The Sponsorship Marketing Association has released findings from its 2023 Sponsorship Leaders Study, a survey of sponsorship professionals working for both rights holders and brands, conducted by Performance Research.
Such studies usually feature a mixed bag of positive developments, disappointing indicators and to-be-expected responses, and the SMA survey is no different.
On the bright side, corporate marketers reported strong growth in sponsorship spending for this year, with 44 percent increasing budgets over 2022. One-third of brands kept spending the same as last year, while 22 percent shrunk their budgets.
A surprising one-third of sponsors increasing spending did so by a whopping 40 percent or more, while another four out of 10 grew budgets by between 20 percent and 40 percent.
Additionally, 69 percent of sponsors and 54 percent of properties said that their sponsorship departments will “gain more attention/have an increasingly important role” within their organizations over the next few years.
The survey asked sponsors what they considered “the most important actions when meeting with a sponsorship sales representative.” In an era where rights holders have access to first-party data and insights on their audiences, it’s remarkable that “provides relevant research data and insights” only ranked sixth, selected by only 40 percent of corporate marketers.
While the top five responses are important, including being well prepared, presenting creative ideas, asking relevant questions to understand needs and customizing sponsorship programs to meet the company’s objectives, it’s astonishing that the majority of sponsors seemingly don’t require audience data to be shared by sellers.
Responses to a question about the most valuable property-provided services could indicate that despite increased budgets, brands may be under-resourced when it comes to activation and measurement and/or ill-prepared to take full advantage of their partnerships.
Two of the three top responses were “creative ideas” and “assistance measuring ROI.” Clearly those are areas where properties should contribute ideas and information, but sponsors may be overly reliant on their partners in areas where their own organization should be taking the lead.
Answers to another question support the idea that sponsor challenges may be somewhat self-inflicted. The top three “biggest barriers to achieving success with sponsorships” were “insufficient budget to property activate programs” (77 percent), “insufficient budget toward sponsorship research/measurement” (60 percent) and “limited staffing resources” (51 percent).
Finally, the disconnect between properties and brands remains in evidence in the dissimilar responses to a question about the most helpful metrics for determining the value of sponsorship programs.
Rights holders ranked the following as three of the top four metrics: “Attendance numbers/audience size (75 percent), “on-site interactions” (69 percent) and “lead generation (60 percent). Conversely, the percentage of sponsors citing those three factors as helpful were 36 percent, 31 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
Full results from the study are available to SMA members.