Measuring the Performance of Sports Sponsorships

Bendigo’s Jeff Sofka is the only person he knows who’s enjoyed senior leadership roles in top sports marketing and healthcare organizations alike. That makes him the perfect person to talk about the sports/healthcare research platform STRATA.

In 2011, Hackensack University Medical Center (now Hackensack Meridian Health) enlisted Bendigo to lead a complete rebranding, restructuring, and repositioning of its brand. Led by Jeff Sofka, who did marketing and branding for the NFL and other sports and entertainment entities prior to healthcare, Bendigo has since stayed on as Hackensack’s official agency for sports and marketing partnerships since 2013.

But for all of Hackensack’s high-profile partnerships—including the New York Giants, New York Red Bulls, Northern Trust PGA Golf, and recently its cause-marketing platform, Tackle Kids Cancer—there were no metrics available to measure the merits of these partnerships. This led to the development of STRATA, a proprietary research platform designed to monitor, evaluate, and measure the performance of marketing partnerships between healthcare providers and sports.

“I felt compelled to deliver ROI analysis on behalf of my client,” Sofka says of Hackensack. “So, Bendigo sought out a partnership with Turnkey Intelligence to deliver a custom research tool for healthcare institutions heavily invested in sports.”

Turnkey Intelligence is known as a leader in sports consumer-brand marketing research. The firm has done work for brands such as NASCAR, the University of South Carolina Men’s Basketball, and more.

“Turnkey works hand-in-hand with a myriad of premier sports leagues, teams, and events—and the consumer brands that sponsor them—to measure the effectiveness of sponsorship investments through strategic research tools and insights,” says Turnkey Intelligence’s president, Haynes Hendrickson. “Applying these methodologies to healthcare, by way of our partnership with Bendigo, has helped us unlock tremendous insights into these healthcare and sports partnerships.”

These marketing investments stretch well beyond the realm of Hackensack Meridian. Leading hospitals, health networks, orthopedics, and urgent care brands’ investing nationally is a testimony to the growing relationships between healthcare innovators and sports properties. And hospitals nationwide—particularly top-notch academic medical centers—are deeply invested in sports partnerships for everything from building
medical/practice facilities to naming rights for team venues. But according to Sofka, there’s been no tool available until now that is custom-built to uncover the value propositions between sports-health network unions.

“Because there are very unique partnerships, with different goals and values for each organization, you can’t just have a traditional tracking mechanism for brand awareness,” he says. “Each partnership needs to be evaluated on its own goals, return on investment, and return on strategy.”  In doing that, STRATA has already developed four different research platforms:

Performance Tracking

STRATA utilizes research in the form of multiwave, multiyear online surveys intended to measure metrics including brand awareness, partnership awareness, and partnership relevance. Sofka says that STRATA revealed that of the 30 percent of New York Giants fans who accurately identify Hackensack as an official partner of the team in the survey, more than half were more likely to consider Hackensack’s services because of that partnership. “With one million-plus Giants fans in their trading area, that’s a strong base from which to market,” Sofka says. He adds that, as there are multiple healthcare systems sponsoring the Giants, he and his team were curious to see if the activation and investment had paid off. As it turns out, it did. “We were surprised by how many people were willing to transfer their trust in the Giants to the Health Network,” he says.

Live Event Research

At last year’s Barclays (now Northern Trust) PGA Golf Tournament, Hackensack Meridian’s Tackle Kids Cancer program became the official charity of the tournament. Bendigo and Turnkey surveyed more than seven hundred patrons and determined that this formality would make them more likely to donate to Tackle Kids Cancer. “That has caused us to change some of our tactics moving into 2017 with new signage and activation programs reinforcing our official designation and close ties to the tournament,” Sofka says. “Figuring out not only what happened and why, but the opportunity to change course based on what we learned is the key. At the end of the day, only the consumers you’re trying to reach can tell you if your efforts are paying off.”

Sponsor Fit Assessment

Turnkey-owned data can help hospitals evaluate teams for potential future partnerships. NASCAR and Major League Soccer fans, for example, are much more likely to consciously support their team’s sponsors by buying their products and services, according to Hendrickson. “By evaluating a team’s fan population and looking at demographics, psychographics, and sponsor support intensity,” he says, “we can help hospitals proactively identify the partnerships and activation elements that will provide the best ROI.”

Asset Valuation

STRATA takes advantage of Turnkey’s asset-valuation experience and methodologies to determine a price range for the value of the marketing assets delivered by sports teams. “It helps our healthcare clients understand the mix of advertising value versus brand value that different teams and leagues are providing,” Sofka says. “It allows them to work with the teams to ensure they have strong enough marketing impressions to break through the clutter.” Sofka says that Hackensack is a great example of a company taking advantage of these tools. “Jim Blazar, Hackensack Meridian’s chief strategy officer, has a long-term view in regard to these partnerships,” Sofka says. “He feels that when two great companies are invested together in success, they help each other; they align their objectives and goals. These sports properties are 5–10 year investments, so you need an ongoing effort to make them as valuable as possible. This research helps Jim identify opportunities and continually update strategies and tactics.”

Sofka says that he is the only person he knows who has enjoyed senior leadership roles in top sports marketing and healthcare organizations alike. He believes it provides unique insight into their collaboration—particularly now with the wave of investments by healthcare institutions into sports marketing partnerships this past decade. “It’s a big wave, with lots of money being spent,” he says. “We think we can help decision makers like Blazar spend it wisely and get the best return possible.”

Bendigo was focused on the business of sports, but was challenged to rebrand and lead marketing for a major healthcare system in 2011. Now, we are dedicated to bringing these worlds together. We support healthcare executives navigating the complex world of sports, including strategy, evaluation, negotiation, activation, media, research, and facilities rights.