This four-part content series looks at some key trends in sports sponsorship marketing including values-based partnerships, the role of creativity, maximising ROI and the media mix. The series has been curated by James Williams, a global sports marketing consultant who spent 16 years as a senior marketing leader at Coca-Cola, and WARC.

The power of sponsorship, in its traditional form, is undeniable. It offers brands an unparalleled opportunity to connect with specific audience segments, fostering emotional bonds, driving brand loyalty, and catalyzing sales. But as the global landscape shifts, driven by more informed and socially conscious consumers, and as companies themselves place a heightened emphasis on ESG metrics, sponsorships must adapt or risk obsolescence.

Sponsorship, long-standing in the world of marketing, has entered a transformative era. The landscape has evolved from mere logo placements and brand affiliations to a deeper, more strategic partnership with an increased focus on values, social impact, and long-term engagement.

I've been fortunate enough to witness this evolution first hand during my tenure both agency side and then at Coca-Cola. As we navigate this shift, we must underscore the importance of effective strategies to maximise ROI and adapt to new-age demands.

To provide additional insight and evidence into this evolution I’ve bought together a collective of some of the more progressive minds working in the industry covering four key areas:

Aileen McManamon, Founder/Managing Partner, 5T Sports Group shows that values-based partnerships, a model that leans heavily on environmental and social issues, are on the rise. These partnerships are outperforming traditional partnerships in delivering on fan engagement, earned media and can contribute quantitatively to partners’ ESG reporting targets.

McManamon outlines five key forces driving evolved business models, across all industry sectors and most geographies. There are five steps in shifting to values-based sponsorship and making a public commitment at the outset is one of them, which should include quantitative targets. “Invite fans and consumers in to contribute to the effort. Those who follow teams do so out of a sense of belonging and look to bask in the shared glory of success”, says McManamon.

Why it matters: As brands increasingly prioritise ESG goals, they are seeking partnerships with sporting entities that share similar values, aligning with their sustainability strategies and social causes.

As a brand-building, long-term focused discipline, sponsorship should be more scientifically led in its strategy and execution, says Alex Branzan, Strategy Director at WeAreFearless. Branzan looks at creative effectiveness in sponsorship and highlights what sponsorship marketing can learn from recent advances in the field of advertising effectiveness, and how practitioners can activate sponsorships in a way that is scientifically proven to drive greater brand impact. Branzan outlines three key principles of creative effectiveness in sponsorship – use of characters, storytelling, and humour.

Why it matters: For sponsorship to serve its purpose of building a brand's image, strategies need to be rooted in scientific methods that guarantee attention and recall, thus ensuring maximum impact.

Sponsorship is an effective way to meet brand and commercial benefits but determining which marketing channels are best suited to deliver such benefits is complex. Neil Hopkins, Director, Global Head of Strategy at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, evaluates Sponsorship activation and the effectiveness of marketing channels. Hopkins shares research analysing multiple campaigns by the 20 largest clients in the M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment network over the past five years, which gives an indication of what specific marketing channels should be employed in sponsorship activation.

Why it matters: To realise the full potential of a sponsorship, brands must strategically allocate budgets across diverse channels to target their audience effectively.

Last, but not least my piece is about Maximising ROI in sports sponsorship. This guide to strategic success offers comprehensive approaches to foster successful sponsorships for the future. I outline six steps to secure long-term relevance and resonance including embedding legacy considerations, embracing a wide spectrum of benefits, and aligning with ESG principles.

Why it matters: As the sponsorship terrain becomes more intricate, with socio-political implications, sponsors need robust strategies to ensure authentic partnerships and navigate potential controversies.

So, why is this series crucial for the future of marketing?

The future of sponsorship lies not just in partnerships for the sake of visibility, but in authentic collaborations that resonate with a brand's values, ethos, and commitment to making a difference. It's no longer about the mere association but the shared journey of brand and sport entity towards a common goal.

This series underscores the pressing need for strategic, values-based, and scientifically-led sponsorship approaches, reflecting the changing demands of our times. As the sports sponsorship domain continues to evolve, understanding and adapting to these new paradigms will be essential for brands and rights holders seeking meaningful and lasting impact.

We hope you enjoy the series!

Read more in this Spotlight series