April 24 2017

New Sponsor Category Creates Endless Possibility

Thought Leadership

Lou Kovacs, CMO North America

With the rise of technology and innovation in the ever-evolving sports sponsorship space, a new type of sponsor has emerged.

Historically, the sports sponsorship landscape has consisted of traditional brands and endemic brands. Endemic brands were part of the fabric of the sport they sponsored  - companies that made the ball, the uniforms, sports drinks, and energy bars. While traditional brands, in categories including banking, insurance and auto, sought to position themselves through the lens of sports in order to win the hearts of fans.

In recent years, innovation has opened the doors to a wave of tech-based companies playing a major role in how sports are both played and consumed. Their technology is engrained in the new sports experience. These are the New Endemics.

This set of companies are using their investment in sports and support for teams and leagues to create content and tell their brand stories. Cisco, the NBA’s official technology partner and Octagon client, offers technology and products that allows the league to bring data and video directly from the court to fans around the world in real time. In doing so, they have made the brand an integral part of the NBA fan experience and the league’s globalization efforts.

At the start of the NBA 2016-17 season, seven of 30 sponsor brands fell into this New Endemics group, including 2K Sports, Cisco, FanDuel, JBL, Samsung and SAP. Last season, the NFL tallied six New Endemics out of their 30+ partners including Extreme Networks, Microsoft, SAP, Verizon and Zebra Technologies.

We see two distinct types of New Endemic companies. The first are large, established technology brands using sports as both a brand marketing platform and a dynamic use case including Intel’s VR Voke content and SAP’s real-time NBA data feeds. The other type of New Endemics are start-ups which are building their business via sports including Zebra Technologies with their player tracking system and Whoop who helps athletes manage healthy and long lasting careers.

The rise of the New Endemics has contributed to a surge in tech-forward ambition for all sponsors. Now, traditional non-endemics and endemics across the B2B and B2C spectrum are deploying innovative technology to engage fans. Today there are endless possibilities for all three categories of sponsors to deliver compelling content and experiences.


Here’s a look at how 2016-17 NBA league partners fit into the partnership landscape:





This is about more than increased sponsorship revenue for rightsholders. Partnerships between rightsholders and brands should breed collaboration and create new ways for fans to engage wIth the sports they crave. As linear broadcast audiences become more selective, properties should look to both traditional sponsors and the New Endemics to help create and distribute content across digital and streaming platforms to set new fan consumption trends.



We expect traditional sponsors and New Endemics will partner with one another to create and support new content platforms. Traditional sponsors bring equity with rightsholders and fans, marketing infrastructure with scale and budget, and many have the integrated marketing know-how and the experience needed to launch a new product. The New Endemics bring their tech-first perspective and can offer new platforms to enhance the fan experience through new content, new delivery or new engagement.



It is vital for both New Endemics and traditional sponsors to not just deploy new technology for the sake of technology, but to always think of how their activation can service the needs of fans. If their activity isn’t enhancing the fan experience and fueling fan passion, the technology won’t resonate.



The New Endemics may approach sports differently than previous sponsors. We may see New Endemics fund the start-up of new leagues or events to showcase their product and fan experiences without the barriers of traditional sponsorships. Sports provide a powerful, real-time use case for these brands to showcase and market their technology to other industry verticals as a game-changer that can challenge convention and reinvent an industry.



RIGHTSHOLDERS should embrace the New Endemics trend and determine how these partners can help properties drive new revenue by increasing fan engagement, retaining eyeballs and improving the fan experience, and rightsholders should consider the ability of New Endemics’ products and services to enhance the performance of players and teams or to evolve the sport itself. They should also recognize that not every tech partner will also want a traditional sponsorship. 


We have always advised our TRADITIONAL SPONSOR clients to create a point of connection to the sport and fans that is authentic to their brand. As an example, NFL partner and Octagon client Dannon has created a training and fitness platform for the Dannon brand and built a program around the NFL’s Play 60 initiative for their kid-focused Danimals products. Today, we advise our traditional sponsor clients to consider the New Endemics as potential partners while they develop their own strategies and determine where they can integrate new technologies into existing sponsorships, content distribution and consumer experiences to create an even deeper emotional connection with fans.


The NEW ENDEMICS are tech experts, but should recognize that sports sponsorship is a complicated landscape. Identify advisors and partners that can help simplify the choices and clear the way for your technology to be the hero and lead the brand to new opportunities and audiences.  New Endemics should also look to traditional sponsors for best practices. Traditional sponsors have decades of experience making their brands and products relevant to fans and many have also worked hard to stay at the forefront of leveraging new technology to stay connected to those fans.

Lou Kovacs leads the marketing of Octagon’s consulting, experiential and event services in North America. The 15-year agency vet manages Octagon’s work on behalf of Bank of America and Sony PlayStation while overseeing Octagon’s award-winning creative, digital and content practice. Lou is also an Advisor for Sports Innovation Lab. Find him at Lou.Kovacs@Octagon.com.