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UFC's Recent Sponsorship Ban

by Emily Taylor
31 01 2012

Thanks to my husband I’m fairly well educated on the happenings of the UFC.  I used to think it was extremely violent and kind of sick that people were entertained by the barbaric beat downs; and completely confused when I saw the guys throwing punches without reservation and then hug at the end of a match.  I’m still a little flabbergasted by that last one; but I definitely better understand the sport and it’s like a physical chess match.  These guys are always thinking 3 steps ahead, and approaching their opponent with much more intelligence than the fury of a backyard brawl.  I respect the sport.  And you really have to at least acknowledge the growth and evolution of the sport – it hasn’t been that long that it was basically outlawed on television, and now it’s taking over boxing fans.  It’s popular.  And the business and marketing surrounding the sport has evolved too. 

UFC recently made a deal with FOX; which has been perceived as a great move for the sport’s fast evolving, popular demand.  I first learned about it through my husband who has been a loyal fan for years.  Even more recently, they announced a new ban than is directly tied to their new partnership with FOX.  “…absolutely no firearms, ammo, hunting or knife companies will be permitted as sponsors in any Zuffa-promoted events.”   This is a very big deal, especially since they had a standing relationship with some arms dealers – specifically The Gun Store in Vegas; who’s owner, Chris Irwin, is clearly unhappy.  I would personally have to agree that this is the best decision for the brand; however, I don’t believe this is one of those “easy,” implementations as there are people this will hurt. 

The UFC has been fighting against the perception of barbarism and unnecessary violence for a long time.  Even as an occasional spectator I wouldn’t say I’m entirely convinced it’s completely sane; and there are many people who are not so indifferent about it.  While I am sure that from a brand’s perspective, The Gun Store has found a great match to their target audience; I’m not so sure the affiliation is a win-win.  When two brands who are both fighting the same battle against perceptions of violence pair up, it’s just not the best complement.  Whether right or not, the audience who vehemently opposes the violence promoted by guns, will likely associate this same passionate perspective with the UFC.  If sponsorship is about complementary missions, and the UFC is really opposing the perspective of violence and want to be taken seriously as a sport, they’re probably hurting this effort by affiliating with a brand fighting the same (if not even more serious) battle. 

Now, I’m sure people like Chris Irwin would have some very good points to lay out about the reality behind their efforts to maintain safety, about American’s right to bear arms, and so on; but the question isn’t whether he’s right, it’s what is the perspective of their audience?  Of FOX’s audience and the UFC’s audience?  I would agree that there’s a stronger possibility that the affiliation could hurt both brands as it continues to grow internationally.  People will ban stations they feel participate or affiliate in business that is morally offensive.  Whether they agree or disagree, FOX and UFC have to consider what their target audience wants.

Here’s where I find it hard to swallow.  Most fighters who make the UFC what it is are not making much money.  They live on sponsor dollars, and we all know how competitive it is right now. I’m a big fan of George St. Pierre – he’s not hurting for cash/sponsors, but the up and coming fighters or the not-so-famous fighters are the ones who are cringing right now because they either lost a sponsor, or they’re going to compete with the other fighters who lost their sponsor for the cash that’s left.  Unless they’re on the card and showing up on air, they really can’t guarantee that a sponsor is going to get much exposure, it’s a tough sale.  And they already have to worry about exclusivity since Dana White and Zuffa already required that their fighters honor the exclusivity rights they offer to brand sponsors.  Their tough world just got a little bit tougher.  So for that reason, I offer my sympathy. 

Any other thoughts on this news?  I’m always interested to hear the perspective of other professionals – or athletes.

Categories:   industry happenings
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Respond or Rebuff: What's your Response to Customer Input?

by Gail S. Bower
25 01 2012

In a matter of months, Netflix went from beloved to beaten up.

Netflix customers have long raved about how easy it is to use its streaming and DVD services, and business leaders view its operations as a great model of a customer-centric approach to operations. (A client of mine, for example, recently referrenced Netflix in describing how she needed me to help her design and create a new initiative for her organization.)

This summer, however, Netflix made a series of missteps and bungled decisions, surely with all the best of intentions, that some (about a million) customers disliked. Really disliked. OK. Hated. It increased its pricing by 60 percent, separated its streaming video from its DVD shipping services, and then, the final wallup, announced a whole separate company for the DVD services, under the much maligned name, Qwikster. However, on Monday, the company hit the rewind button (except for the pricing changes), killed Qwikster, and announced to customers:

Dear Gail:

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.

While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.

We're constantly improving our streaming selection. We've recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we've added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.

We value you as a member, and we are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows.


The Netflix Team

Clunky, awkward, uncomfortable, and very public, Netflix attempted to expand its services in ways it thought it was being valuable to customers. And it backfired. However, their reversal means they can begin again, regain customer confidence, and move forward.

Though no business wants to make mistakes so publicly, the Netflix case study is actually a great example of what hundreds of CMOs and CEOs are saying is "crucial" to their successes in the 21st century: "customer intimacy." That's according to a new study by IBM.

"The most proactive CMOs are trying to understand individuals as well as markets. Customer intimacy is crucial – and CEOs know it. In our last CEO study, we learned CEOs regard getting closer to customers as one of the three prerequisities for success in the twenty-first century. This sits squarely in the CMO's domain."

--IBM's From Stretched to Strenthened: Insights from the Global Chief Marketing Officer Study

Yes, of course, these leaders surely aspire to smoother, even more pleasant feelings of intimacy than this, but let's not forget, sometimes intimacy can be messy. Netflix deserves a lot of credit for putting its collective ego aside and responding to what its customers are saying. Er, screaming.

Let's also not forget another leader who encountered a similar situation: Steve Jobs and Apple. When the second iteration of the iPhone came out, customers who had most recently bought the first version received a $100 store credit for being early adopters of the new technology that had dropped in price by half. Mr. Jobs issued an open apology and made the correction.

Intimacy requires an openness, receptivity, back and forth. And this openness is a requirement that all businesses – even nonprofits – must grow more comfortable with. Its an exchange that corporate sponsorship is an ideal medium for fostering.

In contrast, intimacy is not about rebuffing customers. Unfortunately, that's what I read in a quote by a spokesperson for a breast cancer organization in an AP article this morning about whether painting October pink, in support of breast cancer awareness month, had run its course. I (and others) have been saying that it has for years. But more importantly some women who have battled breast cancer hate the reminder. One woman in the article is quoted as saying the pink "drives her nuts." Yet the organizational spokesperson remains, "unapologetic." Not exactly openness.

The shifts we're facing in how we market to customers affects all of us. Learn from the Netflix and Apple examples. Foster a sense of openness and dialogue with your communities. And if you goof, respond. Don't rebuff.

Author of How to Jump-start Your Sponsorship Strategy in Tough Times,Gail Bower is President of Bower & Co. Consulting LLC, a firm helps that nonprofit organizations, destinations, and businesses dramatically improve their visibility, revenue, and impact. She’s a professional consultant, writer, and speaker, with nearly 25 years of experience managing some of the country’s most important events, festivals, and sponsorships and implementing marketing programs for clients She blogs about sponsorship at SponsorshipStrategist.com, and her web site is GailBower.com.


Categories:   industry happenings | tips
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Impacting Experience is not Rocket Science

by Emily Taylor
17 01 2012

We’re about to buy a minivan.  Ugh.  For various reasons finally decided it was probably the smartest decision for our family; clearly the practical side of me is winning out over image.  Or so I thought… We have test driven a couple of different models now, and the first experience was about what I expected it to be.  I left feeling very dutiful, informed, and let out a lengthy sigh over the “wheeling and dealing” process I knew was imminent before we could sign the papers and lug the thing home.  And then we went to our second car dealership and test drove the Toyota Sienna.  I’ll be honest, I’ve never owned a Toyota, but they’re currently in first place with me right now.  Their sales team was on fire.  We walked in rather late – they’d all be off in about half an hour.  My son was a bit tired and restless, and instead of being frustrated with our little distraction to their sales pitch, one of their staff came over to us with a big balloon and asked if it was OK with us for him to have it.  Uh… yes!!!  Their facility was impeccable.  Even the décor on the walls seemed to calm me, seduce me into “let’s do this” mode.  And then we saw the car.  I will tell you now that I’m in no way gaining from this promotion, but I have to say, I was really impressed.  These people know how to make you feel luxurious in a minivan.  So not only am I a practical driver, I’m VIP baby!  Now, I know that buying a car is way more than your experience; you have to get a good product, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t make a really good impression.  And their marketing really resonates – they’ve really got their target audience down.  They’re not marketing the same way the Mercedes folks are; it’s sort of realistic in a funny way - hillarous videos (at least to you parents out there). I went to their website to look up the van and saw the “Daddy Like” slogan next to the vehicle which really did make me smile.  I liked their brand before I ever walked into the dealership.

Now, I’ve been talking for a long time about a car. About an experience that would seem to be really far from sponsorship.  But here’s the deal – Identifying with your target audience and impacting their experience with you is NOT rocket science.  You see it all over the world of sales, and you’d be out of touch with reality if you didn’t admit that an experience sets a mood.  You form typically strong opinions on brands, people, products, places, airlines, restaurants… the list goes on; based on your experience with them!  My Grandmother made a shrimp casserole for us when I was about 8 years old.  I hated it.  I told her… mistake.  I was told I had to eat it or no dessert – and it was a really good dessert.  I did the best I could; and despite my efforts, I ended up throwing it all up.  Yep, it was not a good experience.  I grew up assuming I hated shrimp, and never tried it again until I was on a date with my now husband; who was sort of a food snob and assured me EVERYONE liked good shrimp.  Turns out, he was right – it’s amazing.  But I had such a bad experience with it the first time; I lost a good 15 years or so of enjoying it.  This leads me to my next point – experience impacting is also important because it leaves a lasting impression.  Practically speaking we know that a lot of variables can affect our take on an experience, but our emotions tell us differently.  We have so many options for a good time, that if one experience doesn’t work, we won’t likely try it a second time.  So when as a sponsorship professional, you’re trying to impact an experience at say a program or event, you need to do a really good job – or your target audience WILL go somewhere else to do better. 

So, keep in mind, this is not a new thought – but it may be a new priority.   If your number one goal as a sponsor is not to impact your audience’s experience, you might consider changing your perspective on a successful effort/investment. 

Categories:   Marketing | sponsorship activation | tips
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