After last weekend’s capacity crowds for college football and the F1 United States Grand Prix in Austin, it almost felt like the good old days of 2019. But it’s not.

As communities, we continue crossing the COVID-19 minefield. As marketers, we are cautiously optimistic as events begin their comeback and sponsorships with them. New and existing event venues have generated a substantial list of new naming rights relationships. However, we’re still a bit shell-shocked from the 2020 flood of event cancelations. There’s no doubt it’s a strange time to be a sponsorship marketer.

When looking at 2022, our clients have asked how they should position sponsorship as part of their overall marketing mix. Generally, we share the following three pieces of advice.

Don’t Forget the Lessons of 2020 and 2021

October 2021 looks a lot like 2019. It’s great to see full football stadiums, returning concert tours, and familiar non-profit events. Nevertheless, it would be great if the pain of 2020 made sponsorship better in 2022. We recommend carrying 2020’s hard-earned lessons forward into 2022.

  • Integrate social and digital into your overall sponsorship leverage plan. In 2020, it was the entire leverage plan. In 2022, it should not be relegated to second or third-tier status just because the live event has returned. Use your 2020 know-how to supercharge digital in 2022.
  • Consider hybrid or virtual events that run in tandem with live events. There will always be a home audience, even for smaller event sponsorships. We learned a lot about how to engage a virtual audience in 2020 and 2021. Virtual events delivered more value to attendees than before 2020, provided more behind-the-scenes access to create memorable moments, and added entertainment to engage audiences. Use this knowledge of virtual event best practices to generate resonance beyond the sponsored live event.
  • In new relationships, continue to plan for the “what if this event were canceled.” COVID-19 demonstrated that events could be canceled. No one (especially me) wants to renegotiate sponsorships that did not contemplate cancellation or postponement.

Be Cautious in a Bold Way

We’re still shell-shocked from 2020 and will be for a long time. However, when you went “radio-silent” with your sponsorship, your competitors used your absence to take up strong offensive positions in the marketplace.

Some degree of caution is still warranted. For example, it would be ill-advised to put all your sponsorship assets in the live event category in 2022. For this reason, create a balanced program that takes the ongoing pandemic’s unpredictability into account.

Ultimately, the sponsorship market will reward the bold. Holding back sponsorship resources because of a vague fear of COVID-19 impact is not courageous. Moving forward with an innovative and strategic approach to your sponsorship program should be top of mind in 2022.  After all, it’s how your competitors are thinking.

Integrate Purpose-Driven Sponsorship Into Your Portfolio

If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you know that we’re very enthusiastic about purpose-driven sponsorship. 2021 saw no relief in the challenges facing our communities regarding health, climate, food insecurity, and a host of other concerns. Consumers want companies to address the issues of community concern.  Additionally, employees want their companies to walk the walk on social responsibility.

Purpose-driven sponsorship continues to be one of the best vehicles for corporations and non-profits to collaborate on issues that matter to consumers.  For this reason, it should continue to be a growing portion of every sponsor’s overall portfolio of activities.

Final Thoughts

2022 will not be a copy of the two previous years. (Thank goodness!) It will have its own unique set of challenges for sponsors and properties. However, applying what we recently learned about sponsorship in 2020 and 2021, we will be better positioned to grow our organizations and future-proof sponsorship.

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