Theme parks are beating major sports events in creating effective and novel opportunities for sponsorship for brands thanks to the experiential factor.
Sponsorship used to be a simple question of who could get the largest logo on TV. Now, as a report from Forbes points out, the focus has changed.
TV watching, says the report, is an inexact science. What makes up a unique viewer? Is peak audience a true representation of reach? In 1999 Formula One claimed to have 57.8 billion viewers – nearly ten times greater than the number of people alive on the planet. Lately analysis has become more accurate but, with accuracy has come uncertainty. Forbes points out that, while TV audience total can be manipulated, it is much harder to manipulate attendance at events. “When someone steps through the turnstiles they are a visitor, no matter whether they spend 15 seconds or 15 hours at the event,” says Christian Sylt, writing for Forbes. “The more people that stream through the turnstiles, the more attractive the opportunity is for sponsors there.”
Top theme parks have “blockbuster attendance” and are using it to leverage their assets, facing up to sponsors against social media marketing.
Forbes has listed the most visited theme parks alongside the most popular leagues in the major sports categories (professional sports only and discounting events with large free attendance). All events involve either permanent venues or annual events – hence the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup are not included.
Disney dominates with Walt Disney World, Disneyland California and Disneyland Paris taking three of the top five spots. Universal snaps up the other two places with its Orlando and Hollywood parks.
Disney’s four theme parks and two water parks in Florida have more visitors per annum than the number of people who watch NFL, NBA and NFL matches. The parks were only beaten by major league baseball, garnering a total of 72.7 million spectators across 2,419 matches.
Little “brand clutter” at theme parks
Disney perhaps does not immediately spring to mind as a sponsorship player but it has a long history in the sector. Many of Epcot’s main attractions had sponsors even back when it opened in 1982. For example, Test Track is sponsored by Chevrolet and the brand is infused into the ride by Walt Disney Imagineering. Test Track also has a corporate lounge (as do several Epcot attractions) that is used to host meetings and events by Chevrolet.
“Trips to theme parks tend to be memorable occasions so the brands there are also likely to stick in the minds of the guests,” says the report. “Unlike sports events, there is little brand clutter in theme parks so the logos that are there get a better quality of exposure.” It also points out that, as theme parks tend to be less exclusive than sports (in which fans tend to follow one team), they have a broader appeal.
Experiential factor is key
Disney now has broad sweep of partners who sponsor attractions at its parks across the world. It also offers product placement in shows on the Disney-owned ABC television network and/or branding in movies made by its Marvel Studios division.
Although social media marketing has risen exponentially in recent years, it can’t replicate the B2B benefits or the experiential impact on guests who actually visit theme parks. “Even watching videos of theme parks doesn’t compare to actually being there,” says Sylt.
“As we see consumers move away from traditional media we have the opportunity to expose them to our brand where they are spending more of their time – creating experiences,” said an unnamed Disney sponsor. “We are also able to share our marketing messages 365 days a year through this partnership.”
Theme parks drive exposure to sponsors every day, in stark contrast to sports events which only take place intermittently.
Disney’s two parks outperformed both football’s Premier League and the ATP World Tour of tennis in 2017. The resort even beat F1 with four times more visitors. The report points out that F1 wasn’t just beaten by Disney and Universal but had lower attendance even than lesser-known parks such as California’s Knott’s Berry Farm and the De Efteling theme park in the Netherlands.
Image: Test Track Presented by Chevrolet courtesy Disney (photographer Ali Nasser)