TicketManager | Caveat Emptor: Not All Research Contains Meaningful Insights

Research into sponsorship’s impact comes in many varieties, including academic studies, syndicated research reports and case studies in which marketers, properties and agencies share results from their brands’, partners’ and clients’ partnerships.

As an industry, we can never have enough quality information and data on how sponsorship works and performs. What we don’t need are studies that create headlines and news coverage that tease insights and actionable information when in actuality the reports contain little to no data or meaningful context.

Case in point: Marketing communications and PR firm Prosek Partners released findings from an analysis it conducted of the impact of NFL stadium naming rights on brand sentiment. The post on the company’s website was labeled “Uncovering the Value of Brands Sponsoring NFL Stadiums.” A subsequent Sportico article was titled “NFL Stadium Naming Rights Help Brands Half the Time.”

Intriguing stuff for anyone in our business if the steak lived up to the sizzle, but in this case it did not. Prosek reports that “Nearly half (48.3 percent) of the 29 NFL stadiums with entitlement sponsors provided a positive net sentiment lift” but does not share any information on what the lift numbers were. It also only lists the top five stadiums delivering lift to their naming rights partners.

The analysis also did not directly measure fan or consumer attitudes. Instead it evaluated “the impact that traditional earned media surrounding NFL stadium entitlement sponsorships can have on brand sentiment, i.e., the positive, negative, or neutral tonality of the news coverage that includes mentions of the stadium(s) and uses it as a proxy for how people feel about the sponsors.

The report includes some interesting findings—although no actual data is provided in support—such as traditional earned media sentiment toward a stadium entitlement sponsor has little to do with its respective NFL team’s on-field performance, the best performing stadium entitlement sponsorships are not limited to the largest cities and the top five NFL stadiums (with entitlement sponsors) that have the highest net positive sentiment feature brands that are based in the same city as the stadium they sponsor.

Overall, the lack of detail and the choice to substitute earned media coverage for consumer sentiment leaves sponsors, properties and other sports marketers with no practical takeaways from the study.

I don’t mean to pick on the good people at Prosek, who launched a sports business strategic communications practice in November, headed by Jon Schwartz, an accomplished executive with decades of relevant experience at the Big Ten, NFL, NASCAR and elsewhere. They are far from the first and won’t be the last sports business players to issue reports that are thin on substance and lack actionable insights in the name of thought leadership. We should all strive to do better.

Apart from the media sentiment analysis, Prosek’s post contained solid, if not earth-shattering, recommendations to “maximize NFL stadium entitlement sponsorships,” including:

“Leverage earned media to tell your business story. By using strategic communications to drive storytelling and awareness about how and why your brand is investing in a stadium entitlement sponsorship, you can drive commerce, enhance the fan experience and leave a positive indelible mark on the community.

“Create and pursue opportunities for executives to serve as thought leaders on sports sponsorship, branding and fan engagement. These contributions credibly position the brand as a thought leader and deepen its relationship with the media, fans and other key stakeholders.

“Curate bespoke brand-stadium partnership content. Content such as blog posts, videos and infographics can be shared on team, stadium, and sponsor brand owned and operated channels such as websites, social media and email newsletters to engage fans. It can also drive key calls-to-action such as sponsor activation and community impact initiatives.

“Establish a custom traditional earned media sponsorship scorecard to track brand impact. Monitor your performance against the broader league and use the scorecard to help build and drive communications strategy.

“Integrate stadium sponsorship into broader marketing communications campaigns. Consistent messaging across platforms spanning multiple traditional media channels, including print, broadcast and outdoor advertising reinforces brand recall and extends its reach to diverse audience segments.”