If you are prepared to invest in a sports sponsorship just because you want to win and gain visibility for your brand, you are making a big mistake. Visibility is just one of the many benefits that a company or brand can gain from collaborating with a sports organisation, but it is by no means the only one. When we talk about partnership opportunities with customers or new leads, we always try to focus not only on the visibility that can be achieved or the race results, but also and above all on the values and marketing benefits that can be exploited by investing in these programmes.
Values rather than results
Investing in Formula 1 , Formula E or MotoGP is not simply choosing the team or driver that performs well or wins the most. It doesn’t work like that. We talk about values. Here, for example, is a short list of some of the values associated with Formula 1:
- Technology at the highest level
- Research and development
- High performance
- Team spirit
If you are considering sponsoring Formula E, we have a number of other values to add, such as:
- Advanced technology
- New challenges
- Future-oriented vision
By simply incorporating some of these elements into corporate communication, any brand can be sure to build a content-rich communication plan that is relevant, interesting and up-to-date for at least five years. By the way, can you spot ‘winning’ in the list? NO. Winning is not a value, it is what you might call a plus, the icing on the cake.
I would like to be one of McLaren‘s sponsors and have the opportunity to send everyone in the company an email with the record that the McLaren F1 Team set in the Qatar race: a 1.80-second pit stop. A record achieved thanks to a very strong teamwork made of continuous testing, drills, attention to detail, concentration, resilience.
Look at this picture: you can barely see the driver, you can see the car and 19 people around it for the pit stop. 19 people out of thousands of employees, working with the same goals: to give the two drivers the best chance of success. Often you only focus on the driver and car on the track or on the podium, but the work of the team and each individual member is incredible.
In addition to winning races, sports partnerships offer visibility, media exposure, behind-the-scenes content, fan experiences and alignment with the values that brands seek. That is why winning is not the only, or even the most important, value derived from sports sponsorships:
- Wins are fleeting and unpredictable – Teams and athletes go through cycles of ups and downs. Brands need more consistency in values and benefits than victory provides. Long-term partnerships last beyond victories and defeats.
- The journey is as important as the destination: fans connect with the inspiring stories of commitment, teamwork, resilience and preparedness that sport offers, regardless of the final results. These narratives give meaning to victory or defeat. Sport allows brands to align with deeper values: excellence, dedication, community, teamwork and more. Values transcend any victory or title. Brands want equity linked to ideals that endure.
- Partner visibility endures – The branding on uniforms, team vehicles, equipment and facilities remains regardless of who wins. Exposure continues in good times and bad.
- Behind-the-scenes content builds affinity – Multimedia and social content highlighting personalities and the human side of sport foster bonding. This goes beyond victories and defeats.
- Sports heritage and heritage are important – The history and traditions of a long-standing team are unique and valuable brand associations. They persist for generations.
- Direct experiences with fans are meaningful – Hospitality, events, tours and much more stimulate involvement. Fans love experiences, whether their team wins or loses that day.
- Innovation partnerships are fruitful – Equipment, technology, analytics and more derive value from the collaboration itself. Results on the field are not the main focus.
Philanthropy and community impact – The charitable work of teams, leagues and athletes makes a difference all year round. This provides a meaning distinct from competitive results.
The point is that while winning is beneficial, it is not the only factor or even the most important in many cases. Sports partnerships should focus more on shared values, value building, experiences and visibility, areas that yield benefits regardless of who comes first.
Of course, when the team or athlete wins, an additional emotional bond is created. As a sponsor, being able to share that moment and celebrate the result is the ‘icing on the cake’ that comes with winning. But it cannot be the main expectation.
Sponsoring smart, not hard
Smart sponsors and sports structure partnerships not on the basis of wins and losses, but on the basis of the experiences they can offer brands, access, involvement, awareness and presentation of values. These elements provide a solid return, whether the team finishes first or last.
In the end, winning is not something brands can count on. But by focusing on the many other benefits of sports sponsorship, productive partnerships are achieved even without the thrill of first place. The wins will come and they will be the icing on the cake. But they are not the cake itself that fuels a long-term partnership.