Portfolios and rosters

A dozen countries, including China, Russia, the UK and the US, have already or will hit at least 50% in overall advertising spending devoted to digital advertising (eMarketer 2019). This fact is the driver of the transition from media planning built around media channels to audience planning built around people and groups. A sponsorship portfolio is in keeping with this evolution because properties are audience driven. The more vested a company is in utilizing sponsorship, the more deeply they may adopt audience planning. On the property side, there is a roster of sponsors for a team, event or activity that, while less driven by communication goals, still influences partnerships perceptions.

Visa, the financial services and payment products company, explains its global sponsorship portfolio this way:

When the eyes of the world turn to marquee sporting and entertainment events, Visa is there. Our sponsorship of respected events brings the Visa brand to life and creates value for our stakeholders, amplifying our brand message, creating strong ties with consumers at moments of great passion and allowing Visa to deliver value to our clients and partners.

(Visa Factsheet n.d.)

In its global portfolio, Visa sponsors FIFA World Cup soccer, the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games. In the US, Visa holds a portfolio of sponsorships around the National Football League (NFL) and is the exclusive payment services sponsor for the NFL and all official NFL events. In Canada, Visa sponsors the International Film Festival, and in the United Arab Emirates they sponsor the Dubai Shopping Festival. While the portfolio may address various consuming groups across regions, it should be in keeping with the brand's personality.

Audience planning

Only a decade ago, a top buzz word was "omni channel" communications in which the main idea was to provide a similar shopping experience across channels. In the old world of media planning, which was based rigidly on channels such as broadcast, print and digital, the goal was to make the look, feel and experience harmonious. In our new world, audience segments and messages come first. To be sure, traditional channels will persist and even dominate in some markets, but the trend is toward the fluidity of audience planning. This sits just fine with sponsorship. From the sponsoring brand perspective, a sponsorship portfolio has been defined as "the collection of brand and/or company sponsorships comprising sequential and/or simultaneous involvement with events, activities and individuals (usually in sport, art and charity) utilized to communicate with various audiences" (Chien et al. 2011). Sponsorship is inherently audience based.

A sponsorship portfolio should be set up to provide oversight and control over the process of engagement with audiences, both external and internal. The more vested a company is in utilizing sponsorship, the more audience oriented they will likely be. Sponsoring is based in contracts and must consider points, presence and people.

Portfolio planning


Sponsorship contracts are typically made for a set period, for example, a one-year sponsorship of the local under-11 soccer team or a 30-year contract to sponsor a stadium. Contracts create points in time that have critical lead-up and follow-through. When a number of sponsorships are undertaken or held in a portfolio, they form an exposure and engagement pattern for the firm that is punctuated by events. When important points coincide (e.g., a sponsored team makes it into the playoffs, overlapping with the start of another event), additional resources may be needed. Thoughtful sponsorshipplanning in a large portfolio should consider peak points and lulls in activities as well as temporal factors, such as attempting to balance sports in and out of season, the timing of international festivals in various locations or the overlapping events in differing contexts such as sports and arts for the varied contributions they make (e.g., Toscani & Prendergast 2018).


Sponsorship is about being there, having a presence on site and online. It might be a kiosk with a product demonstration, a background banner or a foreground logo on a jersey. Strategic decisions about the nature and extent of presence are related to target audiences and objectives for sponsoring. Presence in sponsoring is also about being engaged long enough for awareness and bonds to develop. There is the temptation to drop a losing team or end a relationship with a critically reviewed music tour, but savvy sponsors often stick with their properties through difficult times. Cahill and Meenaghan (2013) report that the Irish 02 telecommunications firm has sponsorship portfolio philosophies titled "You've got to be in it for the long haul" and "If you're in it for winning, it's going to be a short relationship" to reflect the need for long-term relationships in rugby that go beyond on-field performance. This type of philosophy applies broadly to all kinds of sponsorships.


When audiences and their experiences are focal in planning engagement with a brand, organization or idea, employees must be an integral audience. In general, employees interact with audiences in person (e.g., in retailing) and online (e.g., via social media). These potential interactions are fostered by brands in, for example, brand ambassador programs in which employees become experts on their company and its products. Sponsoring takes all of this to the next level. In a sponsorship context, company, property and audiences mingle both on site and online through official and informal roles. Relationships in sponsoring must be sustained, nurtured or perhaps ended. The term "sustentation" has been used (Cornwell 2014) to reflect the need to sustain the life of the relationship through interaction and communication. Deals made but not made alive through engaged people are wasted opportunities.

Building brand associations

Traditional advertising is used to build brand associations (Keller 1993), everything connected to the brand in memory, good and bad, old and new. An interesting aspect of building brand associations is that connections that are weak or seemingly inconsequential may be utilized creatively to support memory for the sponsor-event relationship.

How sponsorship information is remembered and later retrieved depends on the exposure and the receiver (Cornwell 2008). Past research finds that the knowledge a person holds about a sport influences his or her perception of the congruence of a sponsor - event pairing (Roy & Cornwell 2004). Similarly, the knowledge a person holds about a celebrity musician may influence his or her feelings that they match well with a sponsor (Bruhn & Holzer 2015). The pairing of a brand or a corporate name with an event or activity presents the opportunity to borrow from the stores of knowledge that people already have.

Research in psychology shows that when recall is cued with an associate of a to-be-remembered word, the network of associations emanating from both the cue and the target are involved in the recall process (Nelson & McEvoy 2002; Nelson et al. 1997). This suggests that if we know a little about the past of the brand and the things it might sponsor, it is possible to make predictions about what kinds of combinations might support memory. Importantly, this can go beyond the obvious primary associations (both entities being from the same city), to subtle secondary or tertiary associations that two or more entities share. For example, the Mastercard credit card corporate logo shows connecting circles. These circles can become any type of ball, such as a golf ball or baseball, in a sport sponsorship communication.

Portfolio effects

To examine the effects of the combining of properties in a portfolio in a controlled way, experiments are helpful. Sponsorship portfolios can be complex, but the vast majority of research examines how a single sponsorship works, not how a set of sponsorships work in combination. If combining two properties together could be tracked by monitoring some traceable characteristic, it could inform the ways portfolios are developed.

Researchers examining portfolio effects (Chien et al. 2011) started by selecting fictitious brands (to have a neutral starting point). Five brand personality dimensions were measured for numerous sport and charity properties: sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication and ruggedness (based on Aaker 1997). Then sport and charity properties were combined in a two-property portfolio that had particular brand personality characteristics such as ruggedness and sophistication. There was also interest in the order in which one adds a property to a portfolio. The hypothesis was that the first property would frame thinking about the second one.

In the experiments, study participants read a newsletter that communicated information about the sponsorships. Findings showed that properties combined in a portfolio could make a difference to brand meaning and brand clarity. For example, combining a rugged sport such as rugby with a charity such as Greenpeace, known for its Rainbow Warrior fleet of ships, gave a boost to perceptions of ruggedness (Figure 7.1). The combining of the Rugby World Cup and Greenpeace results in a "spiky pattern" that emphasizes ruggedness (but not sophistication) whereas the combination of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) results in a mixed, offsetting pattern without a strong in-tandem spike on any brand personality dimension. Portfolios with this type of pattern do not communicate powerfully on any particular brand personality characteristic.

Additionally, findings showed that sport is a more flexible frame for subsequent sponsorships than charity. That is, sponsorship of sport seems to allow for charity to follow, whereas sponsorship of charity may be more conceptually narrow, and one may have to work harder to achieve clarity and consistency when a brand is first presented as a charity sponsor. Although evidence is limited, the logic is sound: when a broad, encompassing image is developed first, it is easier to become specific, but the reverse may not be true.

The most important finding from this work is that to make an individual characteristic stand out from the combined portfolio, it may be useful to think not of high performance on all characteristics but rather to seek portfolio elements with spikes or high ratings on those most desired. Similarly,

Brand Personality Portfolio Effects. NBA = National Basketball Association; PGA = Professional Golf Association

Figure 7.1 Brand Personality Portfolio Effects. NBA = National Basketball Association; PGA = Professional Golf Association

Source: Adapted from Chien et a I. (2011), /ournal of Business Research.

mixed elements in a portfolio - some sophisticated, some not, some sincere and some not - can hurt brand clarity. The possibility is that countervailing rankings across characteristics - we used brand personality characteristics, but any image element could be used - may turn to perceptual soup.

Brand pillars

A strategic tool that works well with sponsorship portfolios is the idea of selecting and maintaining brand pillars. Brand pillars are central brand attributes (Mizik & Jacobson 2008). Marketing managers utilize this thinking both at a general level such as Young & Rubicam's Brand Asset Valuator model, including differentiation, relevance, esteem, knowledge and energy elements (Mizik & Jacobson 2008), or at a specific level. For example, in building a sponsorship portfolio, a brand such as Mercedes-Benz holds a portfolio of sport, fashion and community associations. All sponsorship pillars connect with their brand orientation to luxury, innovation and design. Mercedes-Benz's global sponsorship of Fashion Week is just as consistent with its brand as its sponsorships of Formula One auto racing, golf, polo and soccer. The company's portfolio is balanced across sponsorships in art, sports and community support and all connect to the company's brand pillars.

Other portfolio topics

Many sports properties come with a beneficiary-sponsorship relationship. The property has a charity partner with which they work, and when one sponsors the property, one indirectly (or directly) sponsors the charity. For example, the US National Football League (NFL) has held a beneficiary sponsorship with the American Cancer Society and its NFL Play 60 program, which encourages 60 minutes of active play for children per day. The Women's Basketball Association (WNBA) in the US has a number of branded beneficiary partnerships, including WNBA Breast Health Awareness, WNBA Pride for inclusion and equity, WNBA Cares Community Assisted (presented by State Farm insurance company) and the WNBA Fit Month for healthy living.

Perhaps one of the most notable relationships has been that of the children's charity UNICEF with European soccer clubs. UNICEF held a unique position with Futbol Club Barcelona from 2006 to 2010 in which the team donated 1.5 million euros per year to UNICEF and wore the UNICEF logo on the fronts of their shirts. That is to say, in this instance, the sport property sponsored the charity. Barcelona upended this relationship in 2012 when they accepted a 150 million-euro, five-year agreement with the Qatar Foundation, another charity focusing on education, research and community development. Barcelona does, however, feature UNICEF on the backs of their shirts, and they now give 2 million euros per year to the charity.

Both current and past beneficiary-sponsor relationships come with a preexisting set of associations with the property. If these associations are known and well understood, they might be something that a brand manager might capitalize on and build. Important in building a portfolio is to understand the available building blocks of meaning and memory, and these may come from beneficiary-sponsorship relationships.

Event roster or property portfolio

From the sponsor perspective, you are in some instances the title sponsor, but most often, you are one among many that a property holds. Perhaps you are an "official sponsor" of a product category such as the official telecommunications company or maybe an official supplier. For a particular event, your brand is associated with the other brands on the "event roster." This roster, although not part of the sponsoring firm's portfolio, may influence how any individual sponsor is perceived.

The sheer number of sponsors can impact the response to the sponsorship. For example, as the number of sponsors increases, so does the perception that there is some sales or commercial motive behind the sponsorship (Ruth & Simonin 2006). Further, research considering the logos on hockey player shirts shows reduced brand recall for shirts with high levels of advertising intensity (Mikhailitchenko et al. 2012).

Groza et al. (2012) showed that there is a dynamic portfolio effect on perceptions of the sponsored organization's brand equity. Their thinking is based on the role of congruence and the possibility that one incongruent contributor to the portfolio can influence overall perceptions of the property. They found varying results depending on whether the incongruent sponsor held a more or less important role (title sponsor or presenting sponsor) and also depending on the number of sponsors involved. Importantly, an incongruent title sponsor was damaging to the property's brand equity perceptions.

Subsequent work has looked at the spillover effect (also discussed as carryover; Gross & Wiedmann 2015) in which various brands or cosponsors to which the audience is exposed influence each member of the event portfolio. Cobbs and co-authors (2016) considered the role of having a high-equity brand, Marriott hotels, in a portfolio of other, either low- or high-equity brands. When the Marriott brand was in a portfolio with other high-equity brands (Toyota, Target, Visa), impressions of Marriott were significantly higher than when the portfolio contained lower equity brands (Dodge, Kmart, Discover Card).

Carrillat and colleagues (Carrillat et al. 2015) considered the extent to which brands simultaneously sponsoring the same event are influenced by the sponsoring group's image. Their experimental work showed that the images associated with the sponsors of an event form a stereotyped schema of sorts. Importantly, they found that concurrent sponsors play a role in image transfer, thus highlighting the importance of concurrent sponsors in working together (e.g., cross-promotions) for sponsoring outcomes. Further research supports viewing concurrent sponsors of a property as meaningful group that can positively influence sponsor outcomes such as purchase (Dickenson & Souchon 2018).

Strategically, this incongruence outcome can be precluded if the anchor or title sponsor comes first and congruent sponsors follow on the property's roster. For example, the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai may attract other luxury brands in a bid for synergy, while the Levi's Stadium in San Francisco works well with other lifestyle brands. In both instances, the brand awareness of the naming rights sponsor is advantageous to the venues being sponsored and to their potential to build a coherent roster of sponsors.

This finding gives support to the notion that it is in the brand's best interest to learn as much as possible about the other sponsors that will be on the property's roster. There might be reasons to work with a property to build its roster. A brand might bring in other partners with which they have worked. Perhaps more important, it could be possible to build meaningful alliances that support awareness, image or product distribution.

Celebrity endorsement portfolios

Celebrity endorsers are individuals, spokescharacters or even animals that are well-known and can bring their fame to an advertising or promotion program on the behalf of a brand. Celebrity endorsement contracts typically involve direct or indirect advocacy for the sponsoring brand and frequently feature the celebrity visually. The quintessential example in sport may be the relationship between basketball celebrity Michael Jordan and Nike shoes. Similar to event roster effects, there is the likelihood of influencer or celebrity endorser effects that stem from an individual's set of relationships.

Researchers Kelting and Rice (2013) examined consumer memory for celebrity advertising under conditions when a single celebrity advertises for more than one brand. Their findings show that the brands in a celebrity endorsement portfolio can interact with one another and either reduce or enhance recall and attitude depending on how they match the celebrity and the type of measure utilized. Their work only examined one endorser, soccer superstar David Beckham, and found that powerfully good or poor brand matches in a celebrity portfolio can overshadow responses to moderately matched brands in terms of recall.

Influencer portfolios

Influencers, people who possess greater than average potential to influence others, are not necessarily celebrities. The influencer may hold sway over others based on their motivations, activities, interests or expertise (or somewhat like the celebrity endorser, based on their popularity), and this may be made public in many ways such as through blogging, social media or video posts.

One grouping in the athlete space (FMG Internet Marketing n.d.) suggests that:

  • Influencers have a designation (e.g., record holder) and over 100 thousand followers in social media.
  • Micro-influencers are high profile and may have a compelling story with 10,000 to 50,000 followers.
  • Nano-influencers are often amateur athletes with between 500 and 5000 followers.

In athletics and elsewhere, many influencers have gained near-celebrity status, but there are many more micro-influencers and nano-influencers. Brands often employ micro-influencers as a stand-alone strategy or as part of a sponsorship leveraging strategy. As in celebrity endorsement, there may be a role for direct or indirect advocacy, but micro-influencers may be sought for their connection to a network and their willingness to share brand information. One challenge of employing leveraging strategies that are controlled largely by others is to follow up and accountforthe success of the leveraging plan and to monitor for any fraudulent activity.

The complexity of sponsorship portfolios and portfolio leveraging is being address by the more analytics savvy companies through data. For example, "unstructured data from social and digital media can be used to understand the content, media (image or video) or sponsored influencer who most resonated with a brand's audience and even identify one they may not have thought to leverage" (Sporttechie 2018). Since not all companies have internal expertise to utilize data in this way, companies such as Hookit provide engagement tracking to learn which partners are promoting the sponsor's brand and which partners are doing the most to engage with the sponsor's target audience. This evolving attention to the structure of portfolios and all related actors is worthwhile since it is already possible to see that they can have powerful influence on sponsorship outcomes.

Portfolio and roster strategy and analysis are beginning to develop in earnest. Take, for example, the more sophisticated goal of orienting a sponsorship portfolio not only to positively reflect on the brand but also to communicate precise brand values. Mastercard, a global financial services brand, has the goal of advancing gender equality and has therefore oriented its portfolio to champion women through new additions such as Olympic Lyonnais and Arsenal Women FC (Mastercard 2019). This, of course, is only one aspect of its portfolio. The complex and layered nature of portfolio and roster effects makes them puzzling to predict and challenging to analyze.


  • 1 How might a brand with a portfolio and a property with a roster work together to identify areas of synergy?
  • 2 What individual characteristics would a brand or property manager look for when hiring influencers?


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