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  • ATR Extra - Embrace Ideals of Event, Sport or Organization You Sponsor


    Robert Mazzucchelli
    Robert Mazzucchelli, Chairman of, shares his insights into how sponsors can build ties with their properties in this edition of ATR Extra. 

    Are you sponsoring an organization, event or sport? How much do you know about the property’s history and principles?

    For as long as sponsorship has existed, the trade between property and sponsor has been simple:

    Sponsor gives money in exchange for access to audience and ‘borrowed equity’ points with the property’s supporters and fans. Property gets money and some promotions of its existence and activity. This trade has worked well enough for brands and properties to create a multi-billion dollar industry around sponsorships and activations.

    But as a sponsor, are you going deep enough to make an even stronger emotional connection?

    Here are four ways to strengthen the connection:


    Most sports properties worth sponsoring have a history and are developing into something between a humble but aspiring newcomer to global behemoth. Many are somewhere in the middle, like skateboarding. It debuts in the Tokyo Olympics but began in 1950s California as sidewalk surfing.

    As a sponsor, you need to understand the event’s history and all the stories along the way. Looking for a humble and aspiring newcomer? How about Pickleball, a simple but fast-paced racquet sport? Vlasic or Boars Head, Pickleball is waving at you.

    Know when and how the event started. Was it a pioneering event or a follow up to a trend? Did it start small or was it big from the start? Were there ideals or guiding principles when the event started? Are those ideals being achieved?

    An inner voice I call my Legacy Whisperer (LW) answers questions like that, often with examples.

    LW: Appreciate Coca-Cola’s wisdom in its founding sponsorship of Special Olympics in 1968 when 1,000 special athletes competed in the inaugural event at Chicago’s Soldier’s field. As a result, Coke enjoys the goodwill of well over five million athletes in 193 countries, not to mention the volunteers and families of the participants.

    Consider the quote below by the person considered to be the father of the modern Olympic Games. How does that statement inform your activation approach as a sponsor?

    “The important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.”
    -- Pierre de Coubertin

    Does de Coubertin’s message resonate with fans everywhere? What connections to your brand does it create? Is there a story that builds a meaningful connection between your brand, the Olympic Games and the fans and sports participants around the world? Find that connection and you have found sponsorship gold.

    LW: Find it like Nike did with Michael Johnson’s golden track shoes that flew to double gold in 1996. Has there ever been better product placement?


    Who started the event or sport you are sponsoring?

    LW: Wouldn’t it be something if your brand was connected to a basketball event or team and you’re asked to pass along remarks at one of those ubiquitous sponsor dinners and you could tell how basketball nearly became known as boxball?

    That’s when James Naismith asked the janitor to find a box and affix it to the balcony of the Springfield YMCA gym where the game was born. Finding none, the janitor nailed a peach basket and, well, you know how that ended up.

    Who have been the leading and colorful competitors? Are there great rivalries, friendships and championship moments that make great storytelling? How can you make an emotional connection to the characters of the event to the everyday people watching from different cultures around the world?

    LW: Talk about emotional connection! The stories Visa will be able to tell via its sponsorship of the newly created Refugee Olympic team will surely have legs in its second iteration at the next Olympics.

    Sports stories and achievements are ultimately people stories. Chances are that whatever property you sponsor has many compelling stories and rich folklore. When you connect those stories to the audience, and make it personal, you make strong connections for your brand.


    Events don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in a time and place, and many things are happening in the world during that time and place. Consider what is happening right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 Games are postponed with a tentative re-schedule to July 2021.

    Costs to sponsors, athletes, teams and host are sure to continue to rise. Does the situation offer hero opportunities for sponsors? Perhaps. Look to the individual competitors for guts and glory stories —especially those who might be aging out.

    How are societal events affecting your audience’s relationship with the property you are sponsoring? What can your brand do or say that will resonate with your audience, and how that that help you achieve your objectives?

    LW: Sustainable Brands reports fifty percent of global consumers are willing to pay more for goods and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society, according to a new study from Nielsen.

    So, if your company is aligned with the diversity, inclusion and equity movement, what better historic story than American Jesse Owens’ friendship with Germany’s Luz Long set alongside the contemporary close relationship between Serena Williams of the US and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark?

    The only constant is change, so be prepared to alter your approach to create the most effective sponsorship activations.

    In addition to current events, what is happening in the world of the sport you are sponsoring? Are there any great stories from other events? Have there been any notable human moments?

    LW: Think about all the Olympic athlete romances that turn into weddings.

    What about innovations or controversies? Sometimes it pays to look outside the property you sponsor to find a story, and connect it back to your sponsorship, to make a more effective audience connection.


    Every event and sport has pain points. There are human-induced negative circumstances that take away from the positive, feel good moments of the sport (for example, doping scandals and corruption). And there are external circumstances of life and economics that could be changed with the help of the sponsor such as solving for the paucity of world-class coaches for athletes from poor countries.
    Robert Mazzucchelli

    Permit me to introduce you to LW’s first cousin LB (legacy builder).

    LB: With mustered humility, we’re compelled to introduce you to SportsEdTV where on a monthly basis a million or more viewers from around the world—many in poor countries—view / use our FREE instruction videos featuring world-class coaches in a selection of sports that continues to grow.

    Unabashedly, we invite your participation.

    Focus on the solvable problems. Can your brand eliminate a pain point through its sponsorship activation? Maybe by adopting an athlete or team, providing financial support and building a story around the journey, you can connect more effectively with your audience.

    Helping to get around pain points can give you real, tangible achievements from your activation, and deepen your connection and affinity with consumers.


    To maximize the value of your sponsorships, make sure to learn as much as possible about the history, people, landscape and solvable pain points associated with the property and sport.

    By doing the digging and research up front, you will find it much easier to create meaningful, relatable and profitable activation programming.

    Try birthing your own legacy whisperer. Or, borrow ours.