IEG 2017: The sponsorship pivot to digital and data

Data has been having its day for sports and entertainment companies around the world, becoming an indispensable source of fan knowledge before, during, and after events. For event sponsors, digital has become increasingly important as static billboard become digital displays, and websites and mobile apps add to inventory. Despite that, data hasn’t been a huge part of the sponsorship conversation, but this year we’ve begun to see a shift. That shift was on display at the IEG 2017 Conference.

Our team was on hand to show off Umbel’s new Digital Sponsorship Suite, but we were also there to learn from sponsors and property owners. And learn we did! Our team hit as many sessions as we could, and we picked up a ton of cool info. If you weren’t able to hit every session, check out some of our takeaways below.

“Sponsorable assets” need a new definition

The Opening address, Pivot: Discovering New and Sustainable Growth, set up the theme of IEG 2017—the opportunity that digital and data offer sports and entertainment property owners and their partners to engage more meaningfully with fans.

Jim Andrews, Senior Vice President, IEG and ESP Properties talked about how the industry has strayed from a core tenant of sponsorships: everything you do should create value for your audience. That means that personalization and 1:1 marketing from data insights are not a trend or a fad. It also means that if your property doesn’t personalize, someone else will.

Creating value for an audience requires a redefinition of what’s sponsorable. That can be through Wi-Fi gating, longer form content, or other digital assets that have been historically excluded. All of these can be potentially meaningful activation platforms that can increase loyalty in an engagement-hungry culture. How engagement-hungry? Millennials are checking their phone an average of 157 times a day.

Time to turn to tech

Brands and sponsors want access to data, period. They want to understand how fans are interacting with their brand over the course of a campaign, over the course of a season, and even longer. As a start, they’re looking for fan names, email addresses, and content interactions. CMOs can’t justify sponsorships unless they can justify and show results to measure impact.

So, how do you keep up? Technology. There’s tons of new tech emerging every day to help rights holders, properties, and teams provide the kind of metrics sponsors are looking for. Those include new social networks and channels with their own metrics, but also third-party tools to measure, unite, and remix data from any and every channel.

Many channels and new tech create compelling fan experiences, but do so in a way that collects data, and the key that is to do so in a non-intrusive, non-creepy way. This year is the year to take a hard look at the channels you’re on and the tech stack that’s enabling you to market effectively on those channels.

Teams have some explaining to do

Whether it’s augmented reality, digital trivia games, or a simple tweet, teams want to sell sponsors the latest and greatest digital assets. In a roundtable, Investing in Your Long-Term Relationships: Must-Have Conversations Between Sponsors & Sponsees, Amy Potter of BMO Harris Bank and Megan Grabowski of the Chicago Bulls talked how their sponsorship agreement has evolved of the years.

A big point was the fluidity of the digital landscape, requiring their contract to be more open-ended than “5 Facebook posts, 8 Tweets, etc.” to “Let’s do some cool s#it!” But another point was that it’s up to teams to educate sponsors on the type of metrics they’re getting back. Brands might expect huge impressions from their traditional media days, but digital will produce smaller numbers. Part of that education is going beyond impressions, and moving toward other measures (e.g., conversions, measured brand awareness) so that the mindset shifts from quantity to quality—and so that they can demonstrate that those “smaller numbers” are more relevant than was ever possible with traditional media.

There’s still a lot of data education to be had

Though some sessions talked about metrics aside from impressions, impressions and CPM (cost per thousand impressions) were still a big part of the conversation in most of the sessions we attended. And if it wasn’t impressions, it was engagement with social posts (e.g., likes, shares, video views).

What we’re hoping for at next year’s IEG (and pushing forward this year) is more teams and sponsors embracing the first-party data they have. That includes conversions (and scoring the value of those) and brand affinities of your specific audience over time (using social authentication), but it’s certainly not limited to those.

So, how do you make sure you’re not caught off guard to industry changes when IEG 2018 rolls around? Subscribe to IEG Sponsorship Report for news and analysis, follow our blog to keep up with other happenings in the sports and entertainment world, and check out the Twitter accounts below, who had some of the best Tweets from #IEG2017.

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