How online tools can help determine the worth of a sporting sponsorship

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It’s a good year to be talking about sponsorship effectiveness. A very good year. Sure, 2010 was a pretty good one too, but the Olympic Games take it to another level. While it may not bring in the same value in sponsorship dollars as that overly-regulated tournament where men in shorts fall over if you so much as sneeze in their direction, the prestige of an event which had its first incarnation in the BC years adds another dimension.

Sponsorship investments, and their effectiveness, have long been a challenge for brands to get their heads around. What constitutes a positive ROI in these situations? For many faced with this challenge, a straight quantitative answer is the only thing that can be relied upon. Measuring media value generated through exposure, therefore, becomes the de facto evaluation of success. And so, activation strategies become all about get-my-brand-out-there and make-it-visible.

The critical idea that these quantitative measures miss, however, is the values association. As a sponsor, brands play a critical role in making some pretty special events happen. You know the standard thank-you drill at the end – ‘without you, none of this would have been possible’. Well, that means something. But how can brands understand their impact in this area? How can they tell whether fans understand, and believe, this connection?

Let’s look, for example, at The Comrades Marathon, one of the world’s top ultradistance races run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in South Africa. The event this year took place recently and we tracked the online conversation over the weekend. Think of it as being able to listen in on a multitude of coffee shop conversations at once. Here’s what we found.

Of the total volume of the event’s online conversation happening over the weekend, less than one percent of this included a reference to the sponsors of the event. The event’s online chatter generated over 2 500 000 opportunities to see and an earned online media value of over R1 500 000. The exposure equivalents for conversation that included the sponsors: 73 890 opportunities to see and only R16 964 in earned media value. Even at a purely quantitative level, it’s clear to see the missed opportunity.

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. So, let’s take a visual look at the conversation over the weekend. Spot anything missing?

Imagine the impact on a brand’s value if they could get involved in this conversation? What might happen if fans really (really) felt that a brand participated because they believed in the values and spirit of the event, not just how many eyeballs they might be able to flash their logo at?

But how do brands do this? Well, no doubt there are many ways and many Memeburn readers will have far more experience in implementation than I do, but here’s my suggested starter-for-ten:

  • Understand what’s important to fans by really listening. If you take the time, they’ll tell you. Online monitoring tools such as BrandsEye SaidWot and Radian6 can all do the trick.
  • Once you’ve listened, think about ways in which you can genuinely add value in these areas and get involved in the conversation. What interesting, funny, engaging, and insightful content can you contribute to the discourse?
  • No implementation loop is complete without an evaluation, so check whether you’re doing the right thing by your fans regularly. The same tools as mentioned in Step 1 can help with this too.

The Olympic Games holds a special place in my heart — men and women from all over the world brought together by the pursuit of excellence in a visual demonstration of how connected we all really are. Let’s see how many brands can convince me they feel the same way.

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