TicketManager | The Downside of Sports’ Must-See Media Status

Sports marketers are quick to share the narrative that live sports programming is the last bastion of “appointment TV.” By pointing out that sports content can still deliver massive viewership and ratings in the face of channel fragmentation and changing audience behavior, they are demonstrating the unique power of sports as a marketing vehicle, not only for 30-second ad buys, but for brand partnerships, athlete endorsements and other engagements.

As WARC noted this month in a report projecting 2024 ad spending on live sports media to reach $61 billion, 19 percent above pre-pandemic levels: “Sport remains unrivalled as a means of achieving mass reach and is one of the last providers of true ‘water cooler moments.’”

However, for those in the sponsorship and experiential space, such popularity is a double-edged sword. As brands’ advertising departments and media buying agencies become more enamored with sports programming, and as the cost of those spots, billboards and other inventory climbs with demand, many marketers could see a squeeze on sponsorship budgets as companies commit more dollars to sports media.

While there is clear justification for brands to maintain and grow their involvement in sports partnerships apart from media spending considerations, the reality is that at most big companies, advertising continues to have the loudest voice at the table when marketing spending decisions are made. Toss in the influence of media agencies that earn their money planning and purchasing advertising—and are often reluctant to see marketing dollars flow to other channels—and sponsorship faces a near-constant uphill battle for share of budget.

The best thing sponsorship practitioners can do in the face of this unnecessary and frequently unfair internal competition, even if it may not be enough to always win the battle, is to come armed with measurement and evaluation data that objectively proves the effectiveness of partnership activations on business goals.

All of this is not to say that brands across the board are forgoing sponsorship spending to focus on sports media buys. Just last week, in what Sports Business Journal touted as “a seismic change in the magnitude of its sports sponsorships,” New York Life announced two national partnerships—becoming Major League Baseball’s official financial guidance sponsor and U.S. Soccer’s official life insurance partner.

In fact, SBJ quoted New York Life’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer Amy Hu as saying, “We’re shifting from traditional media and advertising to more experiential, so consumers can know our brand better.”

Decision-making based on business-building objectives will sometimes favor media spending and other times, as in New York Life’s case, tilt toward below-the-line event marketing, sponsorships, etc. It just needs to be data driven and medium agnostic—and not the result of falling back on what’s always been done—in order to have the best chance of succeeding.