“This season, the drivers who already have some sponsorship, the sponsors pull out, they already sent the letters and said: ‘okay bye bye, because you will have everything [the whole season] in two months’.”
These rather alarming words are those of Jean Alesi, a Formula 1 stalwart of 201 race starts, and father to Giuliano, a current Formula 2 racer. Does he make a valid point? Yes. Does that mean it’s all doom and gloom for the sponsorship industry over the remaining six months of the year? Absolutely not.
The implications from Alesi are not just restricted to motorsport; there are many global sporting organisations that are in the midst of condensing their schedule to fit into the rapidly diminishing number of months left in the year.
On the face of it, if you’re a brand looking for year-round exposure across multiple markets, back-to-back event weekends aren’t really fulfilling that requirement. If bringing guests along to events is your main objective, then that’s out of the window, and the opportunity to build up engaging and localised activation programmes are going to be near-on impossible.
The above paragraph is hardly an advert for persuading brands to stay loyal to their partnerships, therefore the onus must lie on the rightsholder to convince them otherwise. ‘Normal’ sponsorship packages and conversations won’t cut it anymore, because 2020 is not a normal year. Much like our day-to-day lives, the sponsorship industry needs to react, reset and rethink its approach.
If any industry can do it, then it’s the sponsorship industry. Considering the vast growth of the sector, and the advancements made in such a small space of time, this current environment shouldn’t pose a problem, but more of an opportunity to be pioneering once again. Rightsholders must revaluate their offerings and consider the needs of brands in this alternative world we now live in.
Those that are brave, innovative, and forward-thinking are those that give themselves the best opportunity to survive in the long run. Take Extreme E as an example. The radical new electric SUV racing series revealed its plans to introduce virtual hospitality, inclusive of VR headset experience, a live DJ stream and a VIP culinary experience, all from the comfort of your home! It has probably been met with a few wry smiles and frowns, but it shows innovation, it demonstrates forward-thinking, and it proves that they care about making the experience for brands as special as it can be given the circumstances. That counts for a lot.
Jean, Giuliano and many others are right to be concerned, while brands are naturally worried about spending any sort of money. However, we know that sponsorships can provide a strong return on investment, so it’s down to the property owners to convince them of this. The best way of doing so is by thinking outside of the box.
When a sponsor engages with a rightsholder they are buying into the story and association with that property. That story still exists, regardless of whether you’re at a racetrack or on a sports pitch. Whereas before, the rightsholder may have relied heavily on the focus around events, hospitality and the VIP experiences that came with that, now it needs to consider assets outside of this.
The focus on digital rights is a vital element to this alternative strategy. Esports, video conferencing speaking opportunities, and branded videos diaries are just some of the assets that should be considered in a rightsholders digital inventory. With a greater emphasis on metrics and data-driven sponsorships to justify spend, some brands are beginning to move towards a performance-based sponsorship model. If rightsholders can be awake to this, then they can help the brands to justify their spend by providing them with key ROI metrics in advance, taking into account the digital assets that are available.
We can understand and appreciate the caution from both rightsholders and brands given the current circumstances, but now should pose an opportunity, not a problem. Pressurised situations lead to creative ideas; it’s time to accept and embrace the challenge we’re all facing because the quicker you are to react off the starting grid, the better chance you give yourself of leading into the first corner.