In each episode of The Playbook presented by FanFood, host Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment and hospitality. We invite industry veterans to talk about how customer expectation have changed in today’s world, and how businesses need to change accordingly for greater operational efficiency and better guest experience.

John Balkam, author of 3-Win Sponsorship, joins Rob Cressy to talk about next-generation sports & entertainment marketing. Where is it going and why is Cause Marketing becoming so important? How important is it for companies to stand for something and live by those values? Why is having a marketing mix important to the way your fans engage with your brand?

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Listen to the Gameday Playbook on:

  • Ep. 74: Next Generation Sports & Entertainment Marketing with John Balkam
  • Ep. 74: Next Generation Sports & Entertainment Marketing with John Balkam
  • Ep. 74: Next Generation Sports & Entertainment Marketing with John Balkam
  • Ep. 74: Next Generation Sports & Entertainment Marketing with John Balkam
  • Ep. 74: Next Generation Sports & Entertainment Marketing with John Balkam


Rob Cressy: (00:08)

Welcome to The Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment, and hospitality. I’m your host, Rob Cressy. And joining me today is John Balkam, author of 3-Win Sponsorship, the next generation of sports and entertainment marketing. John, great to have you on the show.

John Balkam: (00:33)

It’s great to be here, Rob. Thanks so much for having me.

Rob Cressy: (00:36)

Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?

John Balkam: (00:40)

Sure. So, as you mentioned, I’m the author of 3-Win Sponsorship and I also am building a consulting firm called TWG. And really I’m all about sponsorship and partnerships in the sports and entertainment industry that make a meaningful impact on society. And we’re going to dive in on a second in a second about what that means, but right now I’m working with a professional athlete to help him with his impact strategy and his sponsorship portfolio. And I’m just really fired up about both sports marketing and social entrepreneurship. So, happy to dive in more about all of that.

Rob Cressy: (01:19)

Cool, cause what we’re going to dig into is next-generation sports and entertainment marketing, because us understanding where things are going will allow us to deliver a better customer experience. So, let’s start with this. Where are things going? What does next-generation sports and entertainment marketing look like?

John Balkam: (01:41)

Sure. Well, from my perspective, Rob, where I think it’s going in large part is more and more of what we call cause marketing is going to be, so it just becomes marketing. So, to provide more context on that, what I mean is that I think more and more consumers are demanding that companies stand for something that’s bigger than just profits and bigger than just products and services that these companies create. What consumers want and what employees want is their companies and the brands that they buy from to make a positive impact on society. To contribute to things like the racial justice movement that we’re seeing this year. To contribute to things like climate action and making a positive impact on the environment, not a negative impact. So, I think that the next generation of sports entertainment marketing that we’re already starting to see accelerate this year is all about this, this win-win-win mindset, right? So, creating value for the brand through marketing. Creating value for athletes and or properties and or events in the sports world. But most importantly, that third win, which is creating value for society. Making a positive impact on people and on the planet.

Rob Cressy: (03:01)

That makes complete sense on bored, but I guess one challenge I see is now brands have to stand for something and it’s been very easy for us to sell a widget and we sell widgets to people who want to purchase a widget, but now all of a sudden we have to take a stance on something and that becomes maybe a little bit more divisive or polarizing. Or it could be as opposed to, of course, no one is going to say anything negative of, Hey, welcome to our charity day as a brand or something where we do give back. So, where’s the fine line between cause marketing and doing good for the world in planting your flag on a stance where all of a sudden it could become divisive.

John Balkam: (03:44)

Right? That’s, that’s a great point. And to me, it all comes back to authenticity and the true nature of your brand. So, if you’re selling coffee cups, for example, you’re not necessarily going to be taking a stand on everything. You might want to just speak about sustainable and fair trade coffee as the cause that is authentic to your brand. And that’s a really bad example, but the broader point is not every single company is going to have relevant and authentic content or stances to take on every issue. So, it’s about picking and choosing the causes that you do plant your flag on and not necessarily taking a stand on every single issue, right? Just because it’s fashionable in the time you want to avoid at all costs. This kind of greenwashing that you hear about a lot in marketing circles where you’re just kind of like jumping on board, but you don’t really have anything to back up your stance. That’s where you can get into trouble. And you really want to avoid inauthenticity because that really hurts you in the modern consumer’s eyes.

Rob Cressy: (05:00)

Certainly, because we’ve talked about this, a ton on this podcast because the authenticity of a brand is what gets people looking forward to hearing back from you. And our mindset is we’re very community-driven in how we think about marketing and brand building because you want people to feel some sort of way about what you do so that you’re just not another transaction on Amazon. And you want to be able to speak the language of your tribe because customer experience really is about what can you do to over-deliver in as many different areas as possible. And I’m totally on board with you in terms of you don’t need to be jumped through on multiple things. I would not recommend that at all. And really, I think the answer is you start with one, Hey is what is one thing that we as a company or we as the people who work at the company or that our community is very important for and you sort of build off of there. So, the question would have then is when looking at the marketing and engagement for the brand around this, how does this integrate it? Or how much does it need to be integrated? So, then it’s not just lip service, but at the same time, we are running a business, not a non-for-profit. So we’re not here to just do cause marketing.

John Balkam: (06:16)

Right? Right. I think the best cause of marketing comes from companies that actually have a much more structural business model that tends towards social good. So, you hear a lot about stakeholder capitalism is really growing. You’re seeing many more companies become certified B corporations. And what that means is that they’re taking steps to structurally change their business in such a way where they’re both making a profit and they’re serving all of the different stakeholders that are affected by their business, employees, customers, the community, the environment. So, when we’re talking about marketing, not every company right now is a B Corp. Obviously, that movement is growing, but you want to be integrated across your business as far as like, we believe in this and we actually are practicing it on the day to day to our business in our business.

So, thinking about this in the terms of sports marketing, a good way to think about this would be, how can we kind of establish our business practices in such a way where we’re living up to our values and then who can we connect with? Who can we partner with that also demonstrates these same values? That’s where athlete sponsorship can be really effective because you can put that human face in that really influential face behind your message. So, it’s not just coming from your brand. People really connect with humans. They don’t necessarily connect with inanimate companies. So, that’s where I think the power in connecting with those, those athletes or other influencers in the entertainment space can be really helpful.

Rob Cressy: (08:02)

And I love that you used the term values because it’s such a good word for me. It’s a golden word because values are not marketing. It is not trying to over sell you. It is who you are. It is the core of what you are as a company. And once again, you want to feel part of something you want to be like attracts like, and when you have real values, you’re a real thing. As opposed to when you buy a $10 cell phone cover off of Amazon, there’s no value there. It’s just a transaction. And so often when we talk about customer experience and fan engagement is to get away from the transaction to build the relationship in values is certainly a way to do that.

John Balkam: (08:52)

No question, no question. So, I’ll give you an example from my own life of where I’m trying to basically apply my values to the companies that I do business with. And banking is an everyday thing that all of us have to do, right? And a lot more thought for me, it goes into who I’m banking with based on the values that they demonstrate, right? So, I bank with this company called Aspiration, which has committed to being as, sustainable as possible, meaning they’re not investing in any fossil fuel projects. They’re not investing in any firearms companies and they’re demonstrating through their products and through the values of their company that they care about the environment. And so as a person who also cares about the environment, I feel a lot better banking with them as opposed to the kind of traditional banks. And then their marketing comes through as authentic because they’ve established those values upfront. So, a quick little shout out to them, but that’s what I mean as far as kind of like they’re infusing these causes and these values into their operations in their day today, as well as the marketing.

Rob Cressy: (10:06)

To me, one of the gold standards of this is Patagonia. I highly recommend reading the book by their founder called Let My People Go Surfing. So, Patagonia has been all about sustainability and they’ve even gone as far as auditing what they do to see where they are not good. So, with the levels of production that they’re doing, whether mature awareness, but let’s say they’re doing things in China and Hey, how can we be sourcing more holistically or locally or doing things. And at times it can even mess up their own supply chain. And I think I read something where it’s not just the first level, they’re going a level below that to the second level and doing things in terms of the people who are working in the factories. What are the conditions of the people? Not just in the main factory that we go for, but where are they getting their stuff from? And it really made me want to support how to go in you more because when something costs like a Patagonia jacket does it feels better supporting well. And I think when looking at next-generation marketing supporting good and we all have choices for where our dollars are going to go. I’m more likely to spend a few extra dollars from Patagonia because I know the quality is good, but more importantly, I feel good buying it because I’m buying it from someone who does things the right way.

John Balkam: (11:39)

Absolutely. Patagonia has been one of the OGs, I guess you could say in this space. And I think another good example is New Belgium Brewing out in Colorado. Certified B Corp, 1% for the planet. They just made Fat Tire the first carbon-neutral certified beer. So, they’re producing that beer brand without basically offsetting all their emissions. And you’re seeing more and more examples like new companies starting up to challenge the incumbent with that feel-good approach because they realize this is what a large majority of consumers are realizing that I can vote with my dollars as well as my actual vote. And what I spend my money on can actually contribute towards a better society, a better planet, etc. And of course, it’s not something you can’t necessarily change overnight as far as each individual company, but you definitely want to feel better when you’re consuming products, right? You want to feel like you’re being a part of something bigger than yourself. And that’s what is really effective about this kind of next-generation marketing.

Rob Cressy: (12:53)

All right. So, let’s talk about what can be done at the beginning. And this can be for all companies, organizations of all sizes from, all right. Rob, John, we believe in what you’re saying here. We’re not currently doing anything that would be considered cause marketing. What can we do to take the first step? And maybe we’re not the size of Coca-Cola. Maybe we have 10 people or less, or maybe we have a thousand people, what can be done to get the ball rolling on this? Because so often this can be lip service and it takes time for these campaigns to evolve because they’re value-driven. But what are your thoughts on the beginning stages?

John Balkam: (13:38)

Absolutely. I think the first step is to really get intentional. This is really about the seven habits of highly effective people. The first habit is, begin with the end in mind. Well, I always suggest beginning with the third one in mind, meaning really be thoughtful and take time to understand what can our company authentically contribute to based on what our product or service is. And it might take several sessions to really nail that down, but begin with what positive impact do we want to make in the world? And then what can we authentically contribute towards? So, if you’re a smaller company, maybe that’s literally just, we want to serve the community where we work, where our families are, where our kids are going to school. And that’s good enough. For small businesses that are actually fantastic. For larger-scale businesses, you have a large, large influence and scale across the world. So, maybe you want to take on a bigger issue. But once you get clear on we want to see this change in the world, then you can start beginning to build out your strategy. Part of that is probably going to be changing maybe your operations or your governance structure. Maybe even becoming a certified B Corp, if you want to go that far. But that’s where I would begin is getting intentional, figuring out what’s that third win I want to create in the world.

Rob Cressy: (15:11)

I love that because being intentional is one of my keys to success in all areas of life. Because when you put a little intention behind something, all that means is we’re thinking about this. We’re going to put a strategy behind what we are doing. One thing I am curious about because if we are talking about marketing right here is going to result because while it is good to do good for the world and have an impact at the same time, we as marketers still want to be able to deliver results. And of course, there’s a healthy balance right there, but what are your thoughts on this? Because I don’t believe we’re saying that your marketing now needs to completely because of marketing. What I really hear us saying is this needs to be part of your marketing mix and one of the things that I’m very intentional about when working with companies or people is the mixture in your marketing. Because so often one of the big areas where brands fail is they just go buy what I’m selling, buy what I’m selling. And they just jam the transaction down our throat without saying, listen, there’s a lot of opportunities for you to share the story and brain heartbeat of who you are in one of the things of your brand heartbeat and story is your cause marketing. And even if it is on the local level, I absolutely love it because it is the simplest thing that you can do. Your present, your where your feet are. And you say, listen, we know that we want to do some good. The first thing we can do, let’s start fixing around where we are right now. But I’m curious about your thoughts on this.

John Balkam: (16:46)

Yeah. Rob, it’s a great point because just like you’re not going to jam a hard sell down your target audience’s throat. You’re also not going to jam,  doing good and you have to do this. You have to contribute to this every single day. You’re not going to force that on everybody every single day either, right? Some days we want to be informed. Sometimes some days we want to be entertained some days we want to be inspired. So that’s that marketing mix. And of course, you also have to live up to the values that you’re talking about in your marketing and do the work, right? Let’s say you’ve made a big commitment to education, you can’t necessarily just write a check and then say, good luck to the non-profits that you’ve contributed towards that’s much more traditional philanthropy. So, I think some days you’re just going to be doing the work of doing good in the world. And you’re not even going to be talking about it. Your marketing those days might be a bit different. It might be a giveaway. It might be some inspirational story that has nothing to do with their big cause that you’ve been putting out there. It’s the right mix. It’s the right balance. Everything in moderation, I guess, is a good way to think about it.

Rob Cressy: (18:02)

Yeah. And the next step for me would be, you can then create a campaign. And create a campaign, what this really does is it allows you to bring people together. So, you say all right, this is what our cause is. So, let’s say we’re going to keep going local. All right, well, maybe this weekend we’re going to do a neighborhood walk and clean up stuff around our streets or something like this. So, you can create, like we as marketers think, create a campaign around this and at the same time, if we’re doing this neighborhood walk to clean up some trash, you know what you could do? Hey, let’s invite the people who support our brand to also become part of this. So, now they can start meeting the people who work at your company or are a part of your organization. And now you’re really intertwining the people who are a part of your community with the people who work at the company. And now all of a sudden you start building more relationships and now more word of mouth happens. And of course, we’re talking about this on the local level here, but even on a larger level, I’m very much someone who loves challenges.

And while I do them, oftentimes on the physical side or the mental side of things at the same time, I sort of like if a company, let’s say Patagonia said, Hey, for the next week we’re going to eat organic or eat local. Something like this where you can use your influence as a company to say, we’re going to do this, why don’t you join us? And the impact is something that is very simple, but it is often overlooked because the impact is one thing that you can do. But people think that you need to do this big grandiose thing. When in actuality, if you just went to whole foods and decided to buy this organic thing, instead of going and buying a cheeseburger that is really small wins and you rinse and repeat that. And if the organization can lead that campaign, even if it’s as small as that, that’s really how I as a new consumer would like to be able to engage with the brand.

John Balkam: (20:06)

Those, those experiences that you mentioned, Rob, those are so important to think about and to integrate into your mix because of what you see, and I’m one of those people who are nerding out with the surveys that come out and reports from different consulting companies that talk about, here’s what consumers are saying about what they actually want. Well, what you see in these reports over and over again is that people want to belong. They want experiences that are meaningful to them in their life. That isn’t just transactional like you normally see from companies. So, that’s where things can get really powerful is you realize that your company can get your customers, can get your employees together around a common mission that makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. And that’s where some magic really starts to happen, where you start to get that brand loyalty, that brand affinity that we all want as marketers, but you do it by coming together around causes that are important, both to you as a company and to your customers.

Rob Cressy: (21:13)

And really that’s how you earn it, or you build it. It’s not something that just happens. It’s the rinsing repeating of that because imagine saying, Hey, we’re going to do this once a month. And you do that for five years, 10 years, 20 years. Now, all of a sudden you can see how you can start building a tribe. And I think of all times in the world right now. Do you know what stands out? Doing good. We are just bombarded with so much digital noise and negativity in media out there that sometimes when a company like Patagonia may put a campaign out and say, Hey, do you want to be involved with this is actually refreshing. Because it’s a way for you to get away from the rest of the world and say, listen, I’m going to be someone who contributes to the good of the world. And I believe that’s what really more of the new consumers want is we want to do good in the world. And we actually want the brands and companies we work with to do good in the world.

And right now that stands out. And remember negativity spread seven times faster than positivity does. I think that’s a quote that I saw or a statistic that I saw, and it makes complete sense. So, by doing something good, not only are you stopping the negative cycle because that happened seven times faster but now you’re standing out and bringing good together. And good, like attracts like, so by doing this it’s crazy how all of a sudden other parts of your marketing and company will work better because all of a sudden you’re doing good in the world. And I’m someone who’s a big believer in karma. And this is something that very much can manifest itself in your marketing, in your business, in your fan engagement.

John Balkam: (23:00)

100%. And just, just a quick sidebar, Rob, is that positivity, that attitude. That’s one of the reasons I love your show and the different content that you put out there is you’re all about that positive attitude. So, really appreciate that. But, back to kind of the broader point, I think that is absolutely the key is people want that breath of fresh air. People want that break from the negativity. And if your brand can be that asset or that kind of safe haven, if you will. Where it’s like, Oh, it isn’t all about what’s going on in politics or all of the bad things that are happening with the environment or wildfires or hurricanes or all of that. Hey, let’s actually do something to kind chip away at this issue, right? Let’s do little small actions every day to chip away at the issue. That’ll help you stay sane. That’ll help you keep your own spirits up. And if your brain can do that for someone that’s where some really powerful outcomes can happen both for the world and for your company,

Rob Cressy: (24:06)

John really enjoyed jamming with you about this. I can certainly hear the passion in your voice. And I really liked the intention behind all of this. Where can everybody connect with you?

John Balkam: (24:19)

Yeah, thanks, Rob. And I am always on LinkedIn, always on Twitter. Those are probably my two best places just @John Balkam. You should be able to find me pretty easily. And I’m really excited to talk with anybody who wants to reach out about marketing, about cause marketing and about sports, of course.

Rob Cressy: (24:38)

And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. And I’ve got a very simple action item. So, we talked about how all of us can have an impact by doing one thing. So, what I would like you to do is to do one random act of kindness or someone today. Make the world a better place. One thing at a time. And I don’t care if that means you’re picking up one piece of trash. You’re buying someone a drink at Starbucks. There are so many opportunities to do random acts of kindness for other people. Because guess what? When you do not only are you making the world a better place, but you are going to make yourself feel better. And this is something that becomes contagious. You’re going to have a radiating positivity from you. You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @FanFoodondemand. On Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @RobCressy.

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