For brands looking to promote themselves to the masses, there’s nothing quite like sports. Tying your brand identity to an event or team brings with it associations with youth, vitality and the quest for excellence – all highly desirable brand attributes.

No wonder then that global sports sponsorship is a multibillion dollar industry.

Take the recent Southeast Asia (SEA) Games as just one example. Hosted by Singapore this year. and attracting a potential audience of 600 million fans from across the region.

While the SEA Games and other sporting events draw attention primarily to the athletes and the competition, they have evolved into multi-event extravaganzas that extend well beyond the playing pitch or swimming pool.

Many businesses such as Singapore Airlines, Singtel and Deloitte see enormous potential for sponsorship in these events to create commercial and social value as well as demonstrating their corporate values and social responsibilities.

The total amount of sponsorship for this year’s SEA Games alone has crossed S$70 million.

So how can businesses get the best bang for their buck in sports sponsorships?

Although sports sponsorship requires a significant financial investment, it can help to raise the profile and visibility of a brand by associating it with the success and achievement of the event.

Sports events offer an influential channel for reaching large audiences. Likewise, they can serve as an ideal platform to show how a brand contributes positively towards social progress.

Many businesses see enormous potential for sponsorship in these events to create commercial and social value as well as demonstrating their corporate values and social responsibilities.

Some of the value of sponsorships may be implicit and long term, such as consumers’ emotional response and attachment to the sponsoring corporation and brands, particularly where a firm is making a meaningful contribution to individuals and communities through its sponsorship.

In Singapore corporate sponsorship has helped sporting events achieve a level of sophistication that would not otherwise be possible, thereby enhancing the overall experience for athletes, officials and fans, while also bolstering Singapore’s position as a growing international sports hub.

One U.S. study for example examined five years of sponsorship spending data from more than 50 US-based firms found that companies that consistently invest in sponsorship outperform market averages across a range of business performance metrics.

Moreover those that spend at an above-average level outperform those that spend below average.

Brand building

Indeed, sports sponsorship has become a mainstay in strategic marketing communications today.

Sporting events provide an opportunity for sponsors to develop and enhance their own brand identity by utilising the emotional values of the event as powerful drivers of brand relevance, consideration and loyalty.

Additionally events offer a platform for sponsors to engage with consumers, helping to create loyalty that ultimately leads to improved financial performance.

For more mature brands that already enjoy high brand awareness, the value of sponsorships may lie in strengthening consumers’ emotional connection with brands by associating their brand with the events in a way that attracts, inspires and resonates with customers.

pass baton in race v2 280But the potential value of sports sponsorships can also go beyond profits and product preferences.

Take Coca-Cola, which spends more on sports marketing than any other company in the world, and has been a partner of the Olympic Games since 1928.

Apart from the usual commercial measures to evaluate the success of its investment in sports event sponsorship, Coca-Cola looks at the social value that sponsorship can create for people and communities.

At the 2012 Olympic Games, Coca-Cola Enterprises opened a £15 million joint venture recycling facility with ECO Plastics that recycled over 10.5 million plastic bottles from Olympic venues.

Using this and other initiatives Coca Cola was able to use the 2012 Games as a platform for inspiring consumers towards greener, more active and healthy lifestyles.

In Singapore, the increasingly sophisticated and socially-conscious consumer may respond more positively towards a brand if he or she feels that the brand is improving lives and communities.

As such, it is economically advantageous and even imperative for firms to consider the potential for sports sponsorship to create social value for current and future generations.

This can include contributing towards environmental protection, conservation of resources, helping the disadvantaged by improving their health and/or education, and facilitating social inclusion.

Success here requires careful planning and brands should focus on a purpose or cause that has synergy with the company’s core values and product offerings.

Positive social impact

ThinkAloud4Sports events can be a powerful catalyst for change, and leading sponsors are in a unique position to drive shifts in behaviour and views while leaving a lasting legacy beyond the sporting event.

In 2008 for example, Swiss watch-maker Hublot used its sponsorship of the European football championship to build awareness of its values in an original way.

The company renounced the visibility it could have had in the football stadiums for the benefit of a foundation fighting against racism. Instead, it made way for the message ‘no to racism’ which was visible in large letters in the corners of the Euro 2008 stadiums.

As people discovered what Hublot had done, they learned more about the brand and its values and ultimately the firm’s sales grew.

Research has shown that consumers value brands that create genuine social value, and sports events like the SEA Games represent an ideal opportunity for businesses to have a positive impact on communities by investing in worthwhile social projects.

If a brand uses its sponsorship in a meaningful way, delivers on its promises and adds value to the overall experience of the event, then sponsorship can generate even more substantial business benefits.

Sponsors that place social value at the centre of their sports sponsorship strategies will be well-positioned to succeed in the long term, as well as create impactful, sustainable change.