‘just the guy who ponied up the money’

First published in Defining Sponsorship, Tony Ponturo’s interview was seismic in the powerful way it articulated the change in consumer attitudes – expressed with Tony’s trademark candour.

Tony Ponturo is the founder and CEO of Ponturo Management Group, LLC; a consulting, management and investment company in media, sports and entertainment. Previously he was President and CEO of Busch MediaGroup and the Vice President of global media, sports and entertainment marketing ofAnheuser-Busch Inc. over-seeing broadcast exclusives in the Super Bowl, FIFA WorldCup, USOC and Olympics and negotiating the first Dale Earnhardt Jr NASCAR team deal, Formula One and EnglishPremier League sponsorships.

Over the last few years we started to pick upsomething from our sponsorship research thatsaid the consumer more than ever questions thewhole concept of Official Partnership. There wasa time when they felt that because a brand wasthe official mobile phone or the official beer of theleague, that it said something special about you.But now they realise that this was something thatwas purchased. It doesn’t mean you are the bestand that the league or team values you, but thatyou were just the guy who ponied up the money.This is troubling for rights-holders.

I  think that the way inwhich sponsorshiphas been sold historically has damaged its reputation as a marketing tool.The last five years has seen the demand for sponsorship and its price rise dramatically. It’s been a very competitive environment: telecommunications companies grabbed sponsorship as a brand building tool, the automotive sector kept on spending a great deal of money, there was beer competition and soft drink competition. Money was plentiful all down the line.Sports properties particularly at the top end didn’t have to put a great deal of effort into selling the sponsorships. They kept raising the price and getting the money. That led to a laziness being built into the culture, and that has weakened the product. It also means the comedown is even harder as the market dries up

“there was a time when consumers..felt that, because a brand was the official beer, it said something special about you – now they realise you werejust the guy who ponied up the money”

The other implication of this selling mentalityis that the leagues and clubs came across asgreedy. The only message they were sending was, ‘I need money to pay the high cost of business’, which was primarily driven by athletes’ salaries. They were saying that in order to keep moving forward they need more and more money. But their image is now out of tune with the times. Now the whole community of sport is getting a lesson in real economics, which is to say they have to sustain themselves on amore realistic basis. The days when they get by on the passion of sports are over and the whole sector is more accountable. If they come to sponsors and say they want a 20-25%increase, because their costs are going up, it will fall on deaf ears. Sponsors can’t raise their product prices like that, the consumer won‘t accept it.

There has been little work done by the propertyside to help brands use sport to form the basisof a marketing strategy, other than saying,‘We want $30 million for the front of the shirtbecause… well, just because’. That doesn’t workanymore