Jul 17, 2009 at 03:31 PM
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Sponsorships vs. Partnerships

Jason Peck posted an information-packed piece about the subtle differences between the terms "partnership" and "sponsorship" earlier this week and a lot of people whose opinions we respect weighed in on the topic. We thought we'd make it an instant classic and provide it to our readers here as well. Enjoy and feel free to leave your own take on the topic below. Aside from having to change our entire URL, we're cool with whatever you guys decide ; )

It all started with a simple tweet that I posted last night:

Do you think the term “sponsorships” is outdated and everything should be called partnerships? just an idea I’ve been thinking about…

It was really just an idea I’ve briefly thought about on occasion. A lot of times the terms “sponsorships” and “partnerships” are thrown around and used interchangeably to describe deals between entertainment and sports properties and brands. But does the wording that properties/brands use reflect how they actually see their relationships? Should we be moving towards the use of partnerships (which imply that both sides benefit) and away from sponsorships (which unfortunately has not been very well explained to the general public)?

Your Responses

After I posted that message on Twitter, I got some great responses. Thanks to all who contributed the thoughts below (earliest responses posted first):

rscibetti@JasonPeck I definitely see a mix of both terms. Definitely tells you something about how the entity views the relationships

MJMunson@JasonPeck No, people just need to know what it means. Look up the latin roots for sponsor and you’ll see it is a perfect word for its use.

BizballMaury@JasonPeck It’s moving more & more toward partnerships as deals are multi-pronged. See my NY Post article on Yankees/Audi http://ow.ly/hoef

jpbrunelle@JasonPeck I think it depends on the context, but ’sponsorships’ will remain in play for the foreseeable future. Bigwigs want to sponsor.

MJPatzwaldt@JasonPeck i still think there’s a difference between sponsorships and partnerships…those sponsored tend to have longer term benefits

jeffmard @JasonPeck partnership implys 2-way street, sponsorship implys other “partners” exist. Which is more true? then u have advertiser…

Play3r_VP@JasonPeck sponsorships is out. partnerships are in. it’s about relationships + alliances… NOT about hand outs.

mmahoney13@JasonPeck I think the Sponsor should be emphasized more in many cases, esp PGA Tournaments and even teams. they enable us to do more

sponsorpitch@JasonPeck IMO, not outdated & no need to hide from the term + lots of different types of biz ‘partnerships’.. something more narrow needed

EmilyRCampbell1@JasonPeck There r still true mktg sponsorships out there even tho’ some local partnerships may lean more toward philanthropy.

briangainorRT @JasonPeck poses a great question - thoughts on “partnerships” vs. “sponsorships”? How do you see your relationship with partners?

Darren_Heitner@JasonPeck I love the idea of banning the word “sponsorship”, all successful “sponsorships” are partnerships. Both sides should win.

Sponsorships vs. Partnerships - My Thoughts

Let’s see how Wikipedia defines the terms.

“A partnership is a type of business entity in which partners (owners) share with each other the profits or losses of the business.”

“To sponsor something is to support an event, activity, person, or organization financially or through the provision of products or services.”

The partnership definition that Wikipedia gives isn’t completely relevant to this conversation–which is about using the term sponsorship vs. partnership when describing deals between sports/entertainment properties and brands. In most cases, no brand is going to be willing to equally share in the losses of the property’s business–unless it’s a special deal where the brand is actually able to share in the profits, too. I’m not aware of this happening very often.

The sponsor definition is interesting as it emphasizes giving support. In my opinion, this “giving support” aspect has not been emphasized nearly enough in discussions and articles about sponsorship. For example, all we heard about for awhile was that since Wachovia wasn’t doing well, they shouldn’t be wasting money on sponsoring their golf tournament (and they actually removed their name from it, even though it was paid for). Or that Northern Trust shouldn’t have had a party for their best executives at their tournament. People hear that, instead of hearing about how much money from each PGA TOUR event goes to charity or that the money spent on parties/events provides jobs for cooks, caterers and others. But I’m getting off subject here.

My thinking about this sponsorships vs. partnerships issue is that it’s more of a reflection on how each side sees the other and how they approach relationships. My feeling is that it starts with properties. Do you want a sponsor (someone who supports you via money or services) or do you want (can you get?) a partner (someone who has a greater stake in your success)? While some smaller properties may be happy just finding sponsors, some of the most prestigious properties can be more selective and seek partners who have very strong brands and who must commit more than just money to the relationship.

What do the big leagues/events call these relationships?

Let’s check out some websites to see what wording some of the major pro leagues and premier sports events use when publicly describing their relationships with brands.

AVP - sponsors (listed on bottom of home page)

MLB - sponsors (here’s the link)

NBA - not clear from their website

NFL - not clear from their website

PGA TOUR - title sponsors for tournaments and huge list of marketing partners

USGA - partners (logos listed on bottom right of their home page and here)

The Masters - no official wording but relationships with IBM, AT&T and Exxon Mobile

US Open (Tennis) - sponsors (list is here)

Breeders’ Cup - partners (list is here)

The funny thing is, for some of these properties (and many teams as well), it’s hard to even tell who their sponsors are by looking at their websites! Or they hide them and make you really look around. That would not make me happy I was a sponsor/partner-no matter what the relationship is called. It definitely didn’t make me happy when I used to spend a lot of time researching that stuff.

As consumers’ attention becomes even harder to get (because we have more choices now than ever), my feeling is that the term “partnerships” will be used more often. Properties who used to sell out every event and may have been content just getting money are now in the same boat as brands–they need eyeballs and attention, too. Now both sides are asking each other for access to market to their customers, and the best relationships will be those where both sides help each other. Sponsorships certainly aren’t dying–I just think the word “partnerships” may be more beneficial in describing these relationships and ensuring that both sides are getting what they want and working to help each other succeed.

But maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe the words should be used interchangeably and there isn’t really much difference between them. Maybe good sponsors are essentially partners. What do you think?

Jason is an enterpreneur, internet marketer, consultant and blogger regularly covering topics in sports business, sponsorship, new media, social networking and more. Jason can be found regularly posting at jasonfpeck.com

photo cred; chingers7 via flickr