“As Consumers Change the Way They Spend in Tough Economic Times, They Expect Corporate Sponsors to do the Same” was the title of a March 2009 press release issued by Performance Research. The release, which included data from a Performance Research online survey conducted amongst a sample of American consumers, highlighted the American perspective on corporate sponsorship spending in the midst of troubled economic times.
The results of the survey offered some critical opinions of corporate spending on sports sponsorships. While 23% of respondents agreed that companies should spend less on sports sponsorships, an even greater number respondents (48%) said that they actually become angry when discovering that a corporation has a hospitality or VIP box at a sporting event.
A recent article published in the New York Times indicates a growing trend in the methods of “Stealth Spending” given current consumer attitudes towards corporate spending on sports sponsorships, supporting the findings of the study conducted by Performance Research. The article references the U.S. Open Golf Tournament, held on Long Island earlier this summer, and discusses how the companies sponsoring corporate hospitality tents kept a low profile throughout the event. While in previous years, many corporations paying for these tents – including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley – went all out on both spending and logo branding, this year a more tentative approach was taken in their sponsorship activation. While spending may or may not have been cut back, more noticeable was the removal of branding. According to The Times, this was evident in the lack of banners, logos on shirts, branded merchandise and other items that may be considered over the top or lavish. While the brands did spend some cash, they kept themselves away from public criticism as they continued their sponsorship in private, reaching only the clients they chose to entertain.
This image of “Stealth Spending” that The New York Times presents when discussing this year’s U.S. Open runs parallel to the idea of “Modesty Marketing” suggested by Performance Research just a few months ago when presenting our study at the 2009 IEG Annual Sponsorship Conference. The majority of respondents in the Performance Research study agreed that in today’s economy, it is more important than ever for companies to appear humble (64%). The consistency between the aformentioned results and the actions at the event show how the corporations are listening to the public. By paying for the events, but not widely promoting the fact, the corporations are able to maintain a sponsorship marketing program while managing to look more conservative in the public eye.
It is good to see corporations embracing the market shifts described in the Performance Research study. It will be interesting to see how public opinion on corporate sponsorship spending is affected by future shifts in the country’s economy.