Describe the ideal sports sponsorship activation.
It adds to the fan experience in some way and leaves them feeling positive about the team/league and the brand. It effectively activates the brand, so the message and the what/why is communicated to the fans. It helps create a pathway to a lifelong customer of the team/league/sport and its corporate partners.
It’s not easy, but there are a lot of properties out there doing it well.
The World Surf League is an entity that has existed and thrived for decades, and is seizing the moment now, fueled by more exposure and opportunity with the growth of social and digital. They stage events all over the world and give fans that attend the competitions an experience that engages and immerses them with the sport lifestyle and the league’s partners.
I recently visited the Vans US Open, a World Surf League competition held over the course of a few days in Huntington Beach, CA. My day was full of watching some surfing, and having my experience enhanced by WSL’s partners. Here are a collection of partner activations and integrations that did make for memorable, effective experiences.
I was thirsty…
And there were two partners happy to help. I had my own bottle, so didn’t need a Hydro Flask (but I could still play some Jenga and Skee-ball to spend some time around, and enter to win Hydro Flask product). Right next to that was a setup from Flow Water, an environmentally friendly water provider. I filled up a bottle multiple times and remembered Flow Water fondly for it. And read their messaging on the machine each time I filled up.
Lifeproof helped protect against the elements
An accessory designed to help protect one’s phone, surely a need for the surfing or boarding audience on hand (but anyone, really), Lifeproof was showing off their product. But their messaging was enhanced through a value-add, offering fans a respite from the heat with a cooling area, complete with misting fans to surround you. They also had a social sharing photo element, as well as product on display, to engage fans while they were cooling off.
Another way to beat the elements, while featuring a brand
World Surf League gave enormous exposure to their featured sponsor for this event, Vans. It was the Vans US Open, after all. Among the many ways Vans was featured all over was on tons and tons of umbrellas out on the shore, to give fans some shade while they took in the surf competition. One of many effective ways to inculcate the Vans Off The Wall brand to fans all day and all event long.
Michelob Ultra facilitated a good time
You head out to check out the World Surf League event with some buddies. Well, Michelob Ultra was there to provide some good seating to see the surfing, as well as some fun games to compete amongst each other. Helping to provide a memorable, fun social experience.
Hungry? WSL has the perfect food for an active fan – courtesy of Clif Bar
I began noticing a lot of fans chomping on Clif Bars as soon as I got to the event. It was already evident on the signage that Clif was a prominent partner. And before long, I walked by their setup, which featured a surf-themed backdrop for photo opps, and, yes, free bars being handed out featuring a new flavor, Banana Chocolate Peanut Butter. They satiated a lot of famished fans and in doing so won a little of good will and perhaps the taste of fans to come back to Clif for more.
Absorb the culture and the brands
Throughout the day, I was continually exposed to all aspects of the Vans brand – from its logo over and over, eye-popping imagery with huge ads, shoes to wear and shoes to pose next to, and aspects of their brand’s involvement in surfing, BMX bikes, skateboarding, and, yeah shoes and apparel. Vans was ubiquitous, and the strength of their impression upon fans was commensurate. And throughout the parts where their brand was seen, something of value was there – the actual competition, a screen, the official store, a photo opp.
Need an energy boost? There was a brand for that
Red Bull and action sports seem to always go together, and the World Surf League competition was no exception. They had a couple of promo team members going around handing out free cans of Red Bull product and even had a kind of isolated vending machine that stood out like a sore thumb, in a good way.
I could also relax in the lounge area
There were ping pong and foosball tables, bean bag chairs, and food. A little piece of home on the beach. While I did not see Airbnb branding here (I did see they were a prominent WSL sponsor), I couldn’t help but think of the brand, kicking back on a beanbag chair.
Surfers and athletes need to keep track of time
While I’m not a surfer myself, I do imagine it’s easy to lose track of time. And sometimes you gotta go to work. Or you at least gotta spend some time out of the water. The WSL has a watch partner for that, and G-Shock was showcasing their brand, including helping to keep time for each round of the event. They also had a setup with product on display for fans to check out.
They helped hook up an experience in the surrounding community
The WSL worked well with the city of Huntington Beach and some of the surrounding businesses to also make for a better fan experience. I was able to park at a school and jump on a public shuttle running to the event, which was made for a really smooth transit and ingress/egress for the event for me. Then, on the walk from the shuttle stop to the beach, I saw lots of businesses, retail and restaurants, featuring deals for WSL fans, including convenient, beach-friendly takeout meals to bring down to the event.
Focused on building fans
While the WSL could have filled more space with sponsors and more signage with advertisements, they are still focused on cultivating fans, and it showed. The WSL logo was plastered all over – from banners and signage to buoys and airplane banners. There were also several opportunities to buy WSL merchandise, with no shortage of deals and variety. The WSL had put a lot of inventory to in-house use, driving merchandise sales, and no doubt driving a reinforcement of the brand.
The World Surf League is a young brand that is beginning to grow beyond endemics, as its fan base grows all over the world and its events get bigger and bigger. Activating partners for such an international audience can be difficult, but when value is being added, brands are being activated, and fans are taking it all in, enjoying the experience – well, that’s something for which you can hang ten.
(Check out a gallery of sponsor activation at the WSL Vans US Open)