In The News: What Minor Sports Can Learn From The Canadian Tire-TSN Deal

JUNE 2014 | THE SPONSORSHIP REPORT

Sponsorship has never been “all about” any one thing, but at
various moments in its evolution certain themes have dominated
the conversation. For instance, content.

The partnership between Canadian Tire and TSN announced late
last month demonstrates how important content has become, at
least to one major brand. Canadian Tire describes it as a “media,
content, and digital partnership.” Canadian Tire will turn to TSN for
the production and distribution of “original and relevant content for
[Canadian Tire’s] marketing channels, as well as exclusive content to
be distributed through TSN broadcasts and through the network’s
industry-leading digital platforms.”

It’s a multi-million dollar agreement, and it’s being funded within
the existing Canadian Tire marketing budget. Money is being shifted
from one envelope to the next.

Sports properties should take notice. Major sports have the advantage
of a loyal fan base and hard numbers that they can take to
market. But content is democratic. The viewing public votes on what
it likes and what it doesn’t, and voters are fickle. In an era when a
cute cat video can earn millions of views, who’s to say what content
will catch the market’s imagination?

There are moments of high drama and exhilaration in all sports.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be just about hockey and football.
The challenge that minor sports face is they often don’t think big
enough, says Keith McIntyre, CE O of the KMAC Group in Toronto.

“I’ve never thought that it wasn’t a level playing field.” Minor sports
are often afflicted with tunnel vision, he says, unable to see beyond
the mechanics of their sports to the stories within their sports.
If a brand like Mark’s Work Wearhouse is looking for compelling
content that speaks to durability, it can turn to a costly partner
like the CFL, but equally compelling content might also be found
elsewhere, Rugby Canada, for instance, or Triathlon Canada, at a far
lower cost.

“The proliferation of accessible and cost efficient media channels
together with the growing affordability of content creation may put
pressure on larger scale/big ticket sponsorship properties,” says Bill
Cooper, Chief Operating Partner of the TwentyTen Group in Vancouver,
“but it may simultaneously increase the opportunity for smaller
properties such as athletes, coaches and amateur sport organizations
who can provide the specialists (coaches, trainers, equipment
technicians, etc.) to help sell and endorse products and services
through purpose-built content.”

Does that mean that the larger sports properties should be concerned.
No. Or at least, not yet.

Taken to its extreme, a brand like Canadian Tire could shrink its
portfolio of sponsored sports properties and simply call on TSN, its
content-production partner, to leverage its own rights to produce
the content that it needs. If you’ve got TSN as a partner, why sponsor
at all?

Authenticity, for one, says McIntyre. “There’s value in those marks.
It is worth a heck of a lot, emotionally.” It’s what sets Canadian Tire
apart from competing retailers like Walmart and Target. “They can
blow out a wholistic, integrated program versus just the story. That’s
why it makes sense.”

“It gives them [Canadian Tire and, by extension, other brands] the wherewithal to do a much better job of leveraging the many sponsorship assets they already have,” says Cooper. “For the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a majority of advertising decisionmakers for whom the guaranteed exposure of big ticket/media-rich assets are considered vital to their marketing needs.”