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Q&A with Sports Sponsorship Thought Leader Brian Jones, President of Consulting Jones

By Paula Beadle

A whopping 70 percent of sponsorship spending is dedicated to sports. While we would never begrudge any sports organizations securing sponsorship revenue, we have considered why that number is as high as it is. The easy answers are the enormous audience numbers, fan passion, broadcast exposure, hospitality, association with marquee players and rock star teams. But let’s put that aside for a moment. Winning teams bring fans and sponsors, but what happens to sponsor revenue when your team is not winning? What happens when the market appears saturated and everyone in town has heard your story? We wanted to explore how to breathe life into a stale sponsorship program.

Although Brian Jones has worked with several winning sports franchisees, he also knows how to “revive and thrive” a sponsorship effort. His career in professional sports started in Denver, Colorado in the ’90s working for the Denver Nuggets. Eventually Brian made his way to Seattle, where he served as the managing director of corporate partners for the Seattle Seahawks and vice president of business development for the Sounders FC. In each of these capacities, he was directly responsible for new revenue/partnership growth as well as partner amplification, satisfaction and retention.

In late 2016, Brian launched Consulting Jones to advise and contribute to a wide variety of organizations in strategic partnership planning, new business development, and sponsorship optimization in the sports, venues and events space. Among other clients, Brian is currently serving as chief commercial officer of the 2018 and 2019 Major League Rugby champion, the Seattle Seawolves Rugby Football Club.

Brian is leading a training session at Sponsorship Mastery Summit on the breathing new life into sponsorship sales efforts. I recently talked with Brian about the subject—here are the highlights from our conversation.

Paula Beadle: Working for amazing teams, it’s hard to believe you ever had to breathe life into the sponsorship sales efforts. How have you managed to stay the top of the sponsorship game?

Brian Jones: Change is constant. Leadership changes, priorities are adjusted, new marketing and community strategies are undertaken. Becoming complacent with your sales efforts and your sponsor programs leads to underperformance. I’ve always felt it is my responsibility to stay on top of partner shifts in strategy, and I’ve done so by maintaining a consistent and regular dialogue with partners. Check-ins, lunches, coffee, mid-season recaps, golf outings, entertainment … the more touch points with partner decision makers, the better on a regular basis. Not only does it allow me to stay on top of how the partnership is performing from the partner’s point of view, it also allows me to prepare and suggest adjustments—either immediately or for the next contract.

PB: How have you reenergized the team? 

BJ: When I was with Sounders FC, we would gather the Corporate Partnership Team and other internal stakeholders who were interested in participating on a weekly basis to discuss changing partner priorities and how best to plan to accommodate. A member of the CP Team would say, “I met with XXX and they shared that heading into next year they are going to be focused on this new issue or opportunity.” We would then spend 30 minutes brainstorming current opportunities, upcoming events and/or things we are planning to do in the future to identify a highly relevant list of future partnership suggestions for that specific partner. We would do the same the next week for a different partner and so on. It made for great internal collaboration and kept our pipeline full of new ideas/opportunities.

PB: How have you reenergized potential sponsors? 

BJ: Communication and collaboration. Our conversations with sponsors often sounded like: “We hear and understand you and want to continue to help you achieve your goals. You shared that your strategy is changing, and we took the opportunity to gather the internal team to discuss relevant ways we can adjust our relationship to reflect your changing strategy. Here are a few ideas we’ve developed and can further develop based on your interest.” That didn’t just happen around an annual recap meeting. It was part of our ongoing internal process and partner strategy. That approach is a partner differentiator in any crowded sports and events market.

PB: What is the first thing you will tell the attendees at the Sponsorship Mastery Summit they should do to revitalize their efforts? 

BJ: Increase your internal and external (partner) communications—partners will appreciate the proactivity and thoughtfulness. If a relevant, appealing solution to a current or potential partner’s strategy isn’t available, be honest internally and externally about it. Partners will appreciate that you recommend they go another direction rather than spending time grasping for something that isn’t authentic or doesn’t meet their needs and expectations. That time can be better spent for all involved focused on finding a willing and passionate new partner or growing a relationship with a partner you already have on board.

PB: We are thrilled our attendees will have an opportunity to learn from you. I think you are a teacher at heart, is that true?  

BJ: I love collaboration, telling compelling and entertaining stories, connecting dots, seeing friends, partners, and coworkers evolve and succeed, and contributing to that evolution and success in any way possible. I find it very fulfilling. And yes, I have a lingering personal goal to be a college professor someday. My wife (kindergarten teacher) inspires me!

PB: What do you think the next five years look like for sponsorship marketing?

BJ: Technology is changing so fast … social and digital media, VR and AR, livestreaming of sports and events. I think sponsorship marketing is just scratching the surface of improving the fan experience in these and other areas. I imagine that within the next five years we’ll be able to put on a VR unit and earbuds and purchase the opportunity to be on the glass (virtually) at a live Seattle NHL game (for instance) while sitting comfortably in our living room. The experience will be 90% of being there in person without the commute, parking and related time and expense. I’m excited to see how partners integrate into and enhance that VR experience. To be clear, there is still nothing like the feeling, sound and experience of attending an event in person, but technology is quickly improving on one’s ability to get a lot of that experience remotely.

PB: Do you think the 70 percent of spending in sports sponsorship will shift? 

BJ: Live sports provide energy, community and a collective desire to see your team win. There is nothing like the feeling of 70,000 fans celebrating a touchdown, drinking a beer and eating a hot dog on a sunny day at the ballpark, or the hugs and high fives produced after an incredible play in any sport. I still tear up and get goose bumps during well-produced intros at live sporting events despite 25 years working in sports and thousands of games attended. Sponsors support sports (in part) to tap into and be part of my positive experience, win or lose. As such, sponsorship of sports will continue at a high level for the foreseeable future. For a recent example, I was at a local pub watching the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team play France. The tension and celebration of the fans jammed into the pub was palpable. Very few other activities provide that kind of physical and emotional reaction and sense of common interest and community.

PB: What can non-sports pros learn from leaders in sports sponsorships? 

BJ: Believe in and be passionate about your opportunity. The sponsorship metrics and audience will carry you part of the way, but your ability to create a unique and powerful sponsor interaction opportunity that aligns with a sponsor’s or prospect’s interests and conveys the opportunity passionately and enthusiastically will make the difference. If you introduce the opportunity through storytelling in the positive and emotional way you expect the audience to receive it, you’ll win.

About the workshop: Sponsorship Mastery Summit takes place September 25-26 at the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington and features industry experts facilitating intensive and interactive sessions for mastering the art and science of sponsorship. Participants collaborate with thought leaders, hear from big brands, explore new ideas, and leave with a simple sales plan, an improved story, sponsor leads, a sales process, best practices and new connections. The learning and exchange continue online for three months with webinars and information on the most relevant and important topics key to sponsorship success. Learn more and register here.

About the author: Paula Beadle is the president of Caravel Marketing. She is a results-driven trailblazer with a proven record of creating order out of chaos. Paula has helped numerous organizations discover and achieve their goals by developing and managing innovative sponsorship initiatives, generating incremental revenue, and successfully coaching thriving teams, executives and boards.