CSLS at 11 – What we know. What we’ve learned. What we don’t know.

October 17th, 2017 Posted by Consulting Group, Partnership, Sponsorship 0 comments on “CSLS at 11 – What we know. What we’ve learned. What we don’t know.”

The Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study (CSLS) has entered its second decade and continues to tell stories about what is happening in Canadian sponsorship on the ground. Since 2006, we have more than 3,700 responses from Canadian sponsors, properties and agencies about the trends, investments and challenges they are facing.

Over the years, we have looked in-depth at professional sport, women in sponsorship music sponsorship. We have written academic papers on sponsorship servicing and trends. We have produced white papers on a range of topics, including property activation, branded contentment and the evolving sponsorship model. CSLS has been presented more than 30 times at conferences across Canada – in English and in French, including 11 times at SponsorshipX (formerly CSFX and the Canadian Sponsorship Forum). On many occasions, we have been asked by a league, a brand, a National Sport Organization, or a sporting club to present at their AGM, a webinar or a lunch & learn. We have presented to the Sponsorship Marketing Council of Canada (SMCC) – a partner on the study – in a variety of formats on 7 occasions and the Association of Canadian Advertisers for each of the past 4 years.

Like any annual study that has existed for as long as CSLS has, results tend to become less ‘shocking’ or ‘attention-grabbing’ over time.  However, as data is compiled year-over-year in the same manner, they become more informative, more reliable and trends can be observed. This is particularly true in the case of an industry study like ours without a large budget to collect data and with a convenience sample.  Thus, although the data is far from perfect, as each year goes by, it becomes more useful in informing the sponsorship-related decisions of sponsors, properties and agencies.

The next few paragraphs of this paper will delve into a few areas – and only a few – of the results of CSLS #11 with particular attention to sharing a few details about things we have learned, as well as some major questions that remain (i.e., things that we don’t know yet!).

First, let’s discuss 3 areas where we know lots about and where good learning has happened.  Then, we’ll present 3 areas where a lot of uncertainty remains…

$3 Billion

Well, probably the most impactful thing about CSLS #11 is the result of $2.99 billion – yes BILLION – in spending by Canadian sponsors on sponsorship.  Comprised of an estimated $1.96 billion in rights fee investment plus $1.03 billion in activation, this number has been growing (with a couple stagnant years around the recession of 2009) since we started the study. And, there is always something special about hitting a milestone, so we expect that in the 12th annual version, we’ll break the $3 billion mark.

So, what does this mean?  It is just a number.  Well, there are a couple of things.  First, it keeps us ‘in line’ with IEG estimates of spending on sponsorship in the United States and North America, particularly around growth numbers (IEG estimates about a 4.5% growth rate right now).  Second, it emphasizes that sponsorship is important and key to Canadian businesses, where sponsors (those who do sponsorship) estimate spending between 20% and 25% (depending on the year of CSLS) of their marketing communications budgets on sponsorship.  Third, and perhaps most importantly for all of us, it continues to show that sponsorship “works”. Yes, there are limited studies academically and professionally (public ones anyways) that show clearly that sponsorship is impacting consumer change, the best evidence is often that organizations are increasing their investments.

Focus on Consumer Passions, Engagement and Brand Building

IMI International, a CSLS partner since Day #1, has always provided us with a secure web platform from which to collect sensitive data.  They have also provided input, year over year, on the style and questions in the survey.  One major CSLS improvement in this regard was in 2014 when we added a series of new questions for sponsors around their sought objectives, areas of benefit and other particular outcomes of their sponsorship programs.  We now have 3 years of data on these questions, which show us that sponsors are very smart in how they use sponsorship and for what goals.

Canadian Sponsorship Study

Evidence of sponsorship being used for ‘non-business’ reasons (e.g., personal interest of CEO, access to event tickets) is very low and declining.  The use of sponsorship for the reasons it should be used for – reaching your (potential) consumers in ways that link to their passions, engaging your (potential) consumers in places where they are and want to be, engaging your (potential) consumers by associating to things they care about/do, and building your brand through creative activations – is high and increasing.  And, this is an area where there is an academic body of literature, where we know that sponsorship is highly effective.  Bottom line, this is a good sign for our industry in Canada.

Branded Content

Unequivocally the most interesting trend in CSLS over the past few years has been the rise of ‘branded content’ or ‘owned properties’ in Canadian sponsorship.  Respondents tell us that this is an area where they see great returns, strong activation, and future potential.  In laymen’s terms, branded content refers to the ability of sponsorship to provide a clean platform from which a sponsor (or an agency for a sponsor) can implement and activate a sponsorship in a way that clearly allows for all the great things we mentioned in the last paragraph to happen.

A key element of branded content is its link to digital and exclusivity.  For digital, branded content in the online world is increasingly important and – via a well-organized sponsorship – allows for sponsorship activation to happen in areas of new media.  Exclusivity is what sponsors tell us is most important here, as they can brand the content theirs with no competitor in sight, and activate as they want (which is often limited when they sponsor other properties in a more traditional way).

The Never Ending Disconnect

Each and every one of the 11 CSLS studies has found the same thing, and we did a deep-dive one year that supported this finding, that sponsors and properties are not on the same page when it comes to sponsor servicing.  Quite simply, properties think they are doing a decent job of servicing their partners, but their partners (sponsors) tell us they are not.  If we ask sponsors specifically about the ‘importance’ of what they want and the ‘actual’ provision of that from their partners, we see the following:

Canadian Sponsorship Disservice Statistic

As the graphic outlines, on many elements of sponsorship servicing (widely accepted ones), the importance is not being achieved.  Properties (and their agencies) need to step up their service efforts.

ROI Disconnect

Similar to the service disconnect, we are still observing negative views on ROI between sponsors and properties. This is further exasperated by finding that ROI is the #1 thing (by far!) that keeps sponsorship stakeholders “up at night”.  For the disconnect, sponsor’s evaluation of their ROI satisfaction with sponsorship is much lower than what properties tell us that they then their sponsors’ ROI satisfaction levels are.

Canadian Sponsorship ROI Satisfaction statistic

As the large gaps between the lines in the graphic above outline, this is an area of sponsorship in Canada that needs addressing.


The final point we’ll make in this paper and the third one around ‘what we don’t know’, is that the study has becoming more and more Ontario centric in its sample over the years.  Now, we are not sure whether this is a sampling frame change/challenge or whether it is indicative of the fact that much sponsorship is national in scope, agencies are largely based in Toronto (as are corporate headquarters) so Ontario is the home to ‘most’ sponsorship.  Either way, we are not sure, and a future study needs to figure out what is happening west of Thunder Bay and East of Cornwall…



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Norm O'Reilly

Written by Norm O'Reilly

Partner Consultant, T1 & Fox Professor of Business, Ohio University