No-one has a crystal ball forecasting the sponsorship’s industry fate. However, we don’t need psychic ability to predict the consequences of the unfolding economic debacle. That doesn’t necessarily spell doom for sports, non-profits, the arts and any other organization reliant on the $67 billion (pre-COVID-19) sponsorship industry. It simply puts a premium on our strategy, creativity and positioning.
While filling out our agency’s CARES Act loan application, I considered the industries and companies that don’t need a government bridge loan: grocery store chains, consumer packaged goods companies, supply chain logistics organizations, and anything technology-related. As the health care crisis continues to play out, they’ll be fine. The sponsorship industry, including the sports market, which encompasses 70% of all sponsorships, will most definitely not be “fine” in the short term. See the latest news with the XFL as an example.
In this series of blogs to date, I’ve recommended a crisis-mode approach to communications that integrates stakeholders, aggressively ramping up engagement with consumers and adapting a new way of thinking about the new market reality. In this installment of our series on the sponsorship industry in crisis, I offer a reflection summarizing the approach we need to find success again.
Like every business, we must be ready to create real value for our customers, clients and partners. In a time of economic chaos, there’s value in knowing how to stare down madness.
Events will be cancelled. Sports will be suspended. Fans will be apprehensive about sitting next to coughing strangers, or just sitting next to strangers in general. Many people will be unemployed. Public officials will be hyper-protective. And, too many of us may still be ill. Consider this chaotic combination of events like a giant jig-saw puzzle that’s just been suddenly tossed off the kitchen table, pieces everywhere, with perhaps a quarter of the pieces damaged or missing.
Now, put the puzzle back together again.
As businesses will need to connect with customers to sell things, we’ll need to put the sponsorship industry back together again. Sponsorship will look different in the coming weeks, months and years. However, its character remains intact. The power of sponsorship derives from the mutually beneficial relationship between a property and a brand. Nothing underscores the importance of relationships more than what the world has experienced since December 2019.
Enter the puzzle-solver.
The survivors – the “thrivers” in our industry – will be those brands, properties and agencies that know how to connect the dots and solve massive three-dimensional problems. The puzzle pieces we’ll find will include health and safety concerns, legal matters, personnel challenges, financial hardships, sales and marketing issues, and many others. Whoever can provide guidance to their organization, solve difficult problems and connect the right pieces for their customers and their industry will be the most valuable players in their field.
Just as we depend on the grocery store associate to feed us, this problem-solver will be our new sponsorship hero. A problem-solver on steroids will become an essential industry asset when organizations are looking to return to play. Each and every one one of us must contribute to the solution. As the sponsorship industry moves forward, this approach should serve us well in finding our way back to success.