In Sport Sponsorship

difference partnership sponsorship If you are an avid sports fan, or a markeeter yourself, you might have noticed a recent trend in the sports marketing scenario: the progressive switch from “sponsorship” to “partnership”. How are these two terms different? And what does it mean for a company to become a Partner, rather than a Sponsor?

Difference between partnership and sponsorship

The most marketing-oriented properties in sports have begun this migration from the idea of “sponsorship” to the idea of “partnership” at the beginning of the last decade, as teams, athletes and events started to realize the whole concept of “sponsorship package” was not a good match anymore for the highly-complex marketing plans of global firms and brands. International powerhouses and multinational business simply did not want to buy the standard thing anymore, their communication strategy being far too elaborate for just a single-dimensioned marketing proposal. Not only that: they wanted sports and sports properties to become a full marketing asset for their products and services, tailor-made to their present and future communication strategy. If, before, it was up to the sports properties to offer specific marketing benefits, now it was the companies themselves tracing the route towards new boundaries of co-op.

Marketing-wise, this was a revolution

The whole idea of sponsorship bloomed and the caterpillar quickly became a butterfly.

Firms and business worldwide started to realize that sports could bring visibility, awareness and sure it was a great story to tell, but extra chilli could be added to the mix to make things extra spicy. All of a sudden, lubricant and oil producers started to use Formula 1 and MotoGP Teams as their cutting-edge R&D labs; food brands used athletes not only to market their product but to develop and test new range of supplements; clothing manufacturers took the immense expertise gathered in years of specific disciplines to produce extra-tech garments and textiles for their collections.

Academically speaking, sports sponsorships and sports partnerships are not so different. Honestly, they are quite the same thing. However, on a more conceptual level, sports partnerships could be defined as a new level of sports sponsorships: they represent a tighter-fitting collaboration between sports and business. (Discover What is a Sponsorship Activation.)

Should we bullet-point some of the major improvements from sports sponsorships to sports partnership, these could be:

  • Less based on standard marketing benefits and more tailor-made on the company’s specific needs
  • Several company levels involved in the sports project: from marketing to R&D, from production to management
  • Focused on the improvement and development of specific products or services
  • Usually long-term
  • Very effective on the customers and clients, who witness a true synergy with some of the world’s most winning properties
  • Multi-dimensional and multi-layered (development of new tech + development of new products + marketing of new products + use of the teams for showcase + …)

Difference between sponsor and sponsorship

Finally, during the years, many have asked what is the difference between sponsor and sponsorship. A sponsor is a company or brand using sports as a communication tool for marketing purposes. Sponsorship, on the other hand, is the system of actions, agreements, tools and mutual benefits put in place by two parts, the sponsor and the sponsee (which the the sponsored team or organization).

It must be noted that the difference between sponsor and sponsorship is not just a linguistic matter. These are not two different words for the very same thing. Rather, the whole concept of sponsorship includes the idea of sponsor. The sponsor is an important part of a sponsorship project, but not the only one. There are other factors, activities and actors that must come into play to close the circle.

Let’s talk, if you want, about partnership/sponsorship. You can reach us at

Emanuele Venturoli
Communication Manager for RTR Sports Marketing. A degree in Communication at the University of Bologna and a passion for sport brought me where I'm today.
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