BLOG | by Victor Gras

What use is a sports sponsorship when there’s no sport?

In the absence of much live sport recently, we wanted to look at how perceptions of sports sponsors may have changed. With reduced exposure for brands, are the benefits deals normally rely on standing up?

Let’s start by looking at one of the NFL’s sponsors – Bud Light. The NFL is a bit of an outlier in so far as its season hasn’t been delayed by COVID. Nevertheless, it’s been far from a usual pre-season experience. So how has perception of Bud Light, which racks up ten years as the league’s official beer in 2021, been affected?

The answer, as you can see from the chart below, is very little. Impression for the brand among NFL fans has closely matched that for the brand among the general public. The affinity with fans that the brand has built up through its sponsorship doesn’t appear to have declined at all in the absence of live sport. In fact, activations like #BooTheCommish around the NFL draft look to have succeeded in keeping the brand as relevant to NFL fans as ever.

Now let’s look at a league whose schedule has been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak – the NBA. The competition was suspended on March 11, following Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis with the virus. But to keep the comparison to the NFL close, let’s look at another long-term partner – in this case Pepsico’s Gatorade.

As you can see from the chart above, Impression for Gatorade among NBA fans tends to be more volatile. However, you can also see that although there are times when the uplift among NBA fans has diminished and got closer to the score among the general population, the brand continues to enjoy better Impression off the back of its sponsorship – even with no action on the court. How is Gatorade staying part of the conversation? Its series of hosted Twitter watch parties have engaged plenty of people, while its updated ‘Be Like Mike’ ad featuring Zion Williamson also dropped earlier in the month.

So how does hockey compare? Like the NBA, the NHL also has its season paused – as of March 13th. This time, let’s look at how a newer partner – adidas – fares. The apparel manufacturer signed on for the 2017/18 season, replacing Reebok, so enjoys few of the long-term incumbency advantages that Gatorade and Bud Light do. And while this data tells a different story, it’s not the one you might expect.

In fact, as you can see from the chart above, Impression for Adidas has, overall, climbed significantly since the outbreak began, this month achieving its fourth highest score among NHL fans since its deal began. That’s a remarkable turn of events, and a credit to the NHL and its teams for continuing to engage successfully with fans.

Finally, for the sake of completion, I wanted to take a look at an MLB sponsor – this time in automotive. Chevrolet is the official vehicle of MLB and has been in partnership with the league since 2005. But who is buying cars right now? Is this a category where, because the commodity is such a big-ticket item, sponsorship has stopped paying off? On the contrary.

Although Impression of Chevrolet initially fell among baseball fans following the league’s suspension (while staying fairly steady among the general population) it has now recovered completely, and is now enjoying an 8-10-point uplift among baseball fans. And that’s despite there being no major Chevrolet/MLB campaigns since games were suspended.

While there’s an understandable degree of hesitancy in the market, these insights should reassure brands looking to broker deals right now. Even after a two-month hiatus, partnerships are still offering excellent returns for sponsors in terms of uplift among fans – and this was replicated across many of the other metrics we monitor too. For now at least, sport sponsorship without sport looks like it works pretty well.

BLOG | by Victor Gras

Head of Client Services

Joining YouGov Sport in March 2018, Victor brings seven years of global sports sponsorship expertise. In his last role, he led Nielsen’s Market Intelligence activity across all US verticals, working with brands, rights holders and agency clients. He also worked previously with the New York Road Runners, where he helped TCS launch the title partnership of the NYC Marathon, as well as with the ASO, optimizing sponsorship strategies for the Tour de France and the Paris Marathon.