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Moving Toward Integrated Tech Partnerships

Sponsorship and advertising may seem like interchangeable terms, but they are not: sponsorship is more than just advertising. In its base form, advertising is the Budweiser frogs on their Lilly pads—that 30 second spot we all love. Sponsorship, on the other hand, is about building experiences; these may include stunning creatives that connect brands with customers. But it’s not just about building relationships with customers, it’s also about impressing other businesses. B2B strategic partnerships are shaping the way that we experience our favorite sporting events. Look no further than Dow, the official chemical company of the Olympics to see how. Partnerships are transitioning away from well-worn brand plays that emphasize visibility and values, to newer sponsorship categories that focus on strategic partnerships and integrated technology solutions. This next generation of sponsorship is on display at the Olympics today where Olympic Partner (TOP) sponsors are demonstrating 3 shifts in sponsorship strategy.

Shift 1: Sponsorship strategy is tech-first

A food and beverage sponsorship strategy is no longer enough, sports properties must also have a technology sponsorship strategy. Technology companies have crept into the TOP sponsors, redefining sponsorship categories. This was blisteringly apparent when McDonalds, the official food sponsor of the Olympic Games, was replaced by Alibaba and Intel, the Games' official cloud infrastructure and processor, respectively. These shifts are partially driven by larger shifts in the market: companies like Intel and Alibaba are performing well, whereas food, beverage and packaged goods companies are experiencing flat line growth. Sir Martin Sorrell believes the role of packaged goods companies will continue to shrink, “their propensity to invest is weaker now than it was 5 or 10 years ago,” he noted in a conversation with Lab CEO Angela Ruggiero at CES. “The reverse is true of the technology companies. They have more margin. They have more top line growth and more profitability to play for.” More money means more ways to integrate your brand with strategic partnerships."

Angela and Jack Ma *Sports Innovation Lab CEO Angela Ruggiero with Jack Ma, co-founder and Executive Chariman of Alibaba Group *


Shift 2: Tech companies flex their innovation with product integrations

Technology not only defines the TOP sponsors, but also the narrative of the Olympic Games. These companies use the event to release new products and features developed especially for the Games. This integration of technology drives the value of Intel's extended Olympic TOP partnership, as well as the ethos behind their stunning drone display at the Opening Ceremonies. Intel emphasized this goal affirming that they want to “reimagine the future of the Olympic Games with new levels of fan interaction through leading-edge technology.” The first stage of this vision is on display in PyeongChang, through VR integration, 5G trial deployment, and even an esports exhibition that just concluded with champion Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn being the first woman to win a major Starcraft II tournament. Intel is but one example of a sponsor using a sporting event as a proving ground for releasing new technology. The importance of testing these technologies (like 5G and the Intel drones) cannot be understated. In the same way that the Olympics is a proving ground for the best athletes in the world, it is also a proving ground for the best technology.

TOPS Sponsors 1984 - 2020

Shift 3: Where partnerships are born: the B2B tradeshow

While our eyes are on the athletes, the B2B companies are keeping a watchful eye on each other. The sponsorship category of “The Official Chemistry Company of The Olympic Games” might seem odd at first glance, but when you consider how Dow is integrating their technology into the games, it all makes sense. Ice rinks benefit from Dow’s heat transfer fluids to maintain temperature precision, roads benefit from their reflective durable traffic paint. TOP sponsors Atos and Alibaba also leverage the Games to impress brands with their cloud capabilities. GE and Panasonic are also heavily interested in the B2B experiences they can shape during the event.While these integrations may not excite and delight Olympic visitors, they do not go unnoticed by fellow multinationals. These secret tradeshows position brands to benefit from future B2B business and are an equally important component of sponsorship strategy.

The Takeaway:

This shift to integrated partnerships in sports is not wholly a new phenomenon. What is new is the speed, and speed matters. The rate of increase in these types of partnerships reflects a market insecurity and anxiety around simply measuring ROI in the click through and impression rates of traditional marketing. Sports, whether live, in venue, or at home, are increasingly mediated and technologically driven. Soon categories like “Official Chemistry Company” will be as common as “Official Facial Recognition Company” or “Official Smart Toilet Provider.” The companies identifying these new categories, and defining the metric for setting their value, will shape the future of sponsorship in sports.

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