Tracking the social value of sponsorship
by Simon Ward
Sports teams and brands are becoming more appreciative of the social media impact of their sponsorship deals, especially as more commercial opportunities become available, according to the UK arm of GumGum Sports, an agency that uses artificial intelligence to measure return on investment. Author
3rd August 2018, 09:10

The last few years have seen an expansion of the branding space in the major leagues, notably in the NBA, where jersey sponsorship is now permitted, and English soccer’s Premier League, where sleeve sponsors have been added to the marketing mix.

This has increased the importance of reliable valuation of partnerships, with GumGum among the growing number of companies seeking to meet the demand.

GumGum Sports, which was launched in USA by its parent company in 2016, uses computer vision technology to analyse the value of sponsorship deals from television and digital coverage.

It has provided services to the top sports leagues in North America in the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and MLS, and now landed in the UK with initial clients including Middlesex County Cricket Club and Team Sky, the professional cycling team, at the Tour de France, won by their British rider Geraint Thomas (pictured).

Sam Grimley, the commercial director of GumGum Sports in the UK, says that rights-holders and brands welcome breakdowns of their sponsorship portfolio, and the new insights provided by social media valuations.

He tells Sportcal Insight: “Traditionally as a football club you would go [and sell] front of shirt, press backdrop, LED, training kit, and all of that was lumped as one number. [As a sponsor] if I want to cut out 20 per cent of spend next year, which bit should I cut out? Which bit is not working as hard as I expected?”

GumGum’s technology searches across broadcast, streaming and social platforms to identify traditional on-screen assets, then it qualifies those impressions against a proprietary Media Value Percentage (MVP).

That percentage is compared to what it would have cost to buy the equivalent amount of reach or engagement per the media type.

Middlesex County Cricket Club was a UK launch client of GumGum

The company is now taking the product and expertise developed in USA into popular sports in the European market, with soccer, rugby and cricket among the main targets and apparent fascination in social media valuation.

Grimley says: “One of the interesting things we found with an unnamed football client is how they’d only ever valued tier-one branding, like pitchside LED. With social it’s all there – players taking photos, fans taking photos, their own content team creating stuff which isn’t defined by the TV camera.”

He also stresses the importance of non-official platforms such as fan accounts, claiming they account for 92 per cent of the value extracted from digital coverage.

“The other thing that we’ve done that is interesting is that we track white space, a blank area, to say what it should be worth,” says Grimley. “Rather than going, ‘we’ve sold front of shirt for x and back of shirt for x divided by seven,’ it’s what is it worth? It’s looking at assets which you might not have traditionally considered, but on social they are picked up.”

He believes this is becoming more valuable as more branding opportunities become available.

More than two-thirds of the 30 NBA teams now have jersey sponsors, averaging around $10 million per year, and a large majority of the Premier League clubs now have sleeve sponsors, including Manchester United, which recently signed a multi-year deal with Kohler, the US kitchen and bathroom manufacturer, reported to be worth £10 million ($13.1 million) per season.

Manchester United have a sleeve sponsor for the first time this season, a lucrative deal with US brand Kohler

Grimley says: “All the governing bodies are relaxing what you can and can’t sell now. Shirt sleeves three years ago in the Premier League? No chance. The NBA – shirt sponsors? Never. Now they are commonplace. Manchester United looked odd not having a shirt sleeve sponsor.”

He claims social media valuations are particularly valued, especially for assets that do not get regular exposure on television such as training ground and training kit sponsorships.

Grimley continues: “Rights-holders have been very pleasantly surprised because we’re finding this value that they’ve never considered before, and it’s not just the value, it’s the insight to find out what asset’s doing what, and the white space.

“Brands we’ve worked with have also been pleasantly surprised. We’ve given them more values so their ROI is higher for what they’ve been spending.”


 Sponsorship dollars are the only dollars in marketing which don’t have an instant ROI metric given to them


There is apparently also appreciation for the quick turnaround in providing numbers, as, according to Grimley, “sponsorship dollars are the only dollars in marketing which don’t have an instant ROI metric given to them.”

He says: “You would never write cheques in other marketing channels and wait 10 weeks to see if they started performing. You can go and buy something programmatically on social or the web and it performs, and you can constantly analyse it, and see it.

“Sponsorship’s not there yet, [but] we’re down to days when other people are taking say up to eight weeks depending on what it is, so they’re not getting close to us.”

This summer has been a peak time for GumGum Sports in terms of conversations with soccer clubs that are potential clients.

Grimley says: “A lot of commercial teams are so busy activating during the season. In the close season they take a look back to see what happened, especially in the leagues with relegation. If a team gets relegated [from the Premier League], broadcast disappears off the spectrum for them, but actually social stays important. You’re not going to benefit from playing Liverpool or Manchester United, but you get more assets to sell [like back-of-shirt and shorts sponsorship] because you’re not part of the Premier League.

“When they get promoted to the Premier League a lot of teams break their shirt deal because they have a clause, and they go out and get a new one. It’s a constant roundabout.”

GumGum is eyeing European expansion - and further afield - after landing in the UK

On GumGum Sports’ aspirations going forward, Grimley says: “We want to have more clients in the sports we’re operating in, and take that and replicate it in international markets. So if we’re doing Premier League football, why are we not doing Serie A, Ligue 1 or Bundesliga etc?

“And at the same time get into sports that aren’t big here [in the UK], but are in other parts of Europe, like ice hockey in the Nordics and Russia, and Euroleague Basketball, and after that going further afield.”

Japan and Australia are obvious options given the presence of GumGum offices in those markets, and the crossover with the UK in terms of sports like soccer and cricket respectively.

The Team Sky partnership entailed tracking the value of the Sky Ocean Rescue campaign, which is aimed at reducing single-use plastic, at the Tour de France, with analysis of posts on Team Sky’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts, and by unofficial content creators.

On the back of that venture, Grimley says his company would “love to talk to motor racing,” and cited opportunities in emerging series and sports such as Formula E, drone racing and eSports

Grimley concludes: “We want to get a set of very good clients who become part of the GumGum family and who learn and grow with us, give us feedback and help us develop our product and open up other relationships.”

Sportcal