How can sponsors properly evaluate the success of their sponsorship in horse sports?

KT: Well, in the old days we simply counted media impressions by measuring newspaper column width and tallying television airtime for sponsor logos. Those days are over. That archaic measurement system is still used by industry dinosaurs, however “equivalent media valuation” was debunked almost twenty years ago.

There’s no absolutely perfect way to assess the ROI (return on investments) for sponsorship. What I prefer, and what the trend is now, is to work with the sponsor to assess the return on objectives (ROO) for their planned sponsorship.

How do you determine ROO?

KT: Whether I’m working specifically for the sponsor/client or the horse show, I like to sit down with the potential sponsor in advance, outline their overall objectives, and pinpoint some key success markers. We set up realistic ways to measure the success of the sponsorship – new clients, hits on their website, increased sales. Press ink is vitally important, too, of course, but it all needs to work together. You have to keep tabs on whether the sponsorship benefits being provided are appropriate for their needs. Always be prepared to swap some underperforming benefits for benefits that are more appropriate for what the sponsor is seeking.

So what should they want to get out of a sponsorship?

KT: There is a whole range of objectives. Some sponsors may be interested only in the simple basics, such as static banners and ads. Others are more interested in hospitality, preferring to bring some of their top customers to the shows as they try to generate new business. Best-practice sponsorship is consumer- or customer-centric. It is based around sponsors adding value to their relationships with their target markets.

What are the different types of sponsors?

KT: Companies that know the equestrian industry, the insiders, the players, and the riders – I call these the niche sponsors. They depend on our sport to make a living. They are companies that compete for business, often at the same horse shows. At some of the larger shows, such as the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival, you’ll see several saddlers set up. In the old days, it was just Miller’s and Bevals.

Then you have a group that is not dependent on the horse business at all, but is trying to gain entrance, so to speak. That includes nationally recognized banks, private wealth management groups and luxury car companies, all attracted by our industry demographics. They seek new customers by sponsoring our sport and they work to become an integral part of the equestrian industry.

When you’re really lucky, you find super people like Dennis Shaughnessy of FTI Consulting or Hunter Harrison of Canadian Pacific. They are key decision makers for two of the biggest sponsors in the industry and are very much involved with the sport as horse owners. There’s no learning curve to understanding our sport; they already ‘get’ the sport and understand the promotional value to their company. This is their lifestyle. Without question, their sponsorship is a smart business decision, but they place a great amount of pride in being able to support the sport they love. I think they’re the most approachable sponsors because they immediately understand the benefits of sponsorship in equestrian sport.

Take a look around the VIP Club at WEF or the Hampton Classic and you will recognize the CEOs of Fortune 400 companies – these folks are real celebrities in their own right. I’m more impressed by them than by any movie star.

What do sponsors expect, and what should horse shows do to ensure sponsors return for another year?

KT: I often wear two hats, representing the sponsors and also negotiating contracts on behalf of the horse show. As a sponsor representative, I have no qualms about telling clients, ‘Based on your budget, this is what is reasonable to expect in the way of sponsorship benefits.’

I try to set their expectations right away, so they are not constantly trying to eke out more benefits from horse show management. Many sponsors feel that once they’ve paid their sponsorship fee, it becomes the responsibility of show management alone to ensure the success of their sponsorship. That absolutely is not the case. Sponsors must understand that it’s entirely up to them to leverage their sponsorship properly. If you spend the money, you need to work the investment.

I advise all sponsors to include a hefty line item in their budget to cover the cost of leveraging a successful sponsorship.

One of the companies that I think does sponsorship the best in the world is Rolex. They have a crew dedicated to managing a successful sponsorship at each horse show and they outline their expectations before they arrive.

With regard to what horse shows should do to insure a sponsor’s return, I’d say that the key is to create a customized program that helps sponsors connect with their target audience. Be creative. A basic, standardized sponsorship proposal does not do the job. It’s pure laziness to send out cookie-cutter proposals. Horse shows must employ a sponsor-seeker who is completely sponsor-sensitive. Never send out a sponsorship package until you sit down with the sponsor and have a conversation to assess exactly what works best for them in the way of sponsorship benefits.

How did you become a “sponsor seeker”?

KT: Gene Mische, founder of the Winter Equestrian Festival, was my mentor and close friend. I loved the horse industry and was a huge fan of Gene’s, so it didn’t take much for him to convince me to move from New York City to Florida to work with Stadium Jumping, Inc. He hired me in 1984 as marketing director of the Winter Equestrian Festival and the American Grandprix Association. I worked specifically as a liaison with Mercedes and Anheuser Busch, title sponsors of the AGA series.

Gene recognized that in order for our sport to progress, gaining sponsors and television coverage, a full-time staff member dedicated to the care and nurturing of sponsors
was needed. Nowadays, every horse show worth its salt has a sponsorship coordinator, but that was not the case in the 1980s.

How are things different for sponsors at shows today than they were a few decades ago?

KT: In the last 30 years, the attitude toward sponsors has changed, for the better. Of course show management needs to concentrate on running a proper, safe horse show and caring for our owners, trainers, riders, and horses. But, if sponsorship care is not also ‘top of mind’ with every horse show staff member from the ticket-takers to the jump crew to the announcer and the board of directors, you won’t be able to keep your sponsors. Certainly, the turnover would be huge.

What advice would you give a show in regard to handling sponsorship?

KT: I’m often asked by small, local horse shows, “With only 200 horses, how can we possibly acquire a big sponsor?” Offer benefits to your local businesses; seek to understand how their business works and present new and interesting sponsorship benefits. You will find sponsors when you make an effort to understand their business. Do the research. Just as you don’t go from leadline to the Olympics in one year, you need to establish a relationship with a sponsor and then build on that partnership. Always think win/win/win – your sponsorship packages must benefit the sponsor, the horse show, and the spectator.

Q What advice would you give to the sponsor in regard to handing sponsorship?

KT: Don’t forget to consider the spectator’s enjoyment of the event. Make sure that your sponsorship campaign isn’t intrusive to the event itself. If every five minutes I have to hear a public address system sponsorship announcement, or if I’m bombarded with sponsorship messages, that could become very annoying. Spectators don’t come because they’re there for the sponsor, they attend because they’re interested in the sport.

In addition to the win/win/win for the sponsor, the show management and the spectator – I always insist on adding a fourth “win’ target: the horse show exhibitor. It has to be a total win for them as well.”