Steve Mann Steve Mann
For any brand, a good sports-related partnership must clearly support business goals and objectives and, of course, grow the bottom line. But to ensure long-term success and drive enduring value and loyalty, business partnerships should share a higher purpose, and deftly communicate that purpose, to create connections and ultimately, mean something to people.

Sports fans, like most consumers — particularly younger consumers — are consciously choosing brands that support their needs, values and beliefs. Brands need to meet those rising expectations and create partnerships, campaigns and communication strategies that demonstrate they share common ideals and principles.

O'Dwyer's Dec. '16 Entertainment & Sports PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Dec. '16 Entertainment & Sports PR Magazine

The business impact can be significant. Recent studies have demonstrated that purpose-driven marketing strategies can have a profound impact on business results. Harvard Business Review research showed that companies that aspire to more than just short-term gains and the pursuit of profit have a clear advantage over their competition. According to the Harvard Business Review’s 2015 “The Business Case for Purpose” report, purpose-driven companies make more money, have more engaged employees and more loyal customers, and are even better at innovation and transformational change.

As the rules of sports marketing evolve, with fans expecting — and receiving — more engagement and access to their favorite teams and athletes than ever before, teams and leagues have made looking for new ways to engage with and please their fans a priority. In addition to creating loyalty, selling tickets and merchandise and cultivating new streams of revenue, sports properties must respond to their fans’ desire to “participate,” and would most likely welcome with open arms a passionate, proactive corporate partner with fresh ideas.

Step up to the plate

So, your brand is exploring the idea of entering the wide world of sports? Here are some things to consider to make purpose-driven partnerships part of your game plan:

Identify and clearly articulate your brand’s values. What problem does the company seek to solve? What does it stand for? What impact does it strive to make on the world or in its hometown community?

Prioritize company business objectives. This will help you determine the overall marketing strategy: the who, what, where and when you should engage with.

Research and determine the sports entities — and fan bases — that best align with your company’s purpose and help the brand achieve its business and marketing goals.

Upon identifying a sports partner, collaborate on a creative, insights-driven, measurable and meaningful sponsorship strategy that ensures your investment is making a difference.

What if you’ve already signed a sports sponsorship? What if the season has already started? Is it too late to change course? The answer: probably not. Try working with your sports partner to take a step back, to re-examine not just the components of the partnership, but the rationale behind it and ways you may align to maximize its impact. The existing partnership can serve as the catalyst for a new direction and approach that can benefit all involved by being more meaningful, more engaging and more customer (fan)-centric.

With purpose as your brand’s driving force, and ample resources for activation providing bench strength (some experts recommend a budget of around $3 of activation for every $1 in sponsorship), typical sponsorship elements such as events, fan contests, product giveaways, social media campaigns, CSR programs and the like take on a new energy and significance.

Cut through the crowd noise

Once the right partnership is in place, properly communicating the magnitude and scope, as well as the specific details and engagement opportunities along the way, to media and fans, is critical. Like the players on the field, the “power of communication” takes the Xs and Os and transforms them into game-changing actions and both small and large victories.

Now more than ever, teams and brands need to know their fan and customer bases, so they can create partnerships with purpose, develop positive connections and deliver brand experiences that create enduring value. Connections are happening around the clock in a variety of ways — in stadiums, in communities, in stores and online — so it takes knowledge, determination and creativity to break through. Research and insights are key and turning those insights into action in a profound way — delivering the right messages, at the right times, in the right places to the right audiences, is what separates the contenders from the pretenders. So be sure your communication plan supports the strategic priorities of the partnership.

Expand your playbook

Every move a brand makes is an opportunity to engage and inspire its people, partners, customers and communities. Reporting that you’re the official sports drink, bank or backpack of a basketball team, for example, sounds great. And yes, having a company logo on an outfield wall can generate brand awareness. But transforming those table-stakes efforts into delivering a one-of-a-kind experience for fans — that moves them — makes us all better.

Maybe instead of utilizing that hour you have with one of the players for a photo op or big-check presentation, collaborate on a grassroots community effort like refurbishing a dilapidated playground or feeding the hungry, lead a fundraiser to benefit young athletes with disabilities or encourage reading through a partnership with local sports publications and writers. Empower your employees to give back and do good for some underserved groups. This is important work and it will serve as inspiration that you are able to come together for the greater good.

When companies live their purpose they have the capacity — intellectually, emotionally and financially — to do better for their people and their communities. You don’t have to be a Gatorade, Coca-Cola, or Nike to do it right. When purpose, strategy, the power of communication and sports align, businesses create sustainable growth and value for their customers and the net result is win, win, win.

Steve Mann is Vice President of Beehive Strategic Communication.