Are Event Sponsors Missing Online Opportunities?

Let me introduce myself. I’m 33 years old, recently married, and living in London. More important, I’m an Englishman and a rugby fan and as such I’m still basking in the warm afterglow of England’s victory in the Rugby World Cup (RWC) last November. Hailed as England’s greatest sporting achievement since the Football World Cup of 1966, I’ll never bore of talking about it or watching that drop kick over and over.

The fact the tournament took place on the other side of the world (Australia) and that, with the time difference, many of the games kicked off in the morning, meant I followed a lot of the action online. As an analyst as well as a fan, I couldn’t help but pay some attention to who was sponsoring the event and how. What I found online, from an event exploitation standpoint, disappointed. It left me wondering whether those brands that made the considerable investment to officially sponsor the tournament hadn’t missed a trick.

Of the U.K. sponsors, Travelex extended the reach of its TV broadcast sponsorship simply by placing banner ads on itv.com/rugby. Lloyds TSB had a Web page that mentioned its sponsorship, and Hackett posted a good-luck page.

British Airways made more of an effort, creating a fun little kicking game as a way of encouraging online registration. O2 created a special RWC Web site, and Visa provided a downloadable desktop news alert service with coverage updates from ex-players.

By their very nature, sports events (as well as music or cultural events) bring together like-minded people at a specific time and place around a shared interest. As such they offer marketers an ideal opportunity to communicate and build brand with an engaged, captive audience — whether in the real world, on TV, or in cyberspace. This can be particularly useful within an environment of increasingly fragmented media consumption.

Sponsors should look to the Internet to expand the benefits of their event association and consider setting aside up to 10 percent of their sponsorship budget for online activity. This will allow them to not only extend the reach of their campaign but also engage more deeply and actively with their audience, thus augmenting the branding impact of their deal.

The medium’s nature allows an audience to participate and interact with event content, other enthusiasts, and the sponsoring organization itself before, during, and after the event on a 24/7 basis. This can prove particularly useful when events take place in other countries and time zones. Text and email messaging can add value to users’ event experience with delivery-time-specific news alerts scheduled around the action. With increased uptake of broadband, audio and video clips can provide replays of the event action.

In my research around the RWC, I identified four different tactics available to brand marketers wishing to exploit event sponsorship online.

Classic Sponsorship

Sponsors can buy additional online inventory around existing event content as a supplement to their offline deal, often negotiated as part of the package. This approach enables marketers to extend the reach, frequency, and duration of their campaign, helping to build brand visibility and association to a more concentrated target audience.

Augmented Sponsorship

Sponsors can build closer ties with online publishers to develop tailored promotional event content. This provides an extra dimension to classic sponsorship as it allows the target audience to interact more deeply with the marketer’s content and brand. In addition to building brand awareness, it reinforces brand association and develops a closer relationship with the audience.

Sponsorship Extension

Sponsors access event information and create their own Web presence around it, unrestrained by publisher control, enabling event immersion on a brand platform. By creating a destination Web site, sponsors can benefit from a closer, more personal, relationship with visitors.

Sponsorship Experience

Sponsors create their own content and experiences around the event, enabling brand immersion on an event platform. This approach, particularly effective for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands, goes beyond sponsorship to create an experience around a branded event that builds loyalty and encourages sales promotion through sweepstakes and competitions.

Which approach is most suitable depends on the nature of the product or service promoted, marketing objectives, size of budget, and, significantly, the level of integration between those responsible for a company’s sponsorship, advertising, and online activity.

There are some great sporting events this year. There was Super Bowl XXXVIII in the U.S. In Europe there’s Euro 2004 Football Cup. And globally, the Olympics Games are on the horizon.

If you’re involved in sponsoring these events, consider these ideas and fully exploit available online opportunities. (And if England wins the football, I’ll buy you all a drink!)

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