With 2015 now in the record books, a look back shows just how busy and…
In a park named after chewing gum, a crowd after seven innings rises to sing an ode to peanuts and brand-name Cracker Jacks.
The official lawn care is by Scott’s, flights by American Airlines, pizza by Giordano’s and, should the Cubs rise above the Mets in the National League Championship Series, celebratory champagne by liquor chain Binny’s.
Sports sponsorships, companies paying money and providing services to win the covet title of “Official _____ of the _____,” are big business. They run the gamut from minor league hot dogs to the names on NASCAR jumpsuits to Microsoft’s recent $400 million deal (and an entire league’s worth of Surfaces) to become “The Official Tablet of the NFL.”
“Most of the research that examines sponsorship looks at how consumers like you and I respond when they make the announcement that, for example, American Airlines is going to sponsor the Cubs,” NIU Assistant Professor of Marketing Mark Groza said.
Groza’s new research is delving into how those sponsorships affect the team, and if the wrong “Official _____ of the _____” can be harmful.
“If a team or a sport brand has a bunch of sponsors that don’t fit, that it doesn’t make sense why they’re the sponsor, it can actually hurt the sports brand,” he said. “We all have a pretty strong understanding of what the Cubs’ brand is, but if you’re a minor-league team or a sports organization not a lot of people might know about, that’s where it can have some negative effects.”
Where the sponsorships immediately make sense, the audience has to do less mental work, Groza said. With the Cubs, teams fly across the nation (American), Chicago is known for deep dish pizza (Giordano’s) and baseball is played on meticulously maintained grass (Scott’s).
“We as people like things to make sense. We like things to fit together logically. We like to process information in a way that makes sense to do so,” he said. “If there is an incongruent sponsorship, for example Dr Pepper and the Bears, it’s really important for the brand to describe what the connection is.”
Sometimes a gentle tweak is all it needs, he said. For example, Binny’s Beverage Depot doesn’t call itself “The Official Liquor Store of the Chicago Cubs,” but “The Official Champagne Provider.”
“Now, all of a sudden, you and I can say, ‘Ah that makes sense.’ The Cubs’ goal is to pop that champagne at the end of the season,” Groza said.
A former University of Akron football player whose first sales job was University of Cincinnati tickets, Groza has been studying the relationship between sports and sponsors since 2008.
His initial research, conducted with Joe Cobbs of Northern Kentucky University, looked at more than 20 years of stock market data of companies that sponsor Formula One racing teams.
The research found a counter-intuitive trend: Companies’ stock prices tended to go down, not up, following a big sponsorship announcement.
What makes a sponsorship worth it isn’t the title of “Official” on its own, Groza said, but how the companies leverage that deal. Sponsoring companies’ marketing departments need to have a clear understanding of what they want from the deal before they go in.
Then they need to leave themselves the resources to promote, advertise or otherwise get out the word that they’ve paired with the team.
“As early as maybe 10 or 15 years ago, these things weren’t quite as sophisticated. Some smaller companies would spend all that money to get that sponsorship and not have any money left over in their marketing budgets to utilize that sponsorship,” Groza said.