The following interview is with Dr. Norm O’Reilly. Norm was recognized in 2013 as one of the “Five to Watch” in sports business. He’s the lead researcher on the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study and is a senior advisor at TrojanOne – One of Canada’s leading sports marketing agencies. Norm has conducted over 130 conference presentations in the areas of sports management, sponsorship, risk management, marketing, sport finance, tourism marketing and social marketing. He’s currently named Full Professor and Chair of the world-ranked Department of Sports Administration in the College of Business at Ohio University.

SMR: Where do you see the future of sponsorship in the next 5 years?

 Norm O’Reilly: I’ll lead off with the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study, which is something we present every year at the Canadian Sponsor Forum across the country. We’ve been tracking closely over the past nine years and have seen over the past year or two; a continuing increase in how much is spent. It’s gone from about 1 billion to 1.7 billion dollars in rights fees from 2006 till last year, and the activation spend is a hair over a billion dollars. So we’re talking 2.7 billion dollars in our estimate of what’s spent on sponsorship in Canada.

Something that we’ve seen is a move away from professional sport and amateur sport. We’ve seen a more diversified mix of properties to invest in, including arts and festivals. One of the big areas that has been in discussion lately is the idea of festivalization. It’s where sponsors are very keen to engage with people in an intimate way. When being apart of a bigger event, like a music festival, it allows them interact with consumers in an experiential way.

The other piece that I would see would be diversifying activation. So activation spends is really changing from the time where you would put the activation on the packaging. We’re digging into value added activation, so activation that’s social media driven which is highly engaging.

SMR: What is the most common mistake that teams make when selling sponsorships?

Norm O’Reilly: They don’t evaluate. We know from the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study that less then half of sponsorships have any evaluation investments at all. Very few have sophisticated evaluation steps, which would measure pre sponsorship evaluation and though about things ahead of time. So if you don’t know how things work, or don’t know how successful they are and how to improve, then you won’t be successful in the future.

SMR: What is the most significant trend that you’ve seen in the past 3 years?

Norm O’Reilly: I believe there are two, which I mentioned briefly before. One is the move towards social media activation and how the big leagues and clubs are investing to make sure it’s integrated for sponsorship opportunities. Second would be the move to towards festivalization. Organizations are really looking for places to really engage and be creative with their investments. Look at what Redbull is doing with sporting events and the banks with music festivals. They’re moving away from signage and creating their own personalized event where people are paying attention and really care about what’s going on.

SMR: What is the strongest activation platform? 

Norm O’Reilly:  I would say there are four main platforms. There is advertising along side sponsorships, hospitality based opportunities, social media and creating owned properties.

SMR: How has the increase in digital changed sponsorships being sold?

Norm O’Reilly: Digital has yet to change how sponsorships are sold. It has changed what it looks like, but in terms of how people are looking at it, organizations are using it as another activation tactic and channel to engage viewers.

Now, recent data supports the term of the “second screen”. Well over half of fans watching sporting properties on television, are watching with a second screen available. They are complimenting their second during play more often then the main television. Here is where you’re seeing the activation and the targeted focus of sponsorships increase.

SMR: What are some best practices in contract fulfillment?

Norm O’Reilly: It comes down to three things: Evaluation, Activation and Servicing.  The smart properties have very clear plans, budget reallocation and human resources attached to all three of key areas.

Evaluation: Measure the effectiveness of the objective you are trying to achieve.
Activation: Ensuring you’re willing to extra spend by both the sponsor and the property.
Servicing: All specific contract elements that were promised, are actually met.

SMR: What marketing communication channels do you recommend teams use to leverage sponsorship programs? 

Norm O’Reilly: Very simple answer: All of them. The right combination of the integrated marketing communications mix is appropriate. The one’s that are done best have multi-levels of communication. By integrating hospitality, advertising, social media, your own events and then creating your own external content that is custom and appropriate to what’s going on with the audience and sponsor, has shown success in past studies.

SMR: What are some of the key evaluation tools that sponsees use when working with teams?

Norm O’Reilly: Well first off, they aren’t doing enough.  The trick is, a lot of tools are expensive and budget teams get discouraged. Our message is always this; You don’t have to do a nation-wide study or produce 20,000 surveys with a large agency. You just look at the objectives are that are important to your partner, and if you don’t have a lot of budget you can run some focus groups. Another option is to hire a few interns or part timers and conduct surveys on-site. There are always reasonable options out there to track and evaluate. You have to know what works best for you.

SMR: What can minor league teams do to attract national or regional sponsors?

Norm O’Reilly: The bottom line is that you need to create and build assets that people will want to sponsor. So often, sports properties are known for their best player or winning ways. A goal for smaller market teams should be to discover something that sponsors can latch onto and reach the people they want to reach.

SMR: What one strategy would you recommend teams implement today that will help increase sponsorship revenue next year?

Norm O’Reilly: I would recommend a multi-staged process that builds off my last answer.

First I would do an inventory analysis of what you have that would be of value to a sponsor, and can help them achieve their marketing objectives.  If you’ve found that you don’t have any, you would take the next step and spend the time to create them. In the case that you do have the assets, you would build programs around them that potential sponsors would be interested in.

As for national sponsors, it’s hard to get them interested in a small regional property. You will see it sometimes but it’s usually based on location dependency and whom they will be able to interact and reach within that location.


For more Information, contact:

Norm O’Reilly
Fox Professor of Business, Ohio University –
Senior Advisor, TrojanOne –