The emotion of sport gives hope

It is difficult to predict anything in these uncertain times. Developments relating to COVID-19 ensure that organising bodies of sporting events and competitions are continuously having to change their plans. As a result, it can be quite challenging to help sponsors get the most out of their sponsorship.

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The prevailing measures mean that, for the foreseeable future, we will have to follow sport from the sidelines, as it were. For the time being there will be no stands full of singing fans in football stadiums. This may have a considerable impact on fans. Research into what motivates fans often reveals that sport helps people to forget their day-to-day problems, to take a break from all their responsibilities and stress. So it will not come as a surprise to learn that a sizeable majority of Dutch sports fans are reporting that they are currently missing the emotion associated with the experience of sport.

Sport is emotion. And it is precisely that emotion that is invaluable to sponsors of sport. The aim of sponsoring is to let you show, through your brand, that you understand sports fans and to build up a connection with them by hitting the right note with your campaigns. But how do you do that at a time in which a pandemic is increasing the gap between fans and sport?

I have recently seen pictures of stadiums in which the empty stands were covered with enormous banners bearing the logo of the sponsors. A banner like that is all well and good, but it achieves little more than visibility. Which means that the impact for the sponsor will also be limited. From the perspective of the rights holders, it is a logical form of compensation for the exposure they are not getting at this time. But what it also reveals is that the focus of sponsoring contracts is often concentrated on reach alone: how do we get the sponsor's logo on screen as often and as clearly as possible?

This summer, by analysing six worldwide sponsoring effect studies we have been able to show that sponsors who succeed in making contact with fans at an emotional level will ultimately achieve a higher return on investment (i.e. more value for money from their sponsorship) than sponsors whose sponsorship campaigns fail to rise above the level of mere reach. If a brand succeeds in touching the fan's heart, he or she will generally be inclined to purchase that brand's goods or services. This proves once again how important it is to concentrate on relating the value of sponsorship to the extent to which a brand is in a position to build up a connection with fans.

Building a relationship of this kind between a brand and sports fans is difficult enough as it is, but is even tougher at the current time. At the same time, sponsors are much less dependent on the physical attendance of fans than rights holders. With smart (digital) content and activation, they can endeavour to bring sport closer to the fans at a time when it is being missed.

Sport is something people miss; something they need. My message to sponsors is to use their creative energy to bring sport closer to the fans. See it as an opportunity to touch the hearts of fans, now more than ever, and in so doing increase the return on investment from sponsoring even at this uncertain time. That is a cause for hope, regardless of what might be announced in the next press conference.

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