By Ken Ungar
Let’s face it. Since March 2020, the live sponsored-event industry has been a dumpster fire. Sports, trade shows, charitable galas and industry events have been postponed, cancelled or devoid of their audiences.
To salvage any value from live sponsored events, the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a digital revolution in sponsorship. That’s why several of our Sponsorship Insights’ readers asked us to address how brands and properties should react to the rise of digital in sponsorship.
Since March, we’ve seen digital sponsorship integrations have take a number of creative forms:
- Existing live sponsored events have been replaced with digital or live-streamed events
- New made-for-digital events have been created
- Sponsors and properties have generated non-event digital brand extensions
- Sponsors and properties have created “2d screen” or “3d screen” extensions of events
No matter the integration, digital sponsorship tactics have similar advantages and disadvantages.
First, the most obvious advantage of digital integration today is its safety. At a time when we cannot promote large live events, digital enables sponsors to deliver messages safely to home-bound audiences. Second, digital enables messages to be delivered with the richness of visual and sound elements. A compelling video delivered on a stadiums digital boards works the same on a 12 inch computer screen only with less distractions. Finally, digital allows story-telling extensions. While the event transpires, digital creates the opportunity to enhance the event with stories “behind the velvet rope.”
First, digital can be a cold two-dimensional platform. For example, in a stadium environment, sponsor messages can be delivered in multiple ways (i.e., signage, video, PA reads, or premiums) at different times (i.e., before, during or after the event). Digital events can be more static like a ZOOM meeting with a linear agenda. Viewers are focused on one message at a time. Second, sponsor messages can appear to be more like advertisements than reflections of relationships. When audiences see commercial “ads”, this increases audience skepticism towards sponsors and mutes the power of image transfer in sponsorships.
How to Embrace the Revolution?
We predict that live sponsored events will never be quite the same post-pandemic. Audiences have come to enjoy certain aspects of the digital revolution they’ve experienced since March. Once the world returns to live-event mode, properties will be challenged to make the live experience a “can’t miss” event and digital will have to be a part of their response.
We have some thoughts about what sponsors and properties should be doing today to prepare digital sponsorship integrations of the future:
- Ensure that your digital strategy (and the means to deliver it) is at least as effective (or more effective) than your terrestrial strategy. Digital cannot be treated as the last item dealt with in an integrated marketing plan. We realize now that digital can be as important as the live event itself.
- Pair terrestrial assets with digital ones in present and future sponsorship agreements, For example, if a brand has rights to field signage, be sure it has commensurate exposure within the property’s digital platform (i.e., banner ads, social media integrations or video rights)
- Have a communications plan that introduces the audience to the sponsorship prior to an event. Events will still be dependent on sponsorship revenue and should remind the audience of the sponsor’s role in making the event possible.
- Plan in-event integrations carefully. Sponsors should be incorporated into the story of the event, and not be treated as advertisers. A recent favorite of mine is how League of Legends Championship Series integrated sponsor Honda into its game play.
- Activate the event. Even though a sponsor may be unable to attend an event, there are multiple ways to activate an event through digital and physical assets. For example, my son graduated college digitally in May, but his college sent him a physical “Grad Kit” filled with graduation-branded items that enhanced the digital celebration of commencement.
As we move into the back end of 2020, we may start to consider the return of live events in 2021. However, it will be critical to think creatively to adapt to the digital revolution that kicked into overdrive this year. The digital revolution will positively impact the sponsorship industry, even as we extinguish the embers of the pandemic-caused dumpster fire.
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