The NBA playoffs are upon us and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Final will take place in late May. Watching these events, to include their preparation from a marketing perspective, it is readily apparent just how different sports sponsorship integration is between domestic and international markets.
The U.S. is the most sophisticated sponsorship market in the world. Leagues, teams and media partners have carved out opportunities for brands to become involved in numerous ways across countless categories. In addition, venues are filled with entertainment during every stoppage in play and in-game hospitality is available throughout. Yet, in the big four U.S. sports leagues, the field of play has been kept relatively clean from sponsor integration (note, the MLS does have jersey sponsorships).
In fact, in 2004, marketers for the movie Spider-Man 2 tried to promote its release via a partnership with Major League Baseball by putting the movie logo on bases. The public outcry was so great that both the movie studio and league had to backtrack. However, according to comments recently made by new NBA commissioner Adam Silver at the 2014 World Congress of Sport, the NBA is looking to push the sponsor integration envelope.
Silver indicated the NBA is now seriously considering allowing sponsors to put their logos on jerseys, and in his comments specified the following:
- The NBA believes it can generate $100 million in revenue annually (across the 30 teams).
- The NBA plans to allow a single 2.5-inch x 2.5-inch patch for each uniform.
- Logos would be placed beneath the numbers on uniforms.
Meanwhile, abroad, the sponsorship landscape is not nearly as diversified as in the U.S., as most teams generate the vast majority of their sponsorship-related revenue from two sources. One is jersey sponsorships (the other is kit deals). It has long been accepted by fans abroad that sponsors support teams, keep them competitive and help offset the cost of matches without TV commercials. Therefore, fans do not take issue with the placement of sponsors’ logos on jerseys — even robust logos in the middle of the front of the shirt. In fact, the 2012-2013 Sport+Markt’s European Football report stated that European Football teams generated almost $700 million in jersey sponsorship revenue through the big six leagues led by the English Premier League at almost $200 million in revenue across only 20 teams (relative to the $100 million the NBA projects it can generate across 30 teams as indicated above).
However, should American sports fans ever have the opportunity to attend a high-level football (soccer) match abroad, they would probably be surprised to see that there is far less in-game entertainment (minimal scoreboard presence, no pumped in crowd noise) and perhaps more interestingly, there is no corporate hospitality available during the flow of play. Hospitality areas are closed during the match as it is assumed that patrons are there to simply watch the event. And that assumption is correct– most fans don’t even get up during the match so as not to miss any action. This is in stark contrast to a typical U.S. sporting event where consumers spend so much time talking, eating or on their mobile devices that at times it feels like the sporting event itself is secondary to the overall experience.
The sponsorship world is certainly global, and properties, brands and media outlets do take fan preferences into account. Having said this, remember when watching the NBA playoffs, or the upcoming UEFA Champions League Final, that sporting events may look and feel quite different in coming years. Internationally, properties are likely to continue to engage an increasing number of brands to diversify their sponsorship portfolios and increase revenue, while in the U.S., jersey sponsorships are likely coming to the stadium near you, whether fans are ready for it or not.
In 2012, Michael joined MasterCard Worldwide as a Vice President, Global Sponsorships. He oversees MasterCard’s global golf and rugby platforms, which are highlighted by The Open Championship and Rugby World Cup 2015. He also focuses on UEFA Champions League activation, global sponsorship strategy, property evaluation and research, and the overall use of sponsorship assets worldwide.
Prior to MasterCard, Michael was with LG Electronics, where he oversaw its NCAA corporate sponsorship across multiple business units, including all Men’s and Women’s Championships. He also managed co-marketing strategic partnerships in the gaming and entertainment space that were leveraged via retail promotions.