Your complete guide to sponsorship marketing

Publication date
Imogen Beech
Reading time
14 minute read

A whopping $0.9 billion is projected to be spent on sponsorship globally by the end of 2023 (according to Statista). And by 2027, the market volume is estimated to reach an even huger $1.2 billion!

But despite this sizable market, we’d argue that sponsorship is a partner marketing strategy that’s still underestimated and underutilised. In fact, whether you’re a not-for-profit, a huge global corporation or a small family-run business, there’s sure to be a sponsorship opportunity that’s perfect for your brand.

Here, we’ll explore the different types of sponsorship marketing, why sponsorship can be so powerful, and how to create a fool-proof sponsorship marketing strategy. But first…

What is sponsorship marketing?

Sponsorship involves one brand (the sponsor) aligning itself with an aspect of another brand (the sponsee). This is often an event such as a sports game or conference, but can also include TV programs, charities and even celebrities.

The Cambridge Dictionary definition of sponsorship in marketing states that sponsorship is:

‘the act of providing money for a television or radio programme, website, sports event, or other activity in exchange for advertising.’

However, contrary to popular belief, sponsorship marketing doesn’t always involve money changing hands. Although the sponsor will often offer support in the form of finance, they can also offer support in the form of other resources – whether that’s donating products, promoting the sponsee’s activity or even broadcasting it on television. In return, the sponsee helps to boost the sponsor’s brand awareness and reputation.

How do sponsorships work?

As we’ve already touched upon, sponsorships can come in many different forms. Here are the main ones that you’re likely to come across.

Monetary sponsorship

Also known as cash sponsorship, the sponsor gives the sponsee financial support. Big brands such as McDonald’s, Pepsi and Coca-Cola invest billions of pounds in sponsorship every year.

In kind sponsorship

Rather than giving the sponsee cash, the sponsor donates products or services. This could be anything from catering to printing.

Media sponsorship

This is essentially a form of in-kind sponsorship. Media sponsors promote the sponsee’s activity, perhaps by posting about it on social media, by publishing blog posts or even by broadcasting it on television in the case of large events and sports fixtures.

Promotional partners

Similar to media sponsors, promotional partners are generally individuals who can help to promote the sponsee’s activity – such as bloggers or influencers. They often agree to sponsor events in return for speaking slots.

What kind of brands can take part in sponsorship marketing?

Sponsorship opportunities can be in very high demand, particularly for high-profile events and sports. But any kind of business can become a sponsor, whether they’re a small, one-person band or a household name.

For example, a small, family-run business could get its logo printed on the uniform of a local amateur sports club. A larger nationwide brand could get a short feature ahead of their chosen TV program. Or a giant like Coca-Cola could run campaigns in conjunction with the Olympic Games, such as the brand’s famous #thatsgold campaign during Rio 2016.

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Different types of sponsorship

Here are a few common kinds of sponsorship marketing you should be aware of.

Sports sponsorship marketing

Sports sponsorship is when a brand decides to align itself with a certain sport, usually in an attempt to increase brand awareness.

Think about it: you’d be hard-pressed to watch a sports game without coming across the logos of at least half a dozen or so brands – on board advertisements, on team kits, on TV breaks when games are televised… the list goes on!

Some of the most popular kinds of sports sponsorship include:

  • Event sponsorship. The European Rugby Champions Cup is currently known as the Investec Champions Cup for sponsorship reasons.
  • Stadium sponsorship. Emirates sponsors Arsenal’s stadium, which is known as the Emirates Stadium.
  • Shirt sponsorship. TeamViewer’s branding is famously displayed on Manchester United’s team kit.
  • Team sponsorship. UK Sport is the official funding partner of British Athletics.
  • Athlete sponsorship. Ronaldo is set to make over $1 billion in sponsorship from Nike after signing a lifetime endorsement deal (according to Man of Many). The role of a sponsored athlete can easily be confused with that of a brand ambassador.
  • Broadcast Sponsorship. Land Rover Defender sponsored ITV’s Rugby World Cup coverage in 2023. In fact, Statista estimates that TV advertising will make up almost 73% of the value gained from sports sponsorship in 2024.

Some of these sponsorship types, such as shirt or athlete sponsorship, share a large overlap with product placement – particularly when games are televised. Read more in our guide to product placement.

If we’re talking about large, high-profile events, venues or teams, there can often be multiple sponsors who receive different levels of exposure depending on who bids the highest. Different kinds of sponsors include:

  • Main title sponsor. This is the highest-contributing sponsor. Brands are willing to pay around $50 million a year to get their branding printed on the team shirts of global teams like Real Madrid or Manchester United.
  • General sponsor. A general sponsor is a huge contributor who could be providing up to 50% of a sponsee’s total sponsorship revenue. They’re likely to receive extensive press and media coverage as well as enjoying access to licensing rights.
  • Official sponsor. This is a smaller contributor, of which there can be many. Often, this kind of sponsor will be known by its industry or category – for example, a brand could be acknowledged as the ‘official insurance partner.’
  • Informational sponsor. An informational sponsor usually gives its support in the form of services, such as taking care of media coverage or PR, and is known as an ‘official partner’.

Arsenal and Emirates sports sponsorship

Event sponsorship marketing

Think of any event. Whether it’s a charity ball, a stage show, a conference or an awards ceremony, we bet there are sponsorship opportunities available. In fact, Bizzabo reveals that 33% of mid-to-senior-level marketers allocate at least 21% of their marketing budget towards sponsoring or exhibiting at events

To take a couple of high-profile examples, Mastercard famously sponsors the Olivier Awards every year. And PepsiCo religiously sponsors the NFL Super Bowl, sinking $100 million into it in 2020 alone (according to NS Business)

On that note, it’s worth mentioning that PepsiCo was actually ranked top US sponsor by spend in 2015 by IEG, after spending a grand total of $370 million on sponsorship marketing in just that year! Check out our list of 104 strategic partnership stats for more mind-blowing facts about sponsorship

Sponsors can offer events value in lots of ways besides just financial support, from free audiovisual services to printing marketing materials or providing food and drinks. But of course, the sponsor also has to receive value in return.

Some common forms of exposure for event sponsors include:

  • Promotional items. Event attendees may receive free items that feature the sponsor’s branding, such as pens or mugs.
  • Event signage. A sponsor’s physical branding could be found around an event in places like posters, decals, banners or stands
  • Online branding. Promotion of the sponsor doesn’t have to be limited to the actual event itself. Instead, a sponsor could be featured on the sponsee’s social media channels, website, podcast and more
  • Event branding. The sponsor’s branding may appear alongside the event name and logo, perhaps with the words ‘sponsored by’. Sometimes, the sponsee is incorporated in the name of the event itself, like with the TCS London Marathon.
  • Hosting sessions. Depending on the format of the event, there may be opportunities for sponsors to speak directly to the attendees, perhaps by running a talk, participating in a panel discussion or even manning an information stand where attendees can find out more about the sponsor.

Olivier Awards and Mastercard event sponsorship

TV marketing sponsorship

TV sponsorship is an effective way for brands to get their names in front of a larger audience. Chances are you’ve heard the words ‘sponsored by…’ before many of your favourite TV programmes

If we look at Channel 4 alone, you’ll find Crosta & Mollica sponsoring food, MoneySuperMarket sponsoring films and Hillarys sponsoring homes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

Depending on the channel, brands could choose to align themselves with

  • Single programmes
  • Strands of programming
  • Day-parts
  • Genres
  • Whole channel

More and more, brands are moving beyond simply aligning themselves with one-off programmes. Instead, they might partner with broadcasters more closely to get exposure on-air, in marketing surrounding the programme, in branded promo trails, on the programme website, in a competition led by the broadcaster and much more

These kinds of sponsorship opportunities can be combined with other similar types of strategic partnerships, such as product placement

Of course, TV isn’t the only kind of broadcasting that offers sponsorship opportunities – brands can also team up with radio stations, podcasts or even YouTube channels to offer and benefit from sponsorship. In this way, opportunities aren’t limited to those big national or international brands. By partnering with local radio stations or niche podcast creators, smaller brands can also utilise sponsorship to great effect

To see a selection of brands that have nailed sponsorship, check out our top sponsorship marketing examples.

Just Eat and The X Factor TV sponsorship

What is the difference between sponsorship and partnership?

As far as we’re concerned, sponsorship is a type of partnership. After all, it involves two brands collaborating to bring benefit to them both

However, it’s certainly not always the most collaborative type of partnership there is – especially when we’re talking about cash sponsorship, which can be transactional. Often, the sponsee will sell promotional spots to sponsors for a set fee, which is really no different from a traditional advertising deal

And just look at the ‘sponsored content’ that you can find on many publishers’ websites. There’s usually not much to differentiate these from traditional advertorials (check out our guide to content partnerships for more)

That said, let’s not forget the scope that sponsorship marketing has – especially when it comes to in-kind and media sponsorship, where no money actually changes hands. Instead, the sponsor and the sponsee have to focus on using their individual skills and talents to benefit one another. If that’s not a strategic partnership, then we don’t know what is!

What are the benefits of sponsorship?

Just like with any kind of partnership, sponsorship marketing brings some key benefits to each of the partner brands (when it’s done well!).

For the sponsor

  • Brand awareness. Sponsorship offers brands the chance to get in front of new (and often, large!) audiences
  • Reputation. By aligning themselves with something that their audience really cares about, such as a sports team or TV programme, brands can improve their reputation
  • Brand positioning. Brands can use sponsorship to reach specific demographics – just look how Red Bull was able to get the attention of a sporting audience by sponsoring sports events and athletes.

For the sponsee

  • Financing. Sponsorship helps to offset the cost of carrying out the sponsee’s activity, whether that’s in the form of financial contributions or in-kind support
  • Expertise. In the case of in-kind or media sponsors, the sponsee gets exclusive access to a brand’s network and expertise
  • Authority. Getting a household name as a sponsor can help to lend a sponsee’s activity legitimacy.

And there must be some disadvantages?

True, sponsorship’s not all sunshine and roses. If brands aren’t in it for the right reasons, there can be a number of pain points.

For the sponsor

  • Hard to measure. Sponsorship marketing can be hard to track and measure, particularly when activities take place offline
  • Passive. Usually, sponsorship is fairly passive, without many opportunities to give audiences a CTA. This makes it better suited to gaining brand awareness than hitting sales targets
  • In high demand. The biggest sponsorship opportunities can be competitive, making them hard (and expensive!) to access. However, don’t underestimate the power of sponsorship in smaller, less competitive niches, such as local opportunities.

For the sponsee

  • Balancing needs. Sponsees can find it hard to cater to the needs of both the sponsor and the audience. For example, a sponsor may want airtime, but the audience may not enjoy having to listen to an hour-long pitch!

How to form a sponsorship marketing strategy

If you’re keen to join the world of sponsorship marketing to give your brand’s name a boost, you’re probably wondering where to start. We’d always recommend creating a sponsorship marketing strategy, so that you can clarify the approach you intend to take and start off your sponsorship journey as successfully as possible! Here’s how to nail it.

1. Clarify your goals

First things first, you’ll need to consider what it is that you want to get out of a sponsorship marketing collaboration.

For instance, are you hoping to raise brand awareness amongst a specific subset of your target audience? Are you hoping to increase brand reputation amongst a set demographic who may have lost trust in your brand for whatever reason

Once you’ve clarified exactly what you would like to gain from a partnership, you’ll be much better placed to make one happen that’s going to have a positive impact on your brand.

2. Consider the types of sponsorships that could help you reach them

Next, brainstorm what kind of sponsorship opportunities could help you reach your goals

For instance, if your brand is B2B, perhaps sponsoring an industry conference would help you to get the word out to your audience. Or, if you are looking to gain back trust amongst Gen Z consumers, a partnership with a charity they care about could work wonders. After all, 75% of Gen Z want companies to take a stand on issues they’re passionate about (according to Accenture).

3. Create a list of potential partners

Now that you know what kind of opportunities would work for your brand, it’s time to start thinking about who you could actually partner with! Consider

  • Relevance. Is there a clear overlap between your niches?
  • Audience. Does their audience match your target audience?
  • Reach. Do they have enough reach to be able to successfully help you achieve your goals?
  • Incentive. Would you be able to support a potential partner in a meaningful way that could make a real impact for them?
  • Values. Do you share similar values?
  • Reputation. Are they well-placed to enhance your reputation as opposed to damaging it

And of course, remember to look for partners that will have potential sponsorship opportunities you could get involved with. Do they host events, for instance? Or run a radio show? You’ll need potential partners who will give you the opportunity to put your brand name or product in front of their audience in an impactful way.

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4. Put together a partnership proposal

Once you’ve drawn up a list of prospects, it’s time to put together a loose proposal for how you think you could work together in a sponsorship marketing capacity.

You’ll need to consider what you can bring to the table – this is likely to vary depending on what kind of endeavor you’re looking to sponsor. For instance, for an event, you might:

  • Allow them to use your product for free if relevant (eg. free venue hire, free tableware hire, free printing etc.)
  • Give them a discount for your services if relevant (eg. discounted marketing services, discounted photography etc.)
  • Support them financially

You’ll also need to consider what you would like in return. For example:

  • Free advertising in their event brochure
  • Listed as a partner on their website
  • Opportunity to host a panel discussion at the event

Just remember that this is a partnership, so try not to get too married to your proposal. In particular, remember that potential partners may have their own ideas about what they can do for your brand in exchange for your support – so, it can be best to simply tell them your end goal (eg. increase brand awareness) and let them propose ideas for how they can help you get there.

5. Conduct outreach

As part of your sponsorship strategy, you’ll need to create an effective outreach strategy to help you turn your prospects into fully-fledged partners. 

Consider how many prospects to contact, what outreach channels you’d like to use (eg. email, LinkedIn, phone) and how you plan to uncover the correct contact details. Most brands that conduct successful outreach spend hours digging out relevant contact names and email addresses manually in-house, but you can save a ton of time by requesting a lead’s contact details on Breezy.

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll need to think about what you plan to say in your initial outreach to make you stand out and elicit a positive response. A few outreach ideas to give you the best chance of success include:

  • Use a punchy subject line
  • Personalise your email as much as possible
  • Focus on the value you can bring to them
  • Put forward a hyper-relevant proposal
  • Include a clear CTA
  • Send follow-up emails if you don’t get a response initially

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6. Measure

Last but not least, make sure to measure your efforts! By which we mean you should both measure the success of any sponsorship marketing partnerships you embark on, as well as your outreach efforts.

Why? Well, if you don’t keep track of how things have gone, how are you going to do even better next time around?

When you’re measuring your outreach, you should keep track of your email delivery rate, response rate, how many follow-up emails you send on average before getting a response, and how many prospects convert into partners. You should also see if you can spot a pattern in terms of the kinds of prospects who you tend to get positive responses from, as this may help you to focus your efforts more keenly in the future.

Once you’ve embarked on a sponsorship marketing partnership, you’ll then need to measure this too. Unfortunately, this can be a little more tricky. After all, it’s notoriously difficult to measure things like brand awareness and reputation! 

That said, it’s worth tracking how many people would have seen your brand being promoted as part of the sponsorship opportunity, uptake of initiatives such as free goodie bags you might hand out, and whether you can spot an uptick in things like website visits and sales in the days and weeks after the endeavor. By putting key partnership KPIs in place at the point where the partnership is negotiated, you’ll be best placed to measure how close you’ve come to reaching your goals.

Ideas for sponsors that are startups or SMBs

We’ve all seen huge sponsorship examples ranging from the Olympic Games to the Cannes Film Festival; the BAFTA awards to the Super Bowl. But these events that have a worldwide spotlight are going to be out of reach for most of us. So, what are the best sponsorship ideas for startups and SMBs? 

Here are some of our favourite ideas for sponsorship.

  • Local sports teams. You don’t need to sponsor Manchester United to benefit from sports sponsorship. Instead, why not see if you can sponsor a local amateur sports team, or even a children’s team? You’ll still get your logo in front of lots of eyes and could earn yourself a decent reputation amongst locals!
  • Local radio stations or niche podcasts. Local radio stations or niche podcasts could be the perfect size for you to team up with. Often, individual radio shows will seek sponsors – just check to make sure your target audience will be listening!
  • Local newspaper or niche magazine. A local newspaper will often be on the lookout for sponsorship opportunities, especially as they may host community events like awards ceremonies. Similarly, a magazine within your niche may run competitions and other events that require sponsorship.
  • Community events. Sponsoring community events such as musical concerts, craft fairs or a yearly dog show could be a great way to get your business in front of a specific community. This also applies to online events if you run an online business that isn’t specific to one geographic area.
  • Charity events. Sponsoring a charity can help you to demonstrate CSR and better your reputation amongst specific groups. This can range from donating prizes to a charity raffle to becoming a financial sponsor for a charity running race. Encourage your employees to take part where relevant and give them an incentive to do so – for example, you could pay their registration fee to enter a running event you’re sponsoring. 
  • Industry events. If your brand is B2B, industry events can be a great shout when it comes to sponsorship. Other brands in your industry might host conferences, panel discussions and awards ceremonies that could give you a great opportunity to get in front of your target audience.
  • Schools or extra-curricular children’s activities. Sponsoring a local school or programme for children – especially low-income or at-risk groups – can be hugely rewarding and help you to gain a positive reputation in the community.

Marketing sponsorship key takeaways

At the end of the day, there’s no denying that sponsorship marketing is a lot harder to measure than other partnership types, and isn’t the best-suited to getting across targeted sales messages. But if you’re in it for the right reasons, it’s a powerful tool for getting in front of new audiences, increasing brand awareness and providing a boost to brand reputation.

If you’re looking for sponsorship opportunities, or any other kind of partnership, remember to book a demo with Breezy to see how our partner search engine can make your life so much easier. All you have to do is give us some info to guide our search – like your competitors and keywords – and then we’ll do the hard work of finding you partner prospects, so you don’t have to!

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Imogen Beech

Imogen is a copywriter and content writer with over two years’ experience writing about the exciting world of strategic partnerships, as well as running her own business. She loves learning about new topics as she writes, and has enjoyed penning articles on industries ranging from mortgages to events, theatre to home improvements and everything in between.

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