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Neil Jankelowitz

A bumper year predicted for sponsorship as fan events make a comeback

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Neil Jankelowitz, CEO, Mscsports

Investment into sport and brand sponsorships is set to make a big comeback in 2022, as brands realise the potential of sponsorships and their capability to outperform other tools in the marketing mix, particularly when it comes to keeping audiences engaged and connected at scale.

This is according to Neil Jankelowitz, CEO of Mscsports, a performance-driven sponsorship agency and winner of Agency of the Year, Event/Competition Sponsor of the Year, and Campaign of the Year for its Castle Lager #InOurBlood campaign at the recent 2021 Hollard Sport Industry Awards.

“The past two years have seen all areas of our lives disrupted, and whether we like it or not, the pandemic will continue to impact everyone for the foreseeable future,” Jankelowitz says. “However, we cannot take everything we have learnt as an agency for granted, and how we have adapted to survive, and in many cases thrive over this time.”

Jankelowitz outlines the sponsorship trends he believes that are likely in 2022:

Credit: Unsplash

Hybrid event experiences

For the past two years brands have had to think digital-first, especially because physical events and activations were (and continue to be at risk of being) cancelled overnight. Digital fan experiences exploded in popularity with brands finding innovative ways to ensure they continued to reach consumers via digital channels.

“The focus was always on the stadium experience in the sports sponsorship world, but the pandemic compelled a shift towards the digital world where fans unite around an event or a cause,” he explains. “The digital social world has the added benefit of being able to provide more specific feedback so that brands have more measurable data to measure their return on their investment.”

Not only are consumers used to enhanced digital experiences, but they also now expect engaging digital content to be part of the overall fan experience – and it could be anything from video or augmented reality (AR) enhanced experiences to exclusive or behind the scenes content.

With a gradual return of fans to stadiums and event venues, brands must ensure they provide an engaging, hybrid fan experience that includes elements of the physical and virtual worlds.

World Cup opportunities provide longevity

Opportunities will abound for brands in the sports sponsorship arena over the next few years, with the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and the Cricket World Cup, Rugby World Cup and Netball World Cup, all in 2023.

However, brands must ensure year-round fan engagement through these sponsorships to realise a greater return on investment. Fans are no longer satisfied with watching their favourite teams and sports stars competing in-season only. They want to know what they’re doing in the off-season too.

“At a time when everyone is craving connection, fans want to remain connected to their favourites all year round – which presents a wonderful opportunity for brands to produce engaging content with leading personalities both off- and on-season, creating longevity for messaging and achieving sustained impact too,” Jankelowitz adds.

Deliver measurable outcomes not tactical outputs

A tactical plan will only get an agency so far with its clients. From a strategic perspective, brands must insist on measurable agency outcomes, not just agency outputs. Any agency can deliver a spectacular event with all the bells and whistles, but if it doesn’t meet or exceed the client’s business objectives, millions will be wasted.

“Our agency has developed an in-house proprietary measurement tool called the Sponsorship Efficiency Index (SEI) that reports so specifically on the reach and effectiveness of our campaigns that we can show our clients their exact return for every rand spent,” he says.

“The SEI assesses various metrics to deliver an impact score for each campaign, giving our clients including the likes of Discovery, Castle Lager, Engen, Prudential and many others, a scientific measurement of the results achieved by each campaign.

“I believe the industry is finally on the road to recovery. While I remain cautiously optimistic about what lies ahead, I am bullish when it comes to the value we provide and measurable returns we deliver to brands who trust us to manage their sponsorships,” he concludes.

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Athletes to Influencers: The New Competitive Playing Field

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Professional athletes endorsing brands is not a new concept. For years the likes of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Cristiano Ronaldo have proudly donned the infamous Nike logo (amongst others) as part of high value sponsorship deals, but the rise of social media and the absence of live sport due to the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the development of a new highly competitive playing field amongst athletes – both professionals and amateurs – in the digital arena.

Prior to social media, fan aspiration and celebrity influence was based predominantly upon athletic ability. Large endorsement deals, such as those from brand powerhouses like Nike, signified athletes having ‘made it’ within the sporting arena – recognition for their superior athletic performance. Fast forward to 2021 however, and many brands are capitalising on athletes’ content creation abilities and their social reach in lieu of on-field performance. Fans are seeking authentic, relatable experiences with their sporting heroes and brands are recognising the value of even micro and nano-influencers who have developed significant online rapport with their followers.

As Vodacom Blue Bulls CEO, Edgar Rathbone, stated in our recent Rights Holder webinar, “rugby has become a by-product to a large degree – we have become lifestyle brands and content creators”. Whilst sporting performance may have provided teams and athletes with a springboard into the public domain, it is their ability to engage with fans and their attitude towards their fans which now has a greater impact on loyalty and preference.

To watch the full webinar, CLICK HERE.

Whilst many athletes have, to a large degree, had an awareness of their social influence – previously predominantly due to their success on the sports field – the global Covid-19 pandemic has forced many athletes and teams to capitalise on their online presence as a means to create alternate sources of revenue. Similarly, for brands, endorsement deals are no longer simply considered based upon on-field performance and athlete likeability – increasingly, attributes such as athlete engagement, social relevance and reach are becoming of greater significance.

With lockdown and restrictions on live sport and spectator attendance, fans are seeking that personal connection with their sporting heroes. Social media has created new levels of immediacy and access that enables fans to develop emotional connection and attachment by sharing significant moments with their sporting icons. For the athletes, social media provides a platform to expose their authentic selves and providesnew ways to engage with fans outside of the sportsfield.

Data from YPulse, a youth research and insights company, has shown that when compared to musicians, online influencers, and Hollywood celebrities, athletes are the type of celebrity that Gen Z and Millennials aspire to most and are the type they would most like to see as a spokesperson for a brand. These athletes have become more than just role models, they have become trendsetters, persuasive powers and influential cause ambassadors.

Responsibility vs Authenticity

Along with all the benefits social media provides brands, fans and athletes, it also comes with a large degree of risk. It’s reach, immediacy and lack of rules and direct control of the account holders content, means that brands, teams and personal reputations are quite literally in the hands of the influencer in question. Poorly produced content, offensive posts and unsavoury online behaviour all have the power to jeopardise sentiment.

The rise of athlete influencers has also shifted the balance of power. Whereas athletes used to be treated as property of the teams that “owned” them and saw them viewed more as well-polished spokespeople, they’re now considered as authentic human beings with unique points of view, opinions and beliefs. These athletes have a responsibility to their followers to use their voice, reach and influence to take a stand against controversial topics, but the consideration of tone, content and desired call to action needs to be carefully considered based on all the stakeholders involved.

Which begs the question – where do influencers draw the line between authenticity and their responsibility to sponsors?


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