“Experience isn’t the best teacher,” my dad would remind me. “It’s the only teacher.” Over the years, experience taught me a great deal about sponsorship. I’d like to share my biggest mistake in sponsorship, hoping that you can benefit from my blunder.

Some years ago, a young INDYCAR sports marketer (me) had a sponsorship sales meeting with the CEO, COO, and SVP of Sponsorships for a large financial services company. The company’s CEO and COO supported our proposed partnership. However, they would not agree to the sponsorship unless I persuaded the SVP, who was not on board.

From the start, it was a tough meeting since the SVP felt the CEO was pushing our deal. When asked to present, I offered all the features and benefits of sponsorship and why our property would be a good value for her company. As the meeting concluded, she asked, “But you still haven’t told me why we should sponsor you.”

I felt a bit of pressure since this was the make-or-break moment with an executive who was not a fan of the deal. Almost instinctively, I responded, “Because you need us.”


Her facial reaction told me everything I needed to know. My response was an epic fail. As we left the company’s offices that day, I knew I had messed up…badly.

“Because you need us” arrogantly implied that my organization … the seller … was essential to the sponsorship relationship. It ignored a fundamental of sponsorship selling that I would learn later. That it’s not about me, it’s about you.

Great sponsorships solve marketing challenges for buyers. A sponsorship should enhance brands or lift sales. It should have nothing to do with the property’s need to make money by growing sponsorship revenue. A great sponsorship seller becomes intimately familiar with the buyer’s problems. If the sponsorship can help solve those problems, great. If the sponsorship cannot, there’s no deal to be had.

Since that meeting, every one of my sponsorship discussions has focused immediately on the buyer’s challenges. How can I help? How will the sponsor be better off with the relationship than without it?

During the meeting, the financial services company referenced that it wanted to raise its US profile to attract more high net worth personal investors. In hindsight, when the SVP asked me that final question, I should have said:

“Well, our fans have an average net worth of $500,000. Many of them have said in a recent survey that they’ll be seeking financial advice in the next six months. It would be great if a relationship with your company prompted our fans to seek advice from you. Let’s figure out a way to do that together and find more success for your company.”

Yep. Dad was right about experience. In my professional journey in sponsorship, it was a heck of a teacher that day.



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