Neil Jankelowitz: Fans want special treatment. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Neil Jankelowitz: Fans want special treatment. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

A radical reduction of adspend — by as much as 40% in some cases — is forcing the sports sponsorship industry to adopt an entirely new business model.

Neil Jankelowitz, who heads the MSC Sports agency, part of the Bidvest group, says that as the market becomes softer, more attention needs to be paid to mining consumer data, which — when used well — can deliver more quality audiences. This will yield clear sales leads and not just public relations value and above-the-line advertising exposure.

He says: "Brands are seeking more opportunities for less money and rights owners need to think more clearly about the extended value they are offering."

He cites the example of a vehicle brand’s association with a local PSL team, which previously was limited to a large rights fee; the allocation of a specific number of cars for player use; player appearances; and stadium branding.

While that might have worked in the past he says, brands are looking for more than a stock-standard offering like that. They want direct exposure to fans’ eyeballs and wallets.

To that end his agency, for the same car company, has created a special fan zone at a large sports stadium where drivers of their vehicles are offered easily accessible parking.

Notes Jankelowitz: "Fans want special treatment and if brands can make a difference to their lives they will be willing to cede data, which makes future engagement much easier."

Sports fan data should also be mined at multiple sites. "They can be engaged in hospitality areas; through information obtained from online ticketing; time spent on team websites; and merchandise preferences and purchases," he says.

Another source of data that is still in its infancy in SA is fan location and habits in stadiums. "How much a person is prepared to spend on a seat and how much they eat and drink are also important information sources."

His strong views on the growing importance of data are borne out by Clint Paterson, CEO of the rival Levergy agency, which has just been acquired by the M&C Saatchi Abel Group. He says collecting data is one thing, but one’s ability to interpret data to deliver real sponsorship and consumer insight is the key.

"The data itself isn’t valuable unless you plan to use it properly. Distilling and interpreting data into insight-led work helps sponsoring brands make informed strategic and creative decisions that ultimately allow them to unlock the consumer/fan needs that their sponsorship should be aiming to deliver against."

Patterson says work still needs to be done to convince brands of the value of data.

"Too often, the first thing to get cut in any budget is research and insights, which are crucial to making better sponsorship decisions and delivering sponsorship campaigns with impact and long-term returns."

While the future of sports sponsorship might lie in data, Jankelowitz also offers a sobering assessment on the state of skills. He says SA has a shortage of skilled analysts.

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