The news is filled with stories about the accelerating pace of retail store closings across the United States. Seems like every week brings word of yet another major retailer that is shutting stores or filing for bankruptcy. Similar trends are affecting the restaurant industry.
What does this have to do with sports sponsorships? More than you might think—and it’s not just that the retailers and restaurant brands will have less money to spend on sponsorship investments.
While many retailers are faltering—particularly those in over-built traditional malls--others are showing solid growth. Online giants like Amazon are obviously doing well. But smaller specialty stores and shopping neighborhoods are also doing well in many areas, led by those that offer unique and interesting shopping and dining experiences. Think about your own town and the places you like to visit.
The issue is not that the retail or restaurant industries are reeling. The issue is that both are evolving rapidly. The winners and losers are changing. For the winners, the opportunities are exciting. For the losers, the disruption is serious and often fatal. Darwin’s natural selection works in business as well as nature.
The sports sponsorship world is also experiencing changes. Onsite attendance is down for many sports. Viewing habits are changing. Sponsorship pricing is under pressure at some properties. At the same time, the news is not all bad. Some sports are doing well, new sports sponsorship opportunities are emerging and the total dollar spend continues to grow.
It’s easy to blame the changing retail marketplace on overbuilding and e-commerce. It’s also easy to blame the sponsorship stats on temporary phenomena like election campaigns and game schedules or the rise of multi-screen viewing and streaming. All of these factors are relevant. But there’s something more pervasive at work.
Retail, restaurants and the sports sponsorship industry are all being affected by sweeping changes in our society and economy. Technology is an enabler, but not the sole cause. Much of the evolution we are seeing in all three industries is being driven by consumer efforts to find ways of preserving and expressing individuality in a world controlled by large global businesses and technologies whose influences increasingly standardize our lives.
Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera Bread, understood this years ago. In a recent interview with Alexandra Wolfe in The Wall Street Journal, explaining why he became one of the early proponents of the “fast-casual” restaurant movement, he said he began to see "people waking up and saying, 'I want to feel special in a world in which I'm not.'"
Ron nailed it.
How do we feel special in this increasingly homogenized world? By finding, enjoying and sharing experiences that are special and personal. What we buy and own may help us feel special. But our personal experiences make a significant and growing difference in where we spend our time and money.
As Forbes contributor Paula Rosenblum recently wrote about the changes in the retail industry, “Recognizing that experiences and hospitality are a big part of the next-generation retail experience is a huge step toward continued invigoration of the formats.”
What do these trends mean for the sports sponsorship industry?
Events and experiential assets will have increasing value. But to maximize ROI, the event and the event experiences must be special and personal for every guest. Not every game, race or other event carries the same cachet for guests or the same value for the sponsor. And regardless of how special the event may be, each guest still wants to have a special, individual experience. True for onsite attendees. Harder but also true for fans watching on multiple screens at home.
When guests feel special and have a great time, they remember it and tell others about it. But when they have a bad experience, they also remember it and tell others about it. Today, social media makes the impact of this sharing far more immediate and impactful.
The price gap between great and mediocre events is likely to grow. But regardless of the cost of the event sponsorship, event planning and guest management will be more and more essential to success. The good news is that the incremental activation and management costs of making any event special and personal are insignificant compared to the cost of the sponsorship and the returns achieved.
Although a variety of individual apps can help manage the guest experience, it takes an integrated cloud-based system to manage the event, the activities and the guests at the level required to optimize results, reduce execution risks, assure a world-class experience and collect the survey results and other analytics needed to do it again.