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When the NBA 2017-2018 season starts, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be sporting a slightly different jersey. Tire giant Goodyear’s logo will be front and center on their wine-and-gold uniforms. The cross-branding effort is reportedly worth $5-$10 million per season and is a reminder that ticket and merchandise sales are not the only source of income for sports teams and organizations.

As the Cavaliers demonstrate, corporate sponsorships generate a create deal of revenue. And, in fact,  the sports world has seen a steady rise in sponsorships since 2009. Globally, it’s a huge market, and the sports sector is expected to continue to dominate the North American sponsorship market in 2017 with projected spend of nearly US$17 billion. But while these corporate sponsorships can mean big money for sports franchises, selling to potential partners is a competitive game, as corporate sponsors seek a bigger bang for their buck.

One way sports organizations can boost revenue from corporate sponsors is to look to the media industry for inspiration. The media business has faced its own challenges as traditional advertising spending has dwindled. In the digital age, it is driving revenue by demonstrating to advertisers the return on investment (ROI) they get for their spending, as well as unlocking new revenue streams by letting advertisers directly engage with their target audience.

Change the rules of the game

One example comes from traditional newspapers, many of which are taking a more direct, online approach to help advertisers connect with their readers. The Wall Street Journal, for example, launched WSJ+, which provides exclusive events and opportunities for its members to meet editors and outside influencers. These experiences help grow engagement, and members can access quality content on any platform.

Meanwhile, the Globe and Mail newspaper is leveraging its knowledge from the traditional newsroom to help advertisers more directly engage with subscribers through its content marketing arm, Edge. Its strategists, data scientists and producers work with brands to understand how content connects with target consumers.

Sport organizations should look at these types of vehicles for inspiration to expand the value of corporate partnerships. How can they help their major sponsors better understand their target audience? How can they go beyond displaying a corporate logo and help partner brands understand the broader consumer behavior of fans? One approach is to use platforms that enable sponsors to engage with sports fans directly. An engagement platform can help both teams and advertisers build a stronger relationship with fans and get insight on how corporate partners can more successfully market their products and services.

Know the players

Just as advertisers are demanding more from media companies, corporate sponsors want more from sports organizations. ROI is no longer just about brand awareness; rather, corporate sponsors are looking to sports organizations to help them create a deeper relationship with customers.

Condé Nast’s Allure magazine has not only boosted its revenue and brand credibility by tapping into customer intelligence, but by helping partners deliver better products as well. It gives partners access to insight from Allure Beauty Enthusiasts, an insight community of 40,000 Allure readers, so they can get ideas on how to improve products before they go to market.

Similarly, sport organizations can help corporate sponsors gather feedback through online community engagement on products and services that are likely to be of interest to the fan base. Hypothetically, the Cavs could help Goodyear improve their tires and related products through online, collaborative engagement.

Help them score

Sports organizations need to provide a detailed play-by-play of the ROI to their corporate sponsors, and who better to learn from than a cable sports network?

Global sports broadcaster ESPN is competing in a crowded media landscape, and providing clear ROI is how it found a competitive advantage to court advertisers and corporate partnerships. Like Allure, it created an insight community, dubbed the Fan Forum. It provides ongoing, actionable insight from ESPN audience members. But more importantly, it has changed the dynamic between ESPN and advertisers.

ESPN is no longer just selling space so advertisers can get click-throughs. Instead, it truly teams up with advertisers to build, test, launch and conduct post-launch analysis through the Fan Forum. In many cases, the insight community replace advertisers’ internal studies, which is a significant cost-saving opportunity for partners and a powerful selling proposition for ESPN’s sales team.

Sports organizations need look beyond corporate sponsorships as just a means to give them space and eyeballs on their corporate logo. Rather, they should steal a page from the playbooks of the media business to tap into the voice of fans and team up with sponsors to simultaneously enhance corporate partnerships and boost revenue.

To learn how sports organizations can unlock new opportunities though fan engagement, check out our case studies featuring NASCAR and the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC.

How Nascar Increases Fan Engagement and Drives Business Decisions

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