumped about what we're doing here. Get on board, we're leaving the station!

Now to an interesting topic that's been dominating the sponsorship forums on linkedin, twitter, etc. Unless you've been under a boulder, you've seen the recent Performance Research study about consumers being more receptive to cause-related angles than sports sponsorships:

Performance Research/IEG Study on Consumer Perception to Sponsorships

Some have taken this study as an indictment of sports sponsorships and a victory for cause partnerships in the competition for corporate dollars. In reality, while causes may now have more leverage in crafting sports-based partnerships, both parties need each other more than ever.

I asked Bill Doyle, owner of Performance Research, about their findings and the industry's reaction to them. Here's what he said:

"Following our presentation, we had concerns that there would be those that may have mis-interpreted our results to imply that companies should ditch sports in favor of causes. But, that is not the case at all, what we interpreted was that the perception of a sport sponsor, strictly on their communication as a "sports official sponsor", was not as strong as it once was.... and in this economy, in order to appear less wasteful, selfish, etc... the American Consumer is expecting more. They want to hear that you (sponsor) are doing something of social value, or, at least, have a strong business reason (that can be communicated in a sound-bite) for being a sponsor of that sport."

Here's our full discourse: Research Discussion

While it's true a few corporations may shift budgets in response to this, both sports and cause properties bring different competencies to the table in what has the ability to truly be a 1+1=3 situation. Sports organizations offer the media to fuel awareness of important causes within the community and causes lend critical goodwill capital to sports teams who in the age of eight figure salaries MUST become a fabric of the community. In partnership, they offer a dynamic activation platform that can help brands engage not only the community's eyeballs, but also their hearts.

Coca-Cola gets it. Today they debuted a new activation platform for their 2010 Olympic sponsorship that combines the very best of both cause and sports:

Coca-Cola uses Olympic Sponsorship as Environmental Call to Action

So as you think through whether your local team/cause is a competitor, peer brand, partner, etc., you may want to look at how some sponsors are evolving and shifting their activation assets to meet the consumer's evolving perceptions. Worst case scenario, you'll find a "frienemy" and in most cases, a valued partner.

And Houstons on Park Ave, sorry for keeping your table all afternoon talking about this stuff!