sponsorship skills and teams

The Changing Skills Needed from Sponsorship Professionals and the Make-up of Teams

September 20th, 2017 Posted by

I am biased when I say this, however, something I have always said is that I see sponsorship professionals as the most dynamic, multi-purpose, people within any organisation. Why?

Because, traditionally, sponsorship professionals have had to be the ultimate project managers. Working with non-flexible budgets and dealing across all elements and business units within an organisation to drive results for both their organisation and the one they are dealing with; all without ruffling too many feathers.

It can be a real juggling act and one that only certain types of people with a generalist skill-set have, in the past, been able to master.

Times Are Changing

Although the function and ability to work across multiple layers of an organisation will never change, and therefore the place for dynamic and commercially minded individuals remains, times are changing within the sponsorship industry and we are facing an evolution of sorts.

There is now a need for individuals with specialist skills, dedicated to sponsorship, to co-exist within teams. This is, in part, due to the emergence of technology within standard sponsorship practice but, mostly, because of the noticeable shift towards sponsorship as a strategy and the partnership role rights holders must now play for these relationships to work.

The New Sponsorship Team

What I am now seeing, even within some lower-tier rights holders, is that there are at least two, but more commonly four, core roles available to prospective sponsorship professionals, Further, the individual skill sets that reside within those core roles are quite distinct.

The new-age sponsorship team now looks like this:

  • Senior Management;
  • Sales:
  • Partnerships; and
  • Services/Strategy.

Yes, of course, it should be noted that this is very variable based on scale and the size of the organisation

1. Senior Management

These roles are the organisational leads and exist within any sponsorship team. There may be multiple layers of senior management and these individuals have oversight and some knowledge/skills which relate to all other areas of a successful sponsorship team. They will be involved in the sales process at a higher level.

Core skills and traits are:

  • generalist;
  • strategic thinker;
  • leaders;
  • commercially minded;
  • considerate of wider business impacts of their decisions; and
  • results focused.

2. Sales

In smaller organisations, this role is combined with partnerships OR taken on by senior management. In larger and more sophisticated rights holders, however, this is now a focussed and dedicated role bringing a whole new level of professionalism to the commercialisation.

Core skills and traits are:

  • motivated by doing deals;
  • sophisticated in their approach (no more boiler room);
  • systematic;
  • ruthless;
  • can play the long game; and
  • well networked.

3. Partnerships

Again, in smaller organisations, this role can be combined with sales functions but more commonly it is a stand-alone role across the sector. Successful partnership managers are well organised, widely liked and have a core role in ensuring consistent revenue lines can be relied upon due to happy and well looked after partners wanting to continue their relationships with the organisation.

Core skills and traits are:

  • delivery focussed;
  • ability to create and maintain deep and meaningful relationships;
  • goal orientated;
  • systematic with a project management skill set;
  • understand the role objectives play within brand outcomes and understand how the partnership can be executed in alignment with marketing based understanding.

4. Services/Strategy

These ate the newest members of sponsorship teams and traditionally have been ‘borrowed’ from other business units. These individuals bring specialist skills to the table to enable rights holders and brands to run more business focussed, marketing based and sophisticated sponsorship programs. The core skills and traits of this group could also be split into wider sponsorship team units in much larger organisations.

Core skills and traits are:

  • dedicated digital skills;
  • graphic design;
  • content creation, delivery and ideation/activation;
  • compliance and brand management – involving legal, procurement and IT

We have now grown up and the outlook is bright

For ages, sponsorship has been a leaned-on source of revenue. Sponsorship has often responsible for keeping the doors open in some rights holders, however, this weight has been borne by under-resourced and generalist teams constantly being asked for more.

The evolution of sponsorship has delivered new technologies which enable more sophistication. There is also more and more pressure from brands to seeking more than just spend on eye-balls. All this is leading us down a path where there seems to have been a shift in the resourcing, maturity and focus that sponsorship teams are now given.

I feel like we have now grown up as an industry and with this change we will see a real growth period for those who structure and resource their teams well.


Mark Thompson - SponServe

Mark Thompson // Managing Director

Mark specialises in sponsorship and diversified income strategies and has used this expertise across the Community, Semi-Professional and Professional Sports sectors. He combines hands-on experience in managing the expectations and obligations of sponsors with marketing and stakeholder engagement to deliver outstanding results.


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