3 ways to maximize sponsorship revenues

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2022 Running USA Industry Conference recap

Elevent recently took part in the 2022 Running USA Industry Conference in Orlando, Florida. Francis Dumais, the agency’s managing partner, presented a workshop on increasing sponsorship revenues for running events.

Our team has helped a number of races in North America better value and package their sponsorship assets to be able to maximize their sponsorship revenues.

Here’s a summary of the presentation.


Regardless of the size of your operation, if you’re here, chances are you’re looking to increase the revenues your sponsorships are bringing in. While securing and managing sponsorships may fall second to your goal of selling tickets and running a flawless event, sponsorship can be a great source of revenue. But with increased competition between properties, the field is becoming increasingly professionalized. That’s why it’s essential to manage your sponsorships purposefully.

3 ways to increase sponsorship revenues

1. Create new, innovative assets

The first, and most straightforward, way to generate more revenue is to add to the inventory of sponsorship assets.

There are several ways to create fun and engaging assets that both deviate from the norm and deliver greater impact for sponsors.

Runners are familiar with the classic formula: the photo wall, the gift bag and goodies at the finish line… but these often brandish different brand names from one year to the next, creating zero emotional engagement and minimal impact for partners.

Not only are more sophisticated sponsors looking for new ways to engage meaningfully with their target audience but there’s also greater demand for an increased digital presence.

New assets can also help sustain sponsorships beyond the short window of an event: a running event provides a sponsor with the most exposure a few days before and during the race, but brands are increasingly looking for properties that fans engage with over a longer period.

How to create new assets

Pain points or needs

Address the target audience’s pain points or look for ways to improve the general experience.

Case in point: Runners may be reluctant to part with their valuables, such as cellphones or wallets, at the bag drop, but would be glad to recover these items at the finish line. You might consider a partnership with a bank or a security company that could provide secure transportation of these items to the finish line.

Experiences, especially those involving emotions, are better remembered, which is a plus for sponsors.

Look to your community

With art and fashion having an increasing influence on the sports world, collaborations with creators and artists in your town or city could be a good place to start. Consider bringing local artists on board and tying a brand partner to the initiative.

You could, for instance, launch a contest to design the medal or the event posters 6 to 8 months prior to the event. All communications would provide the sponsor with a new and unique window to promote itself. Many brands are increasingly looking to implement community-based initiatives. Running events can offer turnkey opportunities to tap into a strong and established local hub. Local creators can also help spice up your brand and apparel, making your brand more desirable in the process.

Start small; explore what’s unique about you or your community.

Create content

Brands are increasingly looking to populate their social channels with relevant content. Running events can create content that is “always on” beyond the limited timeframe of a race. It could consist of podcasts featuring stories about local runners, curated training playlists, training and nutrition plans, or tools to encourage visiting runners to discover your city and stick around a little longer after the event.

All these initiatives can be presented by a sponsor, but you have to make sure there’s a natural fit, that the initiative is aligned with the sponsor’s objectives, and that you secure a multi-year commitment: you don’t want to be switching the sponsors of your new, innovative programs every year.

Engage your running community

Clubs and rewards programs may be another great way to create value for both your running community and your sponsors.

With the availability of tools that allow you to create sites with limited or no technical knowledge, it’s easier than ever to build an online community.

Clubs and rewards programs let you and your sponsors engage with your most relevant audience: the fans. Once people subscribe, the cost of connecting with that dedicated core is almost nil. You can then push sponsors’ offers and benefits, offer rebates for your races, and increase the likelihood that runners will attend your events thanks to simple initiatives such as a weekly run. Plus, you’ll be capturing data firsthand, which is extremely valuable to brand partners.

  • Try to create new assets that will:
    • Solve pain points;
    • Engage runners for longer;
    • Impact your brand positively;
    • Live online;
    • Generate PR;
    • Produce emotions or experiences for better sponsor recall.

 2. Build new sub-properties

Creating individual assets falls under the category of tactics. But building sub-properties goes one step further, because it allows you to create an ownable asset for a brand partner while increasing your revenues by upselling existing partners or enticing new sponsors with a premium, ownable sponsorship opportunity.

A sub what?

Sub-properties are a set of assets that are bundled together to create a program that can be owned by a sponsor. In the sponsorship hierarchy, sub-properties would traditionally appear below the main sponsors (title, presenting) but above a standard partner.

There is much benefit in developing a customized, ownable program for a brand partner. It creates a stronger association with your event, which in turn generates better recall and is more effective for the sponsor. Not only that but, visually, it looks a whole lot better than a dog’s breakfast of logos.

An ownable program of this sort tends to involve the sponsor in the creation process and generally increases both the investment and likelihood of renewal or a multi-year agreement.

Including additional assets and production events also makes it possible to increase the price tag. Because a turnkey solution is more cost-effective than involving an advertising or experiential agency, this is a win-win situation for both the event and the brand.

Ideally, you want to build something in collaboration with a sponsor that reflects your brand’s distinctive flavour. You could bring two or more of your existing sponsors on board to create something new and unique.

A good example of a unique program is the Volvo Cars Running Club’s partnership with the New York Road Runners (NYRR) and the Los Angeles Road Runners (LARR). The Dunkin’ Munchkin Run at the Philadelphia Marathon is another team favourite.

In short, if it’s done right, creating a sub-property helps your brand partner stand out while also creating a value-added experience for participants.

Things to consider:

  • Don’t let a smaller partner overshadow a major partner (naming, presenting rights);
  • Explore opportunities to upsell existing partners;
  • Look at the possibility of including production costs with a margin to create additional revenues;
  • Make sure to align with the brand’s objectives;
  • Keep in mind that creating a sub-property requires more resources.

3. Don’t waste valuable assets

The third and final way to increase sponsorship revenues is quite straightforward: stop wasting valuable assets.

Why prebuilt, tiered sponsorship packages are bad

Tiered sponsorship packages charge a sponsor a fixed fee for a predefined mix of perks, according to the level they have chosen.

Do you use a generic, tiered sponsorship structure that offers bronze, silver, and gold or, worse, platinum packages? Stop. Immediately!

These packages are bad because:

  • They’re not tailored to the prospective sponsor’s specific objectives;
  • You can give visibility, your most precious asset, to companies that don’t need it;
  • You’ll likely end up with a confusing mishmash of logos;
  • You’re trying to fit sponsors with different needs and objectives into YOUR neatly arranged boxes.

Visibility assets are limited, and valuable.

The best example of wasted assets are sponsors looking to engage their employees, clients, or prospective clients.

People and, especially, companies, are willing to pay for a premium experience: they don’t need to see their logo on your website or event program for that.

Don’t follow the crowd

Salespeople generally knock on the doors of the most visible sponsors. But these companies tend to have a team of professional sponsorship experts on the payroll who excel at saying “no.” They likely have a solid methodology in place along with set criteria for selecting properties.

B2B companies are not solicited as much. They may not be as picky about the property but will be increasingly focused on challenges such as attracting, retaining, and engaging employees or making use of sponsorship with their sales team to create opportunities to spend time with their clients. If you’re lucky, the CEO just might like endurance sports.

What to remember:

  • Don’t give your most valuable assets to companies that don’t need them;
  • Create a flexible asset matrix according to tiers of investment (no prebuilt packages);
  • Look for opportunities to build better hospitality and volunteer programs;
  • Seek out different sponsors: B2B companies have money!

While certainly not a quick fix, the best way to create strong and lasting value from sponsorships, and ultimately increase sponsorship revenues, is to progressively build a desirable brand, a larger audience, and a wider reach.

A better title for this presentation could have been “10 ways to increase and retain sponsorship revenues.” Here’s a recap of 10 things to consider.

Quick recap

  • Brainstorm ways to generate 2 to 3 NEW and engaging assets;
  • Build a unique sub-property to upsell an existing partner or to attract a new brand to your event;
  • Be mindful of the sponsor’s objectives and only pitch assets that can deliver on them.

Do

  • Ask brands what their objectives or pain points are;
  • Build custom packages;
  • Provide a range of investment per level;
  • Provide brands with ideas on how to activate your property and engage the audience.

Don’t

  • Waste precious assets;
  • Use a prebuilt menu-type sponsorship offer;
  • Provide a specific price from the onset.
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