The relationship between sports organisations and sponsors has been a cornerstone of the sporting landscape for many years.

The traditional value each are able to leverage from the other – attracting new customers/fans, driving brand recognition and ultimately increasing commercial revenue – has been so perfectly aligned that for many brands the question has not been ‘Why should we be involved in Sport?’ but more ‘How can we not be?’

This symbiotic relationship has had a number of setbacks in recent years with high profile scandals striking at the heart of sport. This has caused even the largest global sponsors to think twice about where to invest – the most recent example of this sees the London 2017 World Athletics Championships facing a potential funding crisis with a £7.5m sponsorship black hole.

The knock-on effect is that brands with a serious interest in using sport as a vehicle from growth and their potential partners – leagues, teams, athletes – are more focused than ever on assessing the value of these relationships before they begin. As Global CEO of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, Steve Martin, discussed in the excellent SB Weekly Podcast recently, he is against “any one way of measuring the success of sponsorship campaigns… brands go into it for a specific reason that is bespoke to them.”

Hence the need for better due diligence at the start of the process to ensure all parties are aligned and have a clear understanding of each other’s objectives.

But how can this be done?

The traditional focus on exposure – TV ads, perimeter advertising, shirt sponsorship, etc. – has expanded to include targeted and continual social engagement. Advertisers no longer accept simply having a 90-minute shop window once or twice a week, but instead want a cohesive and incremental approach that helps them remain visible before, during and after major sporting moments.

Broadcast and in-stadia advertising remain generally healthy, but this has recently been joined by a wider focus on the digital and social assets of sports entities – and how fans online behaviour can both help dictate which strategic investment brands make, and the subsequent engagement practices they use.

At 4C, we believe that the social behaviour of sports fans is still an undervalued resource in helping brands and sports properties identify and build partnerships between each other.

As a trusted partner of Twitter and Facebook, and having grown from a start-up business built upon advertising data science, 4C have created a set of proprietary algorithms that allow us to discover the strength of affinities between sports organisations, athletes and brands.

By assessing these affinities in near real-time we are able to see which brands are already closely associated with certain sports properties and people, and are able to map the specific demographics and geolocation of these fans to further assess their alignment.

If John Lewis decided it wanted to connect with consumers through the pitch, it could use social data to find the best club for a partnership by identifying the ones with the strongest social connection. John Lewis would discover that Southampton, Everton, and Liverpool would be the best clubs to sponsor because its consumers have the strongest connection with those teams.

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Once partnerships are in place 4C Advertising Analytics continually monitors the success of brand campaigns over time, with the granularity to see how successful specific ‘live’ events are on social and how they compare to their competitors.

Penetration Per Thousand (PPM), which measures the strength of connection between two items, reveals Chevrolet achieved the strongest connection with Manchester United fans the week of February 20. With that insight, Chevrolet can optimise its partnership and get the most out of it by determining the sponsorship elements that drive the highest response amongst Manchester United fans.

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The NBA’s recent announcement that it will allow shirt sponsors from the start of the 2017-18 season, which carries an estimated value of £2.8m ($4m) per team per season, will only amplify questions around sponsorship value:

  • How should each team identify the most valuable and suitable shirt sponsor? 4C Affinities recommend Carl’s Jr sponsor the Los Angeles Lakers.
  • Can brands reach their target audience better, faster, and with more resonance by sponsoring a team? Or working with one specific team over another?
  • How can brands and teams both be sure their goals and ambitions are fully aligned?

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By using social media data analytics both will get much closer to answering these questions and building more valuable and sustainable partnerships in the future.