The 5 Best Sports Sponsorships

Graphic of athletes raising a trophy in the air with confetti falling around them

Companies spent nearly $15 billion on sports sponsorships in 2015, according to projections from IEG. That’s 70 percent of the total North American sponsorship market. Across all sports, sponsorships have become a massive part of the business taking place off the field of play. They have a tremendous impact on sports leagues, teams and fans alike every single game.

As sports have evolved over the years, so have sponsorships. The explosion of sponsorship dollars in the late 20th century was fueled by television, and now the Internet has completely altered how sponsorships work. Corporations “want more out of their investment,” said Dr. Michael Pfahl, a sports administration professor. “They want the activation to be creative and touch a lot of segments of their fan base.”

In this new era, the best sports sponsorships focus firmly on digital and social media elements, allowing for unique opportunities to interact with fans. These five creative sports sponsorships show the variety and innovation that companies are seeking in partnerships across sports.

IBM and the Masters

In many ways, IBM’s broad relationship with the annual Masters Tournament at Augusta National showcases the full breadth of innovation in sports sponsorship. The company has been a partner with the Masters since 1996, capitalizing on golf’s popularity among upper-income business owners.

Today, IBM develops and maintains the official website, Android app, iPhone app and iPad app for the Masters — and Augusta doesn’t even allow phones on its grounds. IBM began streaming portions of the event in 2006 and today allows a window into Augusta throughout the entire week. 2016 marks the first time any major sporting event will be streamed in 4K resolution, and the company has integrated its IBM Watson cognitive technology to measure and analyze the Masters as well as social media engagement.

IBM’s sports sponsorships are limited to the Masters, the U.S. Open golf tournament and the four tennis Grand Slam events. Because the company’s partnership with the Masters works on several levels, IBM is not the average brand seeking out massive sports sponsorship opportunities. It showcases the power and variety of services that IBM offers, while still capitalizing on the company’s key audience.

Dr. Pepper and College Football

Do you know Larry “the Dr. Pepper guy” Culpepper? You probably do. During college football season, he’s all over Dr. Pepper’s advertisements and has even shown up during games. The soda company has presenting sponsorship rights for the College Football Playoff for six years, according to Ad Age. This has resulted in Culpepper’s ads becoming the star of the brand’s advertising push. These videos became a hit on social media, and the character has quickly become synonymous with the playoff.

The other half of Dr. Pepper’s push involves giving away hundreds of thousands in tuition money on live television annually. The “Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway” involves stories about college students across the country who compete to earn money to bring them closer to their dreams. The company then has eight finalists compete at four events for a $100,000 check. By leveraging social media, Dr. Pepper is able to reach the key younger demographics that can keep its brand alive for the foreseeable future.

Adidas and the World Cup

Months before the first game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup began, Adidas gave the soccer ball that would be kicked its very own Twitter account. Adidas’ “Brazuca” ball tweeted about the state-of-the-art technology behind its creation, content surrounding Adidas-sponsored competitors in the world’s biggest sporting event and, of course, the results of matches throughout the tournament.

The push behind Brazuca not only helped Adidas connect with soccer fans before the World Cup but also assuaged concerns from the previous World Cup about ball quality. The product Adidas made in 2010 was highly criticized, and, in many ways, Brazuca helped Adidas to take control of soccer ball-related narratives. Adidas received mentions from celebrities like Justin Bieber and Pharrell, enticing fans to join in the fun.

Microsoft and the NFL

When Microsoft and the NFL struck a sponsorship deal for $400 million to make the Surface the official tablet of the NFL, most players and commentators still referred to the tablets as “iPads” or even “knockoff iPads.” But since the deal began in 2014, it has quickly evolved into an innovative relationship that stretches beyond the sidelines. Not only does Microsoft get its product and logo displayed prominently in America’s most-watched league, but it’s offered some of the same advanced tools to consumers.

The partnership brought the launch of Next Gen Stats in 2015. The company used sensors in players’ equipment to track where they are on the field. Fans received access to these new statistics at any time on their NFL apps across several platforms. Microsoft even designed an app for the Xbox One and Windows 10 that allows fans to track all NFL action while watching a game on TV.

Microsoft’s partnership showcases its wide variety of technology products. By partnering with the NFL, Microsoft gains a constant and innovative presence in some of the most-watched television of the year.

MLB and Snapchat

Much of the talk about baseball these days surrounds its lack of popularity among youth. However, Major League Baseball’s partnership with the mobile social media app Snapchat is clearly a play to reverse that trend. The MLB uses the Snapchat “Our Stories” feature to bring together videos and photos of MLB fans at ballparks across the country each week. These stories are visible to all of Snapchat’s 100 million daily users.

This partnership showcases the next frontier of sports sponsorship, although no money is reportedly being exchanged. Snapchat and platforms like it give brands an opportunity to showcase sponsorship in new ways. On baseball’s opening day, users around the country were able to apply a special MLB team filter based on their geolocation to their photos. This sponsorship increases brand visibility in a new and creative way, offering limitless opportunities.

The New Frontier of Sports Sponsorship

Sponsorships are an integral part of the business of sports. Understanding the best sports sponsorships can help those interested in pursuing a career in sports management. Campbellsville University offers an online Master of Arts in Sport Management that focuses on the business dynamics of the sports industry. The fully online program is ideal for working professionals seeking a flexible education.