How to Win Big with Sports Sponsorship Campaigns

Sport sponsorship has often been perceived as advertising’s slightly inferior cousin. But, from Nike’s iconic “Airport” advertisement to P&G’s “Thank You, Mom” campaign to Snickers’ spot featuring actor Betty White in a game of American football, some of the most iconic creative would not have been possible if sponsorship were not at the heart of the strategy. If a brand does not have an official association and related IP, unlocking sport as a communications tool is extremely challenging.  

What if we could demonstrate that sponsorship and related activation can play a huge part in the marketing armoury and, if informed properly, can go toe-to-toe with some of the most iconic brand ads? 

With so many opportunities available to brands, System1 and Fuse, a sports and entertainment marketing agency powered by Omnicom Media Group, set out to understand the broad reach effectiveness of sport sponsorship campaigns, as well as its effectiveness specifically among sports fans. 

The result? The “Sport Dividend” that can pay back across mainstream broad reach audiences as well as sport – regardless of a brand’s pre-existing fame, budget, and market share. 

Read on for an overview of our market research framework and key audience insights.  

The Background: Testing and Analyzing Sports-focused Advertising

Our research leveraged metrics from System1’s Test Your Ad, advertising insights platform. First, we looked at a selection of sport sponsorship assets (TV, digital, online video, OOH) from leading global brands such as Pepsi, FedEx, Amazon, Adidas, Barclays and Uber Eats. We tested each asset with a broad audience across four markets – UK, US, Germany, and France – and with a custom sample of sports fans in these regions.  

We defined a sports fan as anyone who has watched or played the sport featured in an asset in the past 3 months or expects to in the next 3 months. In the UK, sports fans comprise 44% of the population: a mass audience of more than 30 million people.  

In total, we interviewed more than 32,000 people. Then we dug deeper into 170 assets to understand the types of sporting references they featured and the characteristics that defined ‘best practice’. 

The Findings: Sports Assets Score Well

Among broad audiences, sport sponsorship assets averaged 2.4-Stars on System1’s scale from 1 to 5.9-Stars, which corresponds to the global average amongst broad audiences. Considering that around 50% of global advertising does not achieve above a 1-Star Rating among broad audiences, sport is already ahead of the curb. 

Among sports fans however, sport sponsorship assets averaged 3.8-Stars (a measure of long-term effectiveness), a significant uplift. This audience responds even more positively to the creative, with strong feelings of happiness. The assets also achieve an exceptional Spike Rating, which predicts short-term sales action – including enquiries, downloads, and sales.   

The Sport Dividend: Average among broad audience and sports fans 

Furthermore, our research and brand monitoring uncovered the incredible brand-building power of sport sponsorship campaigns. Amongst sports fans, 20% of the sport sponsorship assets scored in the top 5% of all ads across System1’s global database for long-term effectiveness.  

This uplift in effectiveness of sport sponsorship campaigns among sports fans is coined the “Sport Dividend.” Shockingly, across the representative sample of 1,000 adverts we analysed however, only 12.5% contained any reference to sport at all, and among those only 5% contained sponsorship, related IP, and rights. Despite the clear opportunity to maximise marketing impact through the Sport Dividend, it is evident that there is a gap for more brands to maximise the potential of their partnerships.  

So, to summarise phase 1 of the study, we know that sport sponsorship can drive long-lasting business effects and short-term growth. For phase two, we took this one step further and identified how brands can best achieve these effects. If executed right, sport sponsorship can appeal to sports fans and broad reach audiences, going toe-to-toe with the world’s best advertising.  

The Result: The Blueprint to Successful Sports Marketing

The study includes The Blueprint to Successful Sports Marketing,” featuring more than a dozen proven best practices. These tips are universal across formats, media and budgets, and span three key sections: 

  1. Driving mass market appeal.
  2. Getting IP right, including how to optimise the impact of talent. 
  3. Integrating brand effectively.  


Download a summary of the System1 and Fuse report, “The Sport Dividend: Unlocking Incremental Brand Growth through Sport Sponsorship” to learn more. 


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand tracking tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

Get in touch or book a demo with one of our experts to learn more.