Farmers Field — Los Angeles, California
A football stadium with a large crowd with Farmers Field in the background.

What strategies will keep stadiums viable?

Research Project Name

Maximizing ROI for Sports Stadium Sponsorships

What We Did

Our goal was to better understand the factors that influence fan experience and to connect that knowledge with strategies to maximize profitability and return on investment (ROI) for sports venues. We conducted online (via social media) and on-site fan surveys featuring questions about the fan experience at collegiate and professional sports venues. We then hosted a panel with industry leaders to discuss the trends currently impacting sports venue owners, operators, and partners.

Our panel discussion focused on several primary questions: Does considering the role of sponsorship at the start of the sports facility design process add value to the project? If so, what guiding principles should inform the design and development process with regard to the role of sponsors? What type of sponsor-ready infrastructure should designers consider standard in facility design? And how can we make this infrastructure flexible so that it remains current and impactful through the life of the facility?

The Context

The sports stadium business model is in flux. Professional franchises are increasingly locating new stadiums in dense urban centers, paralleling a more general reinvestment in cities and forcing the stadiums to accommodate a wider variety of 24/7 programming to stay viable. At the same time, cities seem less willing to foot the bill for new stadiums, making sponsorships an integral part of building a new venue.

Fans also have more channels through which to engage with their teams, including home theater systems of constantly increasing size and quality (representing an investment that is an extra incentive for fans to stay home and use them). Franchises face a growing imperative to make their venues inviting and game-day experiences compelling in order to fill seats.

The Results

We set out to investigate the effective integration of sponsorship into venue planning and design, but through the course of our roundtables, additional key issues began to emerge. The result is a larger picture that shows that sponsorship can’t be considered in isolation. Three requirements for venues to succeed have emerged from our research: collaborative partnerships with sponsors, flexible design solutions, and long-range thinking about the role of certain design elements in promoting sponsors and engaging fans.

What This Means

Invest in the individual fan experience. Don’t assume you know what your fans want—let them tell you directly. And invest in the simple things—respondents to a sports fan survey highlighted the criticality of stadium cleanliness (89%), comfort (86%), and easy entering and exiting of the venue (77%).

Engage partners and sponsors early. Long-term relationships require understanding each sponsor’s goals and how they measure return on investment. Early partnership gives them an opportunity to influence the design experience, ensuring sponsorship elements feel integrated rather than like intrusive afterthoughts.

Provide spaces that are varied, flexible, and wisely integrate technology. You can’t overestimate the value of direct connections with fans during the game, and while the majority of fans surveyed had web-enabled smartphones (86%), most had never used their mobile technology to actively engage inside the venue (70%).

Focus on connections with the surrounding community and beyond-the-gate revenue opportunities. Stadiums are trending away from sitting amid vast parking lots; now they are being integrated in vibrant mixed-use developments. This opens up opportunities for new forms of revenue while connecting to the larger community.

What’s Next?

Our findings continue to inform current project around the globe. Our assertion is that sports venues that integrate sponsor elements into the design in a natural, unobtrusive manner create a more rewarding fan experience and maximize profitability.

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Ron Turner, Virginia Sertich, Kari Frontera, Chris Luick

Year Completed