When the world appears completely out of control, who better to quote than Star Trek’s Captain Kirk?
Kirk knew how to win when the odds were against him. When in Starfleet Academy, young Kirk faced the Kobayashi Maru no-win computer training simulation that defeated every cadet before him. Should he also face the Kobayashi Maru and lose? Instead, he redefined the problem with new thinking. He hacked the computer code for the exercise and created his own way to win.
Since our last blog on the state of the sponsorship industry, new thinking abounds. In the face of sports’ suspension, stay-at-home directives and economic chaos, a number of leaders in the industry have refused to lose, choosing new thinking instead:
• Media company SportTechie converted its postponed live conference into a free virtual conference, attracting A-players from brands and properties and over 6,000 industry attendees from 50 countries. Networking from home was never easier.
• Sports tech start-up CaringCent saw substantial new interest from college athletic departments looking for ways to connect with homebound fans and boosters through social media and email. Games may be suspended, but college brands remain strong.
• NASCAR shifted its terrestrial product to the virtual world with a live Esports event on FS1. Viewership for this virtual event surpassed the audience for many other sports’ live events. (You remember live events, don’t you?)
While technology played a role in many of the events we’ve seen over the past week, there’s a common strategic thread between them. February 2020 is old thinking. It’s gone. While we hope our industry comes back, it must be prepared that it may not come back in the same way… ever. April 2020 must represent a departure from that paradigm. It will be about new thinking.
How do we apply new thinking in sponsorship?
As we survey the wreckage of the last week, certain fundamentals haven’t changed. Brands still need to sell goods and services, now more than ever. Relationships between brands and properties will yield commercial benefit for both. Audiences still yearn for entertainment and opportunities to connect with content that thrills them.
However, things have changed. Live events remain paused. Fearful managers focus more on cutting budgets than finding ways to win. Millions of our friends, neighbors and colleagues are losing their jobs. We can’t change this reality. We can only control our reaction to it.
Those in our industry that react with new thinking are doing the following to combine sponsorship fundamentals while heeding the current reality:
• Creating new content to provide value to audiences
Some properties have turned to gamification, trivia contests or athlete-led social media content to connect with audiences. Others have been visible in curbing the spread of COVID-19 or raising funds for scarce medical equipment.
• Finding new ways to deliver content
Obviously, technology has made direct-to-consumer content delivery possible when live events cannot deliver. However, sports entrepreneurs continue to consider small behind-closed-doors events involving few athletes that have been medically-screened and cleared. (Think CBS, ABC and NBC promoting Superstars for nearly thirty years.)
• Focusing on new definitions of “value”
With changed circumstances, consumers may look at value differently. New thinking requires that we look at value differently as well. Today, consumers value hope, comfort, entertainment and connection more than they did a month ago. Sponsorship must shift to this new definition and adapt new ways to provide this value. Interestingly, we’ll be surprised to find ways of delivering value that may surpass the value delivered via old thinking.
Captain Kirk’s response to the no-win scenario was new thinking. For those in our industry who have a similar refuse-to-lose spirit, new thinking will be the path forward. Those who cling to old thinking will have a much bumpier ride in the coming weeks, months and years.