Sponsorship learnings in an eventless world

Our second digital SPORTO Talk was with Ricardo Fort, Vice-president of Global Sports and Entertainment Partnerships at The Coca-Cola Company, who shared his learnings from the months without live events and how this will affect the future of sponsorship.

Ricardo Fort, originally from Brazil, oversees in Coca-Cola’s main office in Atlanta the company’s global portfolio of partnerships. He begins the talk by revealing that, while at the beginning of this unusual year, they were, like many others, shocked and worried, but as a global company that has already established remote operations in many of its business aspects, they were able to respond and adapt quickly to the changed circumstances. He admits, however, that the coronavirus crisis has had a powerful impact on the sports industry, which seems to be tied in a knot. “The crisis has touched everyone, from sponsors and sponsorship agencies to, of course, athletes. We can only guess what will happen to the Olympic Games and sports leagues in the next year, and how we will manage to survive and continue with our work,” says Fort.

There is nothing like a well-written contract

In the eventless months of the pandemic Covid-19, Fort gained five sponsorship learnings that he shared with the Sporto Talk participants. What options do sponsors have? First, a well-written contract. “The time invested in drawing up a good contract is not wasted. Investing in lawyers who help you write a solid contract is worth every penny. This contract must include how such unforeseen events will affect your sponsorship rights,” explains Fort.

The second learning is that sponsorship can and must play multiple roles. “It’s not only about putting your brand onto an athlete’s apparel. Some sponsors sign expensive contracts to increase brand awareness or spread their corporate message, for example of sustainability. You should explore all options sponsorship has to offer and not just focus on the obvious,” suggests Fort.

Content is as important, if not more, than live events

Contrary to popular belief that sponsorship yields only long-term results, Fort is convinced that short-term results are possible and necessary: “Well-planned sponsorships should also ensure short-term results and open doors to other activation possibilities. The key is to understand the data, based on which you can more easily define the value of the sponsorship investment.”

And the final learning: content is as important (if not more) than live events. “People think that live events drive everything, because of the excitement they bring, and that the sports industry cannot survive without them. But we should be able to continue our work effectively even in the case of empty stadia. The answer lies in the content, in the stories about the brand,” believes Fort. “It should be about your brand. My job is not to sell the sport I’m supporting as a sponsor, but to sell the beverage produced by our company through the content that tells the story of our brand. And that’s where social media can be very valuable.”

Sports industry will be the first to recover

Investments in sponsorship are expected to decrease drastically this year, based on some studies, while many sponsorship agreements may even be terminated. Is it at all possible to avoid this? “We won’t be able to avoid rethinking our investments, but instead of looking back and lament what has happened, I suggest we look forward and focus on what will be when things get back to normal. Because of the passion and loyalty of the fans, the sports and entertainment industry will be the first to recover. Investments will also return more quickly, but of course not immediately,” says Fort with optimism.


According to him, Coca-Cola has built long-lasting partnerships in the arena of sports and entertainment; for example, they have been sponsoring the Olympic Games for almost a century and their partnership has recently been extended for another 12 years – until 2032. “Although the Olympic Games are postponed, we know we will receive benefit from them in the future. Meanwhile, we have to look for different solutions and content. Communication must go on and even though live events cannot be replaced, we can cover some of the losses,” adds Fort, emphasising that they are doing all they can to help bring the Games back.

Digital and virtual will never replace live events

Fort also touched on their esports and gaming strategy: “Gaming in franchises like FIFA is just a different way of supporting football. If you want your brand associated with the sport, this is a good way to connect with a community of people who feel really passionate about it.” Coca-Cola sees gaming as an opportunity – for three reasons: “Firstly, gaming is a beverage consumption activation, both for players and viewers. It also allows us to advertise across gaming platforms, because we are very relevant in the moment. Secondly, we have activities connected to the games, and thirdly, we collaborate with sports teams, players and influencers which makes us part of their stories. So, there are many ways to engage.” Fort concludes the talk with: “Digital and virtual will never replace live, offline events, and I hope we’ll get them back sooner or later.”