TicketManager | Streamers as Sponsors Is a Smart Move

The relationship between sports properties and the companies that produce and/or deliver content for us to watch on our myriad devices is typically a straightforward exchange of broadcast/streaming rights for cash or other consideration.

But every so often deals of a different nature emerge, as with two recent examples where streaming services have become team brand partners.

In the U.S., Fubo has become a sponsor of MLB’s Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Guardians and St. Louis Cardinals. In Europe, Paramount+ appeared on the front of Inter Milan’s jerseys for the Italian soccer club’s two final matches of the season.

The rationale for these partnerships is no different than for other challenger or disruptor brands that affiliate with established and beloved rights holders. Such sponsorships can create awareness among audience segments that are less familiar with the brand while tapping into fan loyalty and borrowing storied imagery that can shape perceptions, spur trial and trigger sales.

Fubo’s activation efforts are directly aimed at tangible results, offering, for example, a free 30-day trial subscription to season-ticket holders and a two-week trial for other fans. Paramount+, which launched in Italy nine months ago, relied on the prestige of the jersey-front position—which became available when blockchain/cryptocurrency company DigitalBits failed to make its sponsorship payments—and the reach of the two matches it appeared in: the Serie A league final and the UEFA Champions League final a week later.

With streaming services engaged in a critical battle for viewers’ dollars and euros, expect to see many more sponsorships from the sector, especially from players with less well-known brands than Apple, Amazon, Disney and Netflix.

It’s worth noting that sponsorship deals involving media brands can create strange bedfellows, such as Champions League media partners Amazon, Sky Sports and Mediaset sending a competitor’s brand into millions of homes. (No such conflict existed in the U.S., where Inter Milan’s loss to Manchester City was shown on Paramount+ and sibling CBS.)

Although none of the UCL media partners objected, that was not the case during a similar situation in Australia a few years ago, where an Aussie rules football league shockingly sided with a new broadcast partner at the expense of one of its clubs and its existing jersey sponsor.

In early 2014, West Perth Football Club in the West Australian Football League, signed a three-year, A$300,000-plus deal to put national free-to-air network Channel 9 television’s Nine News brand on the front of its “jumpers.” The following year, rival Channel 7 became the WAFL’s broadcast partner, replacing another competitor, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Unlike ABC, Channel 7 refused to show the Falcons’ matches, demanding that the club remove the Nine News branding if it wanted to be seen on TV. Despite the team’s deal pre-dating the league’s broadcast agreement, the WAFL took the position that it had informed West Perth in 2014 that Channel 7 was likely to be the league’s broadcast partner in a year’s time and therefore the club should have walked away from its negotiations with Channel 9.

As newspaper WAtoday reported in 2015, “West Perth maintains that, while it was aware of the intention to form a deal with Channel 7, no such agreement was in place when the club signed its sponsorship deal with Channel 9.

“In a letter to the (league), Falcons president Brett Raponi said the deal with Channel 9 had been approved by the (league) in 2014. ‘It is our view that no WAFL Club Board acting reasonably and in accordance with the best interests of its club would have rejected a three-year sponsorship agreement valued at over $300,000 on the expectancy of a possible broadcast contract between the (league) and a rival network. This may never have eventuated,’ Raponi wrote.”

The standoff reached a point late in the 2014 season where the WAFL threatened to impose fines on West Perth for violating the terms of its license with the league unless the Channel 9 logo was removed for the upcoming postseason.

The matter was settled in time for the league’s championship game when Channel 9 agreed to have its logo replaced by one for a children’s charity. But even then, the league decided to fine West Perth A$10,000 because a player mistakenly ran onto the field wearing one of the old jerseys before quickly changing into the approved version.

If there are to be more broadcaster/streamer sponsorships, let’s hope the story from Down Under is an outlier rather than a cautionary tale.