Monday, August 27, 2007

Sports sponsorships--perhaps not a waste of money

Sponsoring sporting events or teams has always to me seemed more of a CEO ego trip than a serious marketing program. When my wife's old company, Alltel, rented a corporate hospitality box at the BellSouth Classic golf tournament in Atlanta, they had to recruit company spouses (like me and my friend Steve) to fill box space on the weekdays. Great for me and Steve, but great for Alltel? Didn't seem so.

In the September Harvard Business Review, Professors Stephen A. Greyser (Harvard Business School emeritus) and Francis Farrelly of Monash University in Australia argue that sponsoring sporting events has a distinct value for internal marketing--that is, building company identity and culture and enhancing morale (free link). Farrelly and Greyser write:

The French banks BNP and Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas) used sponsorship of the French Tennis Federation as a unifying element in employee communications to promote acceptance of their postmerger identity and to describe the new company’s future direction. Indeed, the logo and livery of the merged bank were launched primarily through the association with tennis; tennis merchandise and posters of tennis events were distributed widely through the combined network of branches. Moreover, rather than sponsoring just the French Open at Roland Garros, the new organization, operating as BNP Paribas, worked with the tennis federation to develop other events, including a masters competition, that would create further opportunities to engage with staff members around the sponsorship throughout the year. The resulting media exposure and the sponsorship’s internal presence inspired many employees to embrace the new identity.

These stories sound entirely plausible; yet I wonder whether there's any measurement of the value of these investments. I'm skeptical that cold, rational evaluation would demonstrate that large sponsorship investments pay off. Marketers, if you have that data, I'd like to see it.

Giving away logoed merchandise reminds me of another story from the Alltel days (I worked there once, too). Each time morale seemed to slip a little, which was more than a few times, we would arrive in the morning to find a piece of clothing decorated with the Alltel logo on our chairs. I don't know if it helped morale, but I didn't have to buy a polo shirt for quite a while.

(Photo: Manchester United players by AtilaTheHun via Flickr Creative Commons. AIG pays more than $20MM per year to get its logo on Manchester United's jerseys.)