The Growing Importance of “Purpose” Driven Sponsorships

By Paul Birdwell (

Something that we have seen more and more of in recent years in the sponsorship world is companies attaching a “Purpose” to their sponsorship commitment that spells out in very clear terms that the company hopes to do more than just gain more orders, customers, or sales from the money they are spending on the underlying sponsorship.

Lesa Ukman at the IEG ( blog recently wrote about the new this new kind of “Purpose” sponsorship in the sports area and how adding “Purpose” to a sports sponsorship can drive increased ROI (return on investment):

How Adding Purpose To Sports Amplified ROI, Lesa Ukman, IEG

“Sports is not just a game. It’s big business. (On the backbone of sports, Red Bull built not just a brand but an entirely new category, energy drinks.)

Sports is at the center of globalization (Man City and the New York Yankees formed a Major League Soccer team) and new technologies (think Levi’s Stadium).

Sports is the lifeblood of broadcast and cable networks. Sports apps, video games, fantasy leagues and stats are fueling the growth of new media and new delivery channels.

And increasingly, sports is being used to create social progress.

The link between sports and social progress is found in two of the biggest trends in business today, social media and corporate social responsibility or what we at IEG call corporate social opportunity.

People seek out brands that deliver both great value and great values, so companies need to communicate their values. Sports—with its built-in fan base, media coverage and attention-grabbing athletes—is the highest profile channel for companies to promote their values.”

As Lesa Ukman points out sports is today the ultimate sponsorship platform for companies interested in driving their brand, products, and/or services to wide population groups and an added bonus to gaining lots of eyeballs seeing a company’s name in sporting contests is the deep commitment by sports fans to their teams which is a hard thing to find in the media marketplace of 2014.

Lesa Ukman goes on in her blog post to detail how adding “Purpose” to a sponsorship can really drive the overall ROI of the sponsorship commitment:

“Linking an organization’s reason for being to improving lives and impacting society amplifies the ROI of any sports partnership.

1.  The most viewed ad around the 2014 FIFA World Cup was Shakira’s “La La La (Brazil 2014),” which featured her official song of the tournament and a partnership with Danone’s Activia yogurt in support of the World Food Programme’s School Meals initiative.

2.  Chobani, sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, incorporated opposition to Russia's anti-gay laws into its packaging and creative during the Sochi 2014 Winter Games. Its visible support of human rights provided a point of differentiation and measurably increased purchase consideration, according to YouGov BrandIndex.

3.  Research by Lloyds, official bank of London 2012, revealed that customers aware of its Olympic partnership were 40 percent more likely to recommend the bank, but customers aware of its Olympic tie as well as its community overlay to the Games, Lloyds Local Heroes, were 60 percent more likely to recommend Lloyds.

Purpose can take many forms—breaking down barriers for disabled athletes and normalizing views on disable sport, combating childhood obesity, empowering disadvantaged communities, and more.

What they all have in common is a new approach to driving shareholder value, a shift from marketing to service, from pushing messages out to drawing people in by making a positive difference—to individuals, communities and/or the planet.

Everyone in sports should be looking at the social value of what they are doing, because there is a cause-and-effect relationship between financial performance and purpose.

Brands that mean more make more. People connect with products and services that speak to powerful emotional drives and give meaning to purchasing decisions or strengthen loyalty to a team or club.

To help elevate the world of sports, the value that you create as sponsor, broadcaster or rightsholder should be in this zone.

So how are you working to help make the world a better place through sport?”

Answering the last question that Lesa Ukman posed…

“So how are you working to help make the world a better place through sport?”

….a recent major sponsorship commitment is a terrific example of how adding “Purpose” to a sponsorship can fundamentally change how a company’s commitment to things beyond the bottom-line could be viewed in the marketplace.  

Check-out the “Purpose” sponsorship agreement that AutoNation just made with a new college bowl game in Orlando, Florida:

AutoNation To Be New Title Sponsor of New Bowl Game in 2015, Amy Wilson,

“Beginning in 2015, AutoNation Inc. will become title sponsor of a new college football bowl game that will raise money for breast-cancer research.

The AutoNation Cure Bowl, played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, will feature teams from the American Athletic and Sun Belt conferences. The first matchup will air Dec. 19, 2015, on CBS.

AutoNation has been working on the sponsorship for a year, but it wouldn't have happened if it were a traditional bowl game, without the charitable tie-in, CEO Mike Jackson said. The net proceeds of the bowl game will benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

"If it was a marketing effort, hmm, that's not for us," Mr. Jackson said. "Now when you combined it with our national cause of fighting cancer and a respected research fund and a college football bowl in one of our major markets, then I said, 'I like that. We should do it.'"”

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson explains very well that just sponsoring a college bowl game wasn’t enough to entice his company to become the sponsor of this new college bowl game but that when the sponsorship was tethered to raising money for breast-cancer research which is the underlying “Purpose” of the sponsorship commitment then Jackson and AutoNation became very interested in becoming involved in the event.

The lesson that can be drawn from companies being more willing to commit to sponsoring events when there is an underlying “Purpose” that the event will be supporting is that there are ways to put together “Win-Win” sponsorship arrangements that go beyond just trading a company’s money for sponsorship and it is this kind of out-of-the box thinking that can help to put together both more sponsorship arrangments and more meaningful sponsorship deals.


Ad Age -

AutoNation Cure Bowl -

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