When does a sponsorship make sense?

Watching an NBA game last night, an ad for Kia motors came on. It claimed that the Kia Sorrento was the official vehicle of the NBA. The commercial itself was visually appealing with compelling music, but at the end I scratched my head thinking, what does an entry-level SUV have to do with the most competitive basketball league in the world. As hard as I tried I could find no connection between Kia and/or the Sorrento with the NBA, other than the NBA needs sponsors and Kia has money to be a sponsor.

So the next time you’re contemplating sponsorship opportunities for your brand, consider the following…

1) What does your product have to do with the event or entity in question? The classic example is beer (or chips or other snack items) and football. That makes sense to me – friends gathered around the tube, putting back a few cold ones and routing for their team. But again, to reiterate, what does an entry-level SUV have to do with the game of basketball. Players don’t drive them; it’s not a highly tuned performance (read athletic) vehicle, its not going to make me a better baller. Where’s the connection?

2) Would your brand benefit from exposure to the target audience? Here’s where Kia may pick up some points. NBA basketball is a mass market, largely watched sporting event… but then, why not just advertise? Why pay the additional funds to be a “sponsor”? So I would caveat this by also adding that there should be added value by associating your brand to the product in question.

3) Is there a clear consumer insight to you being a sponsor? I’ve watched this ad multiple times and I’m not sure how Kia has made my enjoyment of the NBA better. This partly goes back to point #1 but the other half is simply that I was not compelled to action nor did it push me to view Kia in a different light. The one glimmer of insight I could see was that Kia was trying to position the Sorrento as a hip urban vehicle (which might have some ties to NBA culture)…but that message did not resonate with me, and I doubt it dd with other viewers.

So can sponsorship dollars be wisely spent? Of course, beer and football, auto parts/accessories and NASCAR, brands in related trade shows…I just think that in today’s world where the mediums with which to touch your customers are ever growing – sponsorships become increasingly more costly on a relative scale. So lets make sure we assess the true value of a sponsorship and more importantly the opportunity cost of that investment when compared with other opportunities that more closely align with our customers’ preferences. 


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  1. #1 by Raj on December 18, 2009 - 10:36 pm

    On #1 — Couldn’t you argue that the connection between the Kia and the game is less important that the connection between the Kia and the TV audience? Entry-level SUV makes a lot more sense given my friends and I, all of whom are in the early stages of raising a family, are watching the ad together.

  2. #2 by Kris on December 18, 2009 - 11:09 pm

    I agree with you that the connection to the mass media audience is something to consider, but then why be a sponsor? Why not just advertise? How does the added price to make Kia the oficial car of the NBA better connect the brand to viewers like you and me?

  3. #3 by Raj on December 18, 2009 - 12:11 pm

    isn’t a sponsorship essentially buying advertising in bulk? you get guaranteed placement in-stadium and at other events and you get to use the moniker “official whatever” in al your pieces along with uniformed players/logos etc. voila! — dorks like me *think* paul pierce rolls in a sorreto.

    now where is that kia brochure…?

  4. #4 by Kris on December 18, 2009 - 12:42 pm

    Man Raj – you’ve made me go back and do some research. So in the case of Kia, they are an official sponsor of the NBA (not of the network). So I would *assume* that the ad space is being paid to the network while the sponsorship goes directly to Mr. Stern & co. Now it could be that two agreements are tied making the dollars indistinguishable, but my expertise doesn’t go that far.

    I did learn something that does make the deal *slightly* more favorable…the arrangement makes Kia the official sponsor of the MVP, DPOY, 6MOY, and other awards. There may be some value add there…but it all depends on the market research. How much does seeing Kobe hold up the trophy with the Kia logo in the background impact a consumer? That I don’t have an answer for. But to your point, do you now assume Kobe’s going to be driving home in his Sorrento after nailing the buzzer beater in Game 7 of the finals?

    Some links I found…
    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/article/117631 http://www.brandweek.com/bw/content_display/news-and-features/direct/e3if995098b1f37ccdbdb2bdf518fd264b9

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