UKSA Case File 3: Rights Holders

When the marketing industry talks about great sponsorships, it usually looks at them from the perspective of brands. All the talk is of how a brand identified an opportunity and came up with a creative and effective way of activating it. However it’s important to recognise that rights holders also have an important role to play in making a sponsorship as impactful as possible. The way rights holders organise their assets, and their willingness to buy into a brand’s strategic vision, can play a huge part in whether a sponsorship stands out from the crowd.  Case File by Andy Fry

It’s for this reason that the UK Sponsorship Awards launched a new category entitled Rights Holders Award - Best Activation of Assets. The idea is to recognise rights holders that have done the great job of organising their assets in a way that maximises the benefits for sponsors and partners.

To support the launch of the new category, this UKSA Case File looks at ways rights holders can support/improve their offering.

Organise Your Assets: Over the last decade, there has been a big trend towards rights holders segmenting their assets either by category or function. A good example would be a football club that has sportswear, shirt and stadia sponsors, as well as partners for sectors like gaming, automotive, airlines and communications. Manchester United, for example, currently lists 24 partners. The primary rationale for this splicing of rights is to increase rights holder revenues. But it does require some sensitivity towards the needs of sponsors. For example, it’s important that sponsors don't feel as though their category is being undermined by another category that overlaps. At the same time, rights holders need to ensure that they have designed supporting packages that make brands feel like they are valued partners. Clearly, brands are only entitled to what they pay for. But rights holders should not stretch their resources so thinly that they can’t go the extra mile in support of sponsors. If a deal involves access to talent, they need to ensure that the talent is fully-engaged with the programme - rather than overburdened by their extra-curricular activities.

[On a related note, there are research companies that can help rights holders identify what exactly is an asset in the context of sponsorship. It helps to know exactly what has market value before beginning the process of organising and selling.]

Know Your Place In The Market: In addition to understanding the value and scope of their assets, rights holders also need to understand their place in the market. What do they have that other rights holders don’t? Are there any USPs that justify their selection by sponsors? If not, can they be created/added? Again there are research companies that have databases of sponsorship information that can inform this process. Also, if pitching to brands, it makes sense to do some basic research to see if there is a good fit between the two partners. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if there is no obvious strategic synergy.

Provide Insights Based On Research & Data: We live in a data-driven age, so rights holders should be able to provide some quantitative and qualitative support for their claims. It is essential that audiences in all their forms, whether fan, membership, corporate, broadcast, etc. are understood and managed to best effect for the rights holder and partners.

Budgets are, of course, a consideration. But any data that can paint a picture for clients prior to signing a sponsorship deal is valuable (including social media monitoring that shows how the rights holder’s brand is thought of). Equally, research-based insights into how people have interacted with brands via rights holder-owned channels are useful. They can help clients evaluate the impact of their investment and inform future cycles of activity.

Use Of Testimony/Endorsement: Not all brands end their sponsorships on good terms with rights holders. But if they do, try to get some feedback and insight that can be used to shape/inform the relationship with incoming partners.  Equally, if a sponsorship ends on bad terms, assess what went wrong and make sure the same mistakes don't creep into new deals. This could be anything from over-promising to failure to deliver activation elements that the previous sponsor was expecting. 

Support Co-creation: As far as possible, rights holders need to help brands tell their own story. Off the shelf sponsorship packages don't always provide enough mindspace for creative or innovative activations. Rights holders need to listen to what their partner wants to achieve and then look at how their assets can be adapted accordingly. Agility, flexibility and innovation on the part of rights holders are highly-prized by sponsors. Brands often have extensive expertise in experiential marketing – so keep an open mind about their ideas/input. Co-creation will be particularly important in the context of grass roots or community-based activities, where rights holders are sometimes going off-piste – working beyond their usual area of assets. This is another area where brands may have established expertise that can help the rights holder’s grass roots activities.

Protect And Police Rights Diplomatically: An important part of the rights holder’s job is to police and protect its sponsors’ investments. This is right and proper but confiscating cans of beer and threatening local businesses does sometimes alienate audiences and generate negative PR. As such, it helps if you can sell the reasons why you need to protect rights in advance. It’s also a good idea to encourage consumers to buy in at an emotional level. Brands that offer beer amnesties at Summer Festivals are a good example of how to turn a potentially tricky situation into an opportunity for engagement. Generally, it is better if you can come up with a creative way to beat your ambushing rivals than give them an excuse to look like victims. 

Provide Media Support: Major rights holders often have better relationships with the media than brands. For this reason, they should try and use their leverage to ensure that their sponsors get appropriate levels of exposure. Broadcast, print and digital media should all be encouraged to refer to the sponsors where possible. Similarly, rights holders should think about ways to incorporate sponsors into their own media narrative. An example might be introducing sponsors into the rights holder’s social media engagement with fans. Echoing earlier points, it helps if this can be done with some wit and relevance. It’s better to work together on interesting shareable content than simply force-feeding people sales messages from sponsors.

Amplify Your Own Brand: Rights holders should also explore what brands can do for them. For example, could an on-pack promotion or direct marketing campaign organised by the brand help the rights holder reach new audiences or rekindle the interest of old audiences? If brands can drive audiences to an event or activity then the entire ecosystem benefits.

Inclusion and Environmental Best Practice: Brands that fall short on issues like inclusion and sustainability generally suffer for this (usually through social media). So it’s important that the rights holder’s standards in these areas are just as high. If rights holders are choosing venues, they need to ensure they meet exacting standards on environmentalism. If they are choosing ambassadors, it’s not enough to have people who won't stray from the script. Better to have people who are energetic and authentic advocates of these subjects.

Sponsor Workshops And Corporate Hospitality: Rights holders should aim to get their sponsors to work together as a family. Workshops are a way of coming up with ideas about how sponsors might support each other’s efforts (which should, in turn, benefit the rights holder too). Corporate Hospitality can play a similar role – bringing together decision-makers from the sponsorship family in unexpected and innovative ways. If the rights holder can be seen as a business facilitator then it’s an additional reason for sponsors to renew their contracts.

For organisations interested in entering UKSA’s Rights Holders Award - Best Activation of Assets, this is the break down:

Rights holders have a wide range of valuable assets including their audience, fan base, membership/season ticket holder databases, broadcast and digital media exposure, branding and activation opportunities, corporate hospitality offerings, facilities, access to ambassadors, community outreach, etc. The purpose of this new category is to showcase rights holder organisations across all sectors that have used their assets to maximise their income streams and provide better and more attractive offerings for potential sponsors and partners.

Judges will reward organisations that have a clear understanding of the identification and profile of their audiences, who have mined, sliced and diced their databases to ensure that they are sending the most appropriate and effective messages to engage fans with their sponsor partners. The judges will also be looking to see how effectively this has been communicated to the marketplace and that the marketing and sales teams are working together to offer a ‘best fit’ opportunity with optimum activation possibilities for partners.

Entry to this Award will not follow the structure of other submissions. The entry should look at sponsorship programme as a whole and use particular campaigns as examples. Anyone seeking more information on the Award should contact Rosemary Sarginson, organiser for the UK Sponsorship Awards -, 020 8891 1067.  

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