The Evolution of Sponsor Activations And How Businesses Are Changing To Manage Success

Sponsorship has been through a significant shift over the past decade or so. We have seen a drastic change from logo’s, tickets, corporate entertainment, and website ads, as the main assets within a portfolio, to a far heavier focus on fan engagement.

Why the shift?

There are three main reasons as to why partnerships are being activated differently these days.

1. Technology

Rapid changes in technology has seen a far greater ability and ease for organisations to find new ways of measuring engagement, reach, and success.

2. More Qualified Staff

In recent times, we have seen a far more professional and committed approach to sponsorship through dedicated, specifically qualified, staffing arrangements. This brings with it a level of knowledge, experience, creativity and bolder approaches.

3. More Reliable Reporting

The result of the above two points has led to a need for more reliable success metrics around partnerships to help assess how/if/why certain sponsorships fit within a company’s marketing mix in a way that will help them achieve their wider marketing goals.

Does That Mean Old Methods Are Dead?

Absolutely not! 

What it does mean, however, is that brands and rights holders are bringing a far more collaborative approach to sponsorship with a greater level of thought and structure around what they are doing. 

It is far rarer to see ‘chairman’s choice’ or pre-built packages in sponsorship deals these days; although, they still do occur. 

With increasing technology sophistication, logo branding and hospitality are becoming less and less likely to be the premium assets that brands are looking for. Again, however, this is not always the case and it absolutely does depend on the objectives of the brand within their marketing strategy. 

What I am saying is that there is a far more bespoke nature to sponsorship in 2019 as there was in 2009. Further, best practice tells us that those rights holders who align assets directly to the objectives of brands are able to provide far greater success and positive review metrics than they were able to do a decade ago. 

How Have Activations Evolved as a Result?

As a result of this shift, more effort is going into activating in the right way. Its only natural to see a more concerted effort going into success if we are aligning business objectives to the assets received and this means more collaboration and more rigid reporting follows. 

The biggest shift in the evolution of activations is the tracking of Return on Objective (ROO) of a partnership over and above Return on Investment (ROI). This means that activations are far more aligned to tangible actions of engaging directly with fans and audiences to shift those audiences from being a borrowed audience (owned and accessed by the rights holder) to that of an owned audience by the brand (those which engage directly, over time, with the brand as a result of the sponsorship). 

In the quest to achieve the audience engagement shift, we now see far more data capture, gamification, and technology usage within sponsorship activations. 

The noticeable change has also led to a change in activity flow and periods. By nature of chasing direct fan engagement, partnerships and the activations cannot always be ‘on’. As such, the other common theme we see is the ebb and flow of activations which are often aligned to wider marketing activity. That means that sponsorship is being used to augment broader market messaging around campaigns a brand may be running. 

What’s next for Rights Holders wanting to manage this change?

Within the U.S. particularly, and increasingly throughout Europe and Australasia, we are seeing rights holders invest heavily in technology to help drive engagement, data visualisation, and reporting.

Those who are leading the way are supporting this with dedicated B.I. staff who can analyse the data, help make business decisions, set strategy around it, and provide concise, tailored, and deep reporting to sponsoring brands. 

It has taken investment, however, the upside results are fast and significant and those looking to be leaders in their markets need to get on the ship before it sails and the field is sailing off into the distance.

Written by: Mark Thompson

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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Airline Sponsorships – Surely, They do More Than Just Football?

With my eyes glued to the end of the European football season (English Premier League and the Champions League/Europa League), it was impossible not to notice the role that international airlines play in sports sponsorship. Two that were screaming out to me, in particular, were Etihad Airways and Emirates; just check the front of the jersey of two of English football’s power clubs.

But it got me thinking: what other sports or industries are airlines investing in commercial partnerships with? How does a rights holder sell to and service an airline if they don’t traditionally travel great distances throughout a given period or season?

So, I set about looking into the trends, industries, and for some little gems that lie in the airline sponsorship space at the moment and I selected a few different carriers throughout the world:


It was hard not to start at ‘Home’ and take a look into the sports, industries, and causes that Qantas support. These are the defining characteristics of Qantas’ sponsorships.

  • Sport definitely plays a large part in their partner portfolio: Rugby Australia, Cricket Australia, The Australian Olympic Committee, Football Federation Australia (just to name a few).
  • They have clearly different objectives for each sport partnership, but an obvious emphasis is placed on brand positioning, community engagement, and building an audience.
  • They have a large number of arts partnerships spanning across museums, galleries, ballet, opera, and theatre.
  • Community partnerships, across regional and indigenous Australia, as well as various Ambassadors and awards sponsorships, also play a large role in developing the Qantas brand.
  • These non-sporting partnerships clearly have different objectives aligned to them including a greater emphasis on Community Engagement and Relationship Building.


We have seen a bit of a consolidation being undertaken by Etihad in the commercial partnerships space over the past five years. Here’s where they are at now.

  • There is definitely a large focus placed upon Football sponsorships. It is impossible not look past their partnership with the City Football Group which includes Manchester City FC, Melbourne City FC, and New York City FC.
  • Traditionally high-end sporting rights holders take up a big portion of partnership opportunities with Etihad. This includes Ferrari Formula One team and Sailing.
  • An interesting partnership to note is a collaboration with IMG Models called ‘Model Diaries’ which showcases models in high fashion as they travel around the world.
  • With these high society partnerships, it would be pretty hard not to infer that the partnership objectives centre around Brand Positioning and Building an Appropriate Audience.


Perhaps the first premium brand that Australians think of when it comes to International Air Travel. Emirates have been a player in global sports partnerships for quite some time and here is their current state.

  • Football partnerships include Arsenal FC (including their stadium), Real Madrid, PSG, the FA Cup, and numerous more.
  • A number of other global sports still partner with Emirates, including Cricket, Golf, Motorsports, Rugby, and Horse Racing.
  • Similar to Qantas, Emirates play a large role in supporting different arts and cultural organisations including different symphonies and festivals.
  • Similar to Etihad Airways, there seems to be a clear set of objectives based around high-end sports and access to their high-end stakeholders which is aligned to the objectives of Brand Positioning and Building an Audience.


As an avid Sydney Swans fan, plus the fact that Qatar Airways are one of the very few airlines that fly internationally out of my hometown of Canberra, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to mention them. Here’s what I found.

  • They are the premier partner of the Sydney Swans (AFL) with a lack of clear and obvious branding on apparel and match assets. They are clearly utilising this partnership to achieve the Community Engagement and Building an Audience objectives.
  • Other partnerships for the airline centre around the region including a local Tennis tournament, Middle Eastern Equestrian competition, and the Qatar Squash Foundation which makes the Swans partnership a key global marketing asset.
  • The Swans do not travel internationally for competition and, as such, the ability to align their product with actual team consumption is limited. This results in a much better use of digital and member database assets – trust me, you should see my inbox and social media feeds!

Air New Zealand

By far and away the largest airline coming out of the Land of the Long White Cloud but very interesting to see the different industries they work with.

  • New Zealand Rugby (incorporating the All Blacks) take up a substantial chunk of the New Zealand Airways sponsorship portfolio.
  • In fact, the only other sport partnerships identified were two marathons held in New Zealand.
  • They have an obvious strategy of focusing on other key industries in New Zealand to partner with including the wine industry and conservation/wildlife appeal of the country.
  • The use of the All Blacks in a safety video aired on the airplane way back in 2011 was one of the first examples of an airline incorporating partnerships into a key operational area of their business. This was also such a fantastic brand awareness and positioning piece for both parties.

British Airways

The UK’s largest airline played a large role in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games through a significant partnership with the Local Organising Committee. Here is what they are involved with these days.
Current research shows a severely limited number of sponsorships in play.

  • They appear to focus campaigns around large domestic events that draw a global audience e.g. Rugby World Cup.
  • One could infer that there is a conscious decision to utilise other marketing channels, instead of sponsorship, to tell their brand story.

US Airline Snapshot – United Airlines and Delta

  • Looking across two of the largest US airlines, there is a distinct emphasis on partnerships being regionally based within the US.
  • The exposure that airlines like Delta receive through various major sporting partnerships, within the US market, appears to achieve the marketing objectives required without needing to go global.
  • Furthermore, United Airlines have put a great deal of resources into the community partnership program, working across a large number of smaller initiatives in each region with a distinct community connection, rather than professional sport.

4 Trends

Throughout my research, I noticed four very distinct trends or situations.

1.. Sport is still the biggest player

Across various regions, countries, and levels of airlines, sport partnerships still play the largest role in commercial partnership portfolios.

2. Arts and Fashion play a huge role

Airlines are using other commercial opportunities, such as the arts and fashion, to service other marketing objectives and ensure they compliment the sport partnerships in order to be able to tell the full story of their brand.

3. Mix between local and global rights holders

Many airlines are using a mix of local and global rights holders to help achieve a variety of objectives and speak to the widest possible market. Not all partners have to be flying long distances to be seen to give an airline great partnership synergy e.g. Sydney Swans AFL and Qatar Airlines.

4. Similar objectives?

This is a no brainer but, airlines, like any brand who have a similar target market and brand image, are likely to have similar objectives when working with commercial partners. There appears, however, to be a trend around brand positioning and audience acquisition. Particularly with numerous rights holders using digital assets to build out a comprehensive set of campaigns.

The global and domestic airline industry are not overly different to many other industry sectors who are active in commercial partnerships. It is clear, however, that a variety of airline brands are still placing a huge amount of importance on the role of commercial partnerships to tell their story.

Eagerly anticipated

Whether these big players start to look at new and emerging industries to partner with, such as esports, will be eagerly anticipated by the wider industry.

Written by: Sam Irvine

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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4 Things Brands Want You to Know About Sponsorship Activations

Have you ever been planning out an activation and thought “Would have loved to have known that earlier”? 

Chances are you just said “Yes” and had a little chuckle to yourself. You’re not alone. 

Sponsorship in today’s market can be a complex beast; the planning and execution side of what we do often needs to be incredibly detailed, to ensure success, and sometimes, certain things can get overlooked or totally forgotten about. 

Over the past few months we’ve spoken to brands and agencies, right around the world, specifically about sponsorship activations and we kept hearing some common things that they wished rights holders knew. 

So that we can play our part in bridging this occasional gap, here are four things that brands and agencies tell us they wish rights holders knew.

1. Understand our objectives and success metrics

Speaking loosely, a brand’s objectives should guide you on how to structure their sponsorship deal and whether you need to include activations or not.

Activations, as an asset, support engagement-based objectives because their primary purpose is to create a genuine connection with an audience the brand might not otherwise have access to (or easy access to). If you hear objectives like Brand Awareness, Building an Audience, Lead Generation or perhaps even Sales Opportunities – your activations light bulb should be going off immediately.

Don’t stop there though. Each activation needs its own set of unique objectives that are custom to that specific experience, event, or period of time. We can’t just throw a generic blanket over the top and hope for the best. Instead, we need to go a step further and build in a number of success metrics behind each objective.

We get it, sometimes it can be hard to truly uncover what the brand really wants to achieve with the activations. In those cases, you’ll need to use some calibrated questions like:

  • How does this fit into what your overall objectives are?
  • What happens if people don’t engage with you? or, simply,
  • What are we trying to achieve here?

Understanding these unique objectives, and marrying them with the right success metrics, will allow you to breeze through the other phases of planning and execution.

2. Use More Data

Something we have learned a considerable amount about in the past few months is the underestimated significance rights holders place on data when building out or executing activations for their sponsors.

Don’t mistake me, there are some really impressive activations and subsequent measurement activities going on at the moment. What I am saying is the average far outweigh the good.

Yes, brands are responsible for the execution of the activation, however, rights holders need to play a bigger role in bringing data to the table to help bring it to life.

If you’re wondering what data to focus on – Look at Audience and Measurement first.

Audience will sit on the Iron Throne and Measurement will serve as its hand (timely use of analogies, right?!). Focusing on these two pieces of information will allow you to direct the planning and strategy whilst also ensuring clear execution; it helps us keep track of who we’re targeting, how we are targeting them, and how we will measure the outcome’s success. Note that this also brings in a level of accountability for both the brand and rights holder.

  • Audience – Try and break down at least two to three key avatars that you and the brand share mutually. Collect as much information as you can about these avatars e.g. age, family situation, spending habits, location, occupation, etc, as this will help both of you shape what, when, and where the activation can take place.
  • Measurement – As mentioned above, be sure to set some clear and concise objectives for each activation. Work out what success actually looks like and document it. It’s also important to be honest about the outcomes – if it’s good, great. If it’s bad, don’t cover it up.

3. We don’t just want to set up a white marquee out the front

Apologies in advance for companies manufacturing these, however, please stop making activations a square white marquee out the front of an event.

We see so many well-thought-out, creative, and engaging activations happening all around the world. And then we see that white tent with some cheesy signage, casual staff, and a sign-up form on an iPad.

Activations, in today’s industry, are more like branded engagement experiences. The best activations we see are often those where a brand is able to fully immerse itself into the rights holder for a specific period of time or at an event. 

Good activations don’t have to break the bank, and they most certainly don’t have to be something physical. Whilst on-site interaction, PR, hospitality, and direct marketing are popular vehicles in activation spend, 98% of sponsorship professionals will also use digital or social media as an activation or leverage method.

Digital often provides a cost-effective solution to building out anything too grand or labour intensive. Think Snapchat lenses, Live Facebook competitions, or perhaps even a post-event campaign.

4. Planning vs Execution – Help us with this battle

This is where too many rights holders leave the table and leave a brand stranded.

Activations need to fit into the overall sponsorship strategy and often require the rights holder input to be successful.

Yes, sponsorship managers can service adequately and occasionally throw out ideas on the butcher’s paper on what to do, however, it’s how they’re able to turn those ideas into reality that matters the most.

Planning is all about building a road map from concept creation to execution. Book out a meeting room, grab some coffee, and start to flesh out things like logistics, budgets, infrastructure, people, and general feasibility.

A brand may leave a rights holder if all they do is planning, they will never leave if you’re able to plan and execute well. 

What Are You Doing?

The above are the common themes we hear brands and agencies telling us they wish rights holders knew or were better at. Hopefully, you are great at all those things already, however, if you aren’t, look at each of them closely and see where you can improve and then start a conversation with your sponsors or even build it into early sales steps.

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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Strategic Activation at the NFL Draft Experience

Last week I had the chance to be in Nashville attending the SponsorshipX conference leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. On the Thursday afternoon during our lunch break, I took a walk around the NFL Fan Experience area just outside Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans.

I couldn’t help but notice all of the league partner activations going on, and in particular, how many of them included key strategic components from data collection and social integration to product education and rewards. This is an area of the business we are particularly passionate about based on our KORE KONNECT activation platform for brands and rights holders.

I took several pictures that you can see below and shared some of my thoughts on how each activation effort aligns to the brand’s partnership goals. Enjoy!

Pizza Hut

The Pizza Hut tent encouraged fan to hop on stage and dance with JuJu Smith-Schuster via an AR experience. Everyone that did this had a chance to opt-in afterwards to get a copy of their dance video, so we already have digital data collection. They were also encouraged to share via a branded hashtag to distribute this content to a wider audience, which will also be measurable via that hashtag. And of course, they all got a free slice of pizza!


Visa had a very large activation space that was focused on educating fans about their tap-to-pay technology in their newer credit card products. I talked to one of their on-site staff who mentioned this is a key initiative as most consumers will receive a card with this feature soon, and it creates a more secure experience.

They tie this education together with fun examples, such as “tap to turn on the jukebox,” and incentives, such as tap to win a prize or $5 to participate in a tap to pay demo. Finally, they use the activation in partnership with Chase to reward Chase Visa customers, reinforcing the value to NFL fans of being a Visa card holder.


Similar to the Pizza Hut example, Bridgestone created a fun way for fans to be interactive with the brand, first with a football toss through Bridgestone tires to win a prize, and then the longer line which allowed fans to catch a pass while diving into a Bridgestone foam pit. It was that 2nd option that their staff captured via video for each fan that, with opt-in, could be shared with them and in turn shared to social media.


Verizon kept it simple with a few branded Verizon “trucks” and staff on-site to engage with fans one-on-one. Staff could sign up fans on the spot for Verizon services and answer questions from existing and potential customers.


Snickers powered the “Network Desk” experience where fans could be on-stage and at the broadcast desk for NFL Total Access presented by Snickers. Staff would take a photo/video of your time at the desk, and with opt-in be able to share that content back to the fans.

The NFL 

The NFL itself put a lot of energy into mobile-based data collection via a dedicated app that encouraged fans to check-in at various stations throughout the Fan Experience. The app was required for fans to play the various NFL branded draft/combine style activities, such as the Vertical Jump and 40 Yard Dash. Fans also had the chance to win prizes by scanning the QR code at various locations throughout the Fan Experience. This platform represents a tremendous data collection opportunity for the league.

Other Brands

Here are a few more photos of other brands and fan engagement opportunities I saw during the event. I hope all of the examples above and below give you some good ideas on how to think about your experiential assets in a strategic and data-driven manner!

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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5 Takeaways From BOSS 2019

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the Business of Sport Summit (BOSS) in Sydney Australia which included the privilege of sitting on a panel to discuss fan engagement with some industry experts. 

Like most conferences, it was a great opportunity to get in a room with colleagues from across the globe and share experiences, thoughts, and insights into industry best practices. The speakers and panelists brought with them a wide variety of expertise and the topics the program covered also provided lots of great takeaways. 

Here are my five biggest takeaways from BOSS 2019.


Murray Barnett, from Formula One, identified how the sport has done an outstanding job in developing content on platforms and channels to suit where their prospective audience is already engaging. The Netflix program Drive to Survive is a fantastic example of identifying how the way we consume content has changed and, rather than trying to drive fans back to the traditional broadcast model of ‘Race Day Profile and Highlights’, F1 have utilised a platform that new fans are already engaged on. Furthermore, the use of mobile platforms to tell the story of drivers and teams was second to none.


We were treated to a masterclass on how brands can truly transform their image through developing a commercial partnerships plan and actually executing it. 

Jean-Marc Pailhol, from Allianz Insurance (Global), walked us through how they identified where new opportunities existed to tell a different story about their brand. They went from partnering with sports such as Golf and F1 to buying into new age entertainment such as Drone Racing, Formula E, and even creating their own brand-new form of adventure motor vehicle racing. 

Not only did they become the major partner of these events, but they also took a percentage ownership stake in each. They are now playing a major role in the development of each sport/form of entertainment and taking the concept of ‘partnership’ to the next level.


Whether it be through fan engagement, the development of content, or identifying new ways through which we should be expanding our offering e.g. through testing the waters with ESports, expanding into a women’s competition, etc., data is still the absolute master for making educated decisions. 

There is now a greater level of importance being placed on how this data can actually make an impact as opposed to the total amount of data we can acquire. Key players in our space are now flipping big data on its head and utilising hyper targeted campaigns as a way of truly giving partners value for money and effective cut-through in a cluttered market.


Wimbledon (The All England Lawn Tennis Club) is steeped in history and tradition. Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications at The Championships, however, was able to take us through how they have been able to stay relevant in this fast-paced digital age while staying true to their values and sense of tradition. 

Through the use of extremely engaging content, and making the most of the global exposure this event receives every year, Wimbledon were able to tell a story that appealed to different generations than they normally would and utilise platforms and technology like never before. They were able to use data, technology, and a long history of insights to ingrain tradition into current content and ensure they were relevant to a huge variety of consumers.


One clear and common theme that shone through was that we work in one of the most crowded sporting landscapes in the world. Australian right’s holders have never had so much competition for consumer’s attention with pro leagues spanning over an even longer period each year and other industries now playing a much smarter game when it comes to securing their fair share of the household budget. 

Australian right’s holders are starting to work together to ensure they stay ahead of the curve and are identifying ways in which a game day or live experience can be the most sought-after product by sporting fans.

Furthermore, as part of this, we are seeing that the traditional broadcasters are still playing a major role in how sport is currently consumed. All of the talk about new players in this space such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, etc., has not quite yet had an impact on the larger rights holders in our region. 


It was pretty positive to come out of the two-day event with some new connections and greater relationships with current colleagues. Most importantly, however, were some greater insights into future trends of our industry. Hopefully, others who attended got some nuggets to take away or at least enjoyed those fantastic donuts for afternoon tea on day one!

Written by: Sam Irvine

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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Key Takeaways from the USF Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference

Every year the University of South Florida Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management MBA program hosts an annual Sport & Entertainment Analytics Conference (SEAC). Last week was the 5th Annual SEAC but the first to encompass a theme: Storytelling With Data. The speakers this year included a wide range across sports & entertainment, from Legends to Turner broadcasting, including some sports teams and third-party agencies. 

The speakers and event have continuously evolved to provide industry best-practices, recruiting, and valuable networking opportunities. In past years we’ve seen presenters discuss improving sales and customer reach. Storytelling through data as the theme drove the conversation towards how data can improve the fan experience. 

A common subject among the presenters this year was behavioral traits of sports & entertainment fans. For years sports teams have been gathering and organizing data on who their customers are. Taken even a step further, advancements in CRM usage have allowed teams to segment their customers not only by demographic but also by purchase habits. The idea here is to practice psychographic and behavioral segmentation practices; more simply put, “who are our customers and what are they doing while here?” 

Legends, founded by the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys ownership groups, has a Global Planning department that specializes in market research behavioral studying. During their various feasibility studies, Legends will survey and evaluate customer preferences and habits, such as ticket price sensitivity, predicted demand, sponsorship valuation, and many more attributes. 

One thing they do well in surveying a market is employing skip technology. This ensures the customer is only presented with relevant questions and improves the accuracy of their results. When combined and simulated thousands of times, these variables help paint a picture for how fans and customers will react to new initiatives an organization will pursue. 

There are noticeable behavioral differences across markets and sports. The perceived “best seat in the house” isn’t always on the 50-yard line or directly behind your teams’ bench, an idea proven by the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins noticed their ticket sales around the 50-yard line were always the first to go, which was widely accepted. Specific to Miami, (and other sunny markets) the next sections to fill were dependent on the time of game and where the most shade is. 

The at-home experience is becoming more and more attractive, so teams with environmental obstacles like heat and rain must adjust their offerings. This helped lead to the nearly half a billion-dollar renovation the Dolphins completed in 2016. Comfort proved to be a higher priority than the up-close experience.

An attractive feature of the at-home experience is the in-depth coverage fans receive from the announcers and storytelling. International Speedway Corporation, specifically at the Daytona track, recently offered fans “garage passes” that allow unbelievable access to the drivers. Imagine being at your favorite sporting event and getting a pre-game locker room pass, being able to listen to the athletes and managers discuss strategy right in front of your face.

Last year over 50% of these garage pass holders were first time attendees. Considering how difficult it is to convert a first-time attendee to regulars, an experience as memorable as this should prove to have a lasting impact. The garage pass from Daytona is too new to accurately measure retention rates, but customer retention was a highly discussed topic at the conference. The probability of fans returning to an event are significantly higher after the third visit. 

Traditional storytelling through data is important to give an overall snapshot of the business. The next step seems to lean towards understanding the fans’ story and bringing in the human factor. Who the fans are is not enough information anymore. What they are doing, how they are affected by a sponsorship, and how their behaviors and sentiment continue to change will be driving forces in future decision making.

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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Looking at MLS Attendance Over the Years

We work with a lot of private data here at KORE, so sometimes it’s fun to mix it up and play with some publicly available data to see what we can learn and share! 

With the start of the 2019 Major League Soccer season this month, I found data on MLS team attendance per season since the league began back in 1996. I took that data, brought it into Tableau Public and found some really positive trends and tidbits, which isn’t surprising. 

Beyond the underlying growth in popularity of soccer in the United States, Major League Soccer and its member clubs are some of the most progressive when it comes to levering business intelligence to drive their business forward. We’ve seen a significant increase in adoption of everything from data warehousing and visualization to more sophisticated retention modeling and CRM implementations, all of which have a very direct impact on sales and ticket utilization. 

Here are some of the highlights that we saw when working with the visualization we put together:

  • The league’s average attendance in their 1996 inaugural season was 18,063 per game but dropped to 14,984 the next year and stayed flat for a few years. Since those low point years, average attendance has grown around 50%, hitting 22,106 in 2017 and 21,875 in 2018.
  • Atlanta United FC has gotten all the buzz and understandably so when you look at their numbers the last two seasons. But the Seattle Sounders shouldn’t be overlooked as a key driver for MLS attendance growth. They’ve been able to sustain six straight years averaging over 40,000 fans per match, second only to Atlanta.
  • MLS attendance as % of total capacity has consistently grown since 2009, now holding steady at over 90% for the last four seasons. In fact, last year more than half the league (12 of 23 clubs) averaged attendance at over 90%+ capacity.
  • Toronto FC has seen a lot of growth based on recent team performance, bringing in over 26,000 per match the last three years, well up from 18,000 per match back in 2012 and 2013.
  • The Vancouver Whitecaps have also seen sustained 20,000+ per match since launching in 2011 while the Montreal Impact have averaged between 18 to 20,000 per match since their launch, so all three of the Canadian teams are key to MLS’ live match success.
  • Even with LAFC’s launch, the LA Galaxy showed an increase in attendance from 2017 to 2018, so the appetite for soccer in Los Angeles seems like it should easily support two major franchises.

We’d encourage you to have some fun with the Tableau dashboard below. You can look through difference seasons in the league history at the top, or pick a team to see how each club’s growth and forecast compares to the league over the years. Isn’t data fun?

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports Images
Data Credit:

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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Where should the money go in the sponsorship deal or in the leverage?

“Do we need to spend over-and-above our sponsorship fee to maximise the deal’s return?” 

What a question! 

When signing off on a sponsorship deal, it is a genuine challenge that brands face in today’s landscape – do they put the whole war chest into the deal or keep some aside to leverage it? At KORE Software, the more we work with brands the more we keep being asked, “Where do you see the money go – In the deal or in the leverage?” 

Straight away, this question should really be answered by whatever gives you the best Return on Objective (ROO). This metric allows brands to look past the traditional Return on Investment (ROI) model and instead evaluate how every asset works together. Sponsors should have clear visibility on what provides them with value and what doesn’t. As such, making the decision becomes fairly simple. 

With that said, it is still currently a battle many brands go through during budgeting each year. 

As rights holders work toward a revenue target, leverage spend, as a concept, is something they can easily overlook when pricing deals. It’s also something brands can easily forget to include when pitching internally for the sponsorship spend. 

As our industry evolves, we are seeing more importance being placed on the leverage including how it is calculated, allocated, and eventually spent.

Our industry is full of opinions, however, the fact is, every brand will be different. Some may spend 1:1 on sponsorship leverage, some will not spend over-and-above the deal cost at all. 

Here’s my take on where the money should go in terms of in the deal or in the leverage. 

In the deal

There is a genuine argument that if a brand has negotiated and structured their sponsorship deal effectively, they shouldn’t need to spend over-and-above. 

Keeping the spend in the deal suits brands who have objectives like brand awareness, brand positioning, or brand recall. These are promotional-based objectives, meaning that they are used to trigger recall or association with a property. Assets that are often used for these objectives include things like naming rights, signage, and digital advertising. 

Keeping the spend in the deal also works for brands who want to utilise their contracted assets rather than buying new ones across other advertising and media platforms. 

An example in this scenario would be if a brand has a new product launching soon. In that case, they should be looking at all their unused sponsorship assets to see if they can promote the launch through those channels rather than paying for anything additional across other channels. 

This is where we are beginning to see a lot more of the phrase ‘Asset Utilisation’ simply because brands get to the end of the term and realise there are a stack of unused assets. 

In the leverage

On the contrary to the above, brands who place more spend in the leverage are typically looking at engagement-based objectives. These include community engagement, networking, and generating sales. You’ll notice these also often come from assets like the use of IP, activations, and money can’t buy experiences. 

It’s important to remember that a rights holder is not solely responsible for delivering the outcome of a contracted asset. Those that think they are, often see their sponsorship efforts fall flat and realise minimal return (this is a big contributor to non-renewals). Rights holders own the assets and provide access via the sponsorship fee and if they are good, they will have already matched the asset with a specific objective and also pushed you to document a success metric around it. 

This is where spending on the leverage comes into play. And, for the record, I’m a big believer in putting money in the leverage. Typically, this spend will include things like activation costs, food & beverage costs, staffing, production, design … the list goes on. 

If a brand solely relies on its sponsorship assets to fulfill its marketing objectives, it relinquishes all ability to influence outcomes in its favour. A great example of this is if a sponsor uses its marketing budget to buy signage and expects sales to increase. It just doesn’t happen because there’s no connection being made with a customer. 

The best users of sponsorship utilise their contracted assets to further leverage and enhance the promotional P of their existing marketing mix because it provides the opportunity to access and engage an audience that the brand may otherwise not have been able to reach (or find it hard to reach more economically). 

This is why you’ll often see branded assets or campaigns from them that mirror general advertising and branding efforts. It creates consistency and helps reinforce a message across multiple touch points. 

Successful leverage spend is typically only seen when a brand nails its use of IP. One of the best examples of late, where we’ve seen a brand successfully leverage sponsorship, is KIA Motors during the Australian Open. Using IP from its Tennis Australia sponsorship deal, KIA Motors created a fantastic campaign around their Cerato model. Not only did the exercise include a TV media campaign that featured Rafael Nadal, the imagery from that was also used through print, digital, and across their activations throughout Melbourne’s Federation Square. Technically, all they had to do was pay for an IP based sponsorship with some activations and the rest was then leveraged through activities outside of the core deal. The fact that KIA combined this with efforts within the event only enhanced results. 

So which way do we go?

Your overall sponsorship spend must align with what you genuinely want to achieve from the deal. You need to clearly articulate your expected Return on Objective and identify which assets are going to help achieve this. 

If you have engagement-based objectives, spend on leverage. If you have promotional-based objectives, put more money in the deal.

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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Getting WISE with Analytics and Digital Marketing

On February 28th, the Boston chapter of WISE (Women in Sports and Entertainment) and KORE Software hosted a panel on digital marketing and analytics. It was a wide-ranging discussion that touched on:

  • How BI in used in an organization’s digital marketing efforts
  • What being done to get fans off their couches and into the stadium
  • Some fun projects planned for this year
  • Trends and tactics in social media
  • What changes are expected in digital marketing

The panel discussion, sponsored by KORE Software, featured executives representing a variety of industry perspectives:

  • Moderator: Rachel Holt, Video Host and Assistant Content Producer, New England Sports Network
  • Heidi Browning, Chief Marketing Officer, National Hockey League
  • Victoria Barnaby, Director of Brand Marketing, 47
  • Jennifer Hinkle, Vice President of Digital Marketing, Washington Redskins

Here’s a brief recap from the event, and you can also scroll to the bottom to watch the full panel discussion. 

“WISE” Use of BI in Digital

Digital marketing, both in and out of sports, can truly benefit from a unified data set. The underlying data can tell you so much about the consumer, from ad tolerance to retention and engagement metrics. To achieve a unified data set, spending time organizing and cleaning the data to build that technology stack is key. This will help you understand the fan base more, from your local ticket buyers to your global, displaced fans. 

Business Intelligence also helps create value for the brand, helping brands reach the customer early, creating loyalty with the customer and giving the brand a channel to sell directly to the customer. BI metrics impact all levels, from top-of-funnel brand awareness via web traffic, engagement and sentiment, as well as mid-funnel brand marketing, around conversions and code redemptions. Monitoring at all levels helps connect the dots and demonstrates analytics behind decisions. 

The ultimate goal is to see the full 360-degree view of the fan. Tying it all together is important to see who exactly is coming to the stadium. A great question to ask yourself is “Who is the fan” and it starts with clean data collection and focusing on being a data driven organization. 

Getting Fans Off the Couch

In-stadium data or web data collection can be used to help bring the fans back to stadiums. Using season ticket holder data such as their in-stadium purchases, partner interactions and who they forward tickets to, can help customize the experience for fans. The sports industry has realized that the game day experience has to be exceptionally personalized, especially for that Millennial and Gen-Z fan base in order to attract them to more games. 

With so many distractions available, we all need to work harder to keep up with the fans’ ever decreasing attention spans. We have been tasked to transform the arena in order to engage the fan more and keep them tuned into the game at the same time. The more this engagement is customized, the more improved the fan experience will be. 

Focus On Social

The importance of real time updates via social media continues to grow. Channels such as Snapchat and Instagram must be updated the instant something occurs, and when done right, that can lead to a large increase in new followers due to their desire for timely information. Creating content guideline procedures can help ensure that properties and brands are creating the right content for each channel’s target demographic. 

Email response time is also more important to fans now, especially with those same fans being more used to quicker interactions over social. As stated before, the attention rate of fans has decreased, so response time has a direct impact on engagement.

Event and community-centric campaigns on social can be quite effective in building an audience and driving data collection, but the challenge there is around how to take these followers and convert them into paying customers through the right messaging via the right channel. 

Success with Recent Projects

Tapping into the younger generation and learning about how/why they think certain things is very important for the sports industry now. Focus groups have helped identify some of the gaps between the average fan and the avid fan, with the goal being to bridge the gap between the two groups and create a community and fan experience fit for both.

Younger generations more closely follow their favorite celebrities, so the NHL decided to use this to engage with more casual fans. For example, the use of Snoop Dogg to help explain the basic rules of hockey hit right at home for a younger generation. That familiar face created an easier way for fans to understand the game and increases the awareness needed to resonate with the non-hockey fans.

The NHL has an incredible reception around Kendall Coyne’s participation in the NHL All Star Skills Challenge, the first woman to do so. This not only helps increase awareness in a key growth demographic for the NHL, but it also goes a long way to generate more interest in women’s sports from their core fan base. 

Digital and social channels are providing more and more data that’s needed to gain fans and personalize the experience for your most loyal customers. Learning what to do with that data to show a clear ROI is the biggest challenge. It is essentially required now to show numbers behind everything that is being delivered so we can understand what’s working and what’s not.

Want more insights from our expert panel? You can watch the full recording of the discussion below.

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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The Increasing Importance of B.I. in Sports and Entertainment

Sponsorship reporting is nothing new. It has been around since the dawn of sponsorship itself, however, as we know (and have spoken about in this blog before), it has become a lot more purposeful and analytical.

Companies such as Nielsen Sports (formerly Repucom), have, for the past decade or more, been providing data for the reporting of sponsorship wins and losses from a media equivalency/asset value perspective. So successful has this been that it is now seen as somewhat of a currency within the sponsorship industry and a staple expenditure item for anyone reporting their reviews.

The success of this data collection and reporting has, particularly over the past few years, led to both ends of the sponsorship process (sales and reporting), to move towards a far more analytical approach. We now see the best organisations in the world with specialised B.I. staff and, in some cases, business units which feed not just the revenue generating areas of the business but across all areas of the business. 

Where did this emergence come from?

The emergence of technology (such as those we deliver at KORE Software to more than 550 organisations) has led to much more accessible data and the development of systems to analyse those data sources, make sense of them, and present them in a sensical way via graphic representation. This is allowing organisations to avail this information to staff, no matter their position on the organisation chart, to help them do their jobs in a faster, smarter, and more engaging way.

The use of B.I. within a business is not a new concept. It has been used in businesses of all types for many years to aid in decision-making, however, until recently, it has been a very manual process due to the analytical nature of it. 

Within the sports and entertainment industry, I credit businesses such as Repucom for showing the value of data analytics and for aiding in the presentation of information to provide confidence in the decision-making process. The existence of such organisations, along with the availability of technology, has made this information, and theory of data to present information, much more available to the time-poor and comparatively resource-light industry that is sports and entertainment. 

By far and away though, the growing voice of the sponsoring brands, and the treatment of sports and entertainment as genuine businesses, is the key reason behind data analytics and B.I. as potentially the most important aspect of the industry now and into the future. 

Why is it so important?

B.I. is vital to any successful organisation. Even if the organisation doesn’t realise it, every business is undertaking B.I. for internal reporting and decision making so they can report to ownership groups, the board, and pitch to potential sponsors or investors; everything has some sort of data backing. 

Data is literally the only quantitative resource we can use to represent the truth in any conversation. Being able to access, analyse, and report upon these ‘truths’ is the only sure-fire way we can confidently stand by the claims we are making. 

In all areas of the sports and entertainment industry, B.I. specialists are now being deployed to help across performance, finance, ticketing, fan engagement, sponsorship, HR, PR, and for executive & board reporting. Their job is to help provide a true picture, understanding, and to allow for the accurate contrast and comparison of information that is otherwise developed by opinion, gut-feel, or history. 

What does the future hold?

In my opinion, B.I. is the single most important addition to any business within the sector. Those who are good at it provide ROI almost from the first report they provide. Those companies who are providing systems to B.I. specialists, so they can automate the data representations, are enhancing, speeding up, and aiding the manipulation of the data to get real ‘deep & dirty’ which allows them to predict the future path of any business. 

Whilst businesses such as Repucom paved the way, it is a combination of the evolution of technology, technology companies, and the employment of those who can understand the information, which will take sports and entertainment businesses into the next stage of success both inside and outside of the competitive arena.

Written by: Mark Thompson

KORE is the global leader in engagement marketing solutions, serving more than 200 professional teams and 850+ sports and entertainment properties worldwide, providing practical tools and services to harness customer data, facilitate sponsorship sales and activation, and create actionable insights.

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