In Sponsorizzazioni Sportive, Sport Sponsorship

If you are an avid sports fan, or a marketeer 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? What are the differences between partnership and sponsorship, 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 realise the whole concept of “sponsorship package” or “sponsorship program” 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.
Brands wanted to achieve promotional advantages via partnership agreements that could help them to open new markets and engage new targets in a more specific and deep fashion.

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 sponsorship and sports partnership 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 sponsorship and donation

Both strategies – donation and sponsorship – are worthy, and definitely have their place. Although both sports sponsorship and donation call for giving money to a third party in an effort to improve their performance, the two things are substantially different from a marketing point of view – or, they should be.

Again, sponsorship involves the sponsoring company acquiring rights from a sports team, athlete, or event – i.e, the rights to use their name, images, video assets, visibility and often key players, in order to leverage awareness in order to reap marketing and commercial benefits.

On the other hand, donation shouldn’t ever be used for marketing purposes. Although it may be utilised as a PR move, donation should be considered almost entirely in the realm of goodwill or charity – where companies, individuals or brands donate revenue to those individuals or organisations that they want to support. To expect anything marketing-wise to come as a result of a donation is not only unethical, but also likely to be illegal and could easily be classed as bribery.

The distinction, then, needs to be clear.

So, how can sponsorship and donation get mixed up when it comes to sports?

Without delving too deeply into the issue, at a surface level campaigns that have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) angle could be seen to walk the line between charitable donation and long-term strategic sponsorship.

It should be made clear that this isn’t the case, however. Take a sports sponsorship campaign that sponsors a youth football team, for example. Sponsorship in this case could involve paying for the kit, helping with the costs of the stadium, or having your brand’s logo on the team’s newsletter or digital communications. As a sponsor, you have a strategic aim and are working with the team in order to provide support and get your branding in front of those that are invested in their success.

Tax relief for charitable donations

If you’re making a donation to a team or organisation that is registered as a charity, you are entitled to tax relief for the donation. These donations can be deducted from your company’s profits for the year in which the donation is made, meaning you may be liable to pay less corporation tax. More information on Corporate Gift Aid is available from the Charity Tax Group and Also sets out the difference between sponsorship and donation clearly: “Charity sponsorship payments are different from donations because your company gets something related to the business in return.” Sponsorship can still mean tax relief though, as long as the organisation you’re supporting is registered as a charity. In this case, you may be able to claim sponsorship payments as a business expense.

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 and how sports marketing could be beneficial for your business. You can reach us at

Can we help you sign your best sponsorship deal?

Emanuele Venturoli
Emanuele Venturoli
A graduate in Public, Social and Political Communication from the University of Bologna, he has always been passionate about marketing, design and sport.
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