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A top media executive at Anheuser-Busch voiced a warning last week about the rising cost of sports sponsorship and advertising.

Tony Ponturo, CEO of Busch Media Group, which handles ad planning and buying for the No. 1 brewer, said such price tags could cause marketers to evaluate whether the exposure is worth the price.

One option for sponsors is to bail out on sports sponsorship, but another is to craft new partnerships that increase the value of such linkups. Visa USA opted for the latter course with its newly announced Nascar sponsorship.

Mr. Ponturo's words could be chilling for the sports industry, coming from a marketer that sponsors everything from the National Football League to the PGA to Nascar. But many marketers are taking a harder look at sports sponsorships and advertising in sports programming largely because of huge increases in rights fees pro sports leagues have received from TV networks.


"The networks, teams, leagues and broadcasters clearly look to us [advertisers] to underwrite the costs of sport," Mr. Ponturo said at a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce breakfast, but "The costs ultimately could be cost [prohibitive]."

Sports programming still delivers a high concentration of males, but competition and fragmentation are chipping away at ratings.

Leagues and networks are trying to offer advertisers increased value, such as more spots or signage, but those remedies can cause clutter, Mr. Ponturo said. Instead, A-B wants to form partnerships with networks and properties that build the beer brands as well as support the sport.

Visa USA last week said it's forming just such a partnership with Nascar. The No. 1 credit card brand snatched the credit card sponsorship from MasterCard International.

Visa plans to break a Nascar-theme network TV spot next year via BBDO Worldwide, New York. A consumer promotion also is planned.

Michael Lynch, VP-event marketing for Visa, said properties and events seeking sponsors want more than money for the rights.


"Properties want a long-term partner willing to pour advertising, marketing and promotional support into the program," he said. "If too much money is tied up with rights fees, it's impossible to activate the sponsorship."

He hinted Nascar was interested in teaming with Visa thanks to the credit card marketer's willingness to back the sport with heavy advertising, marketing promotion and public relations.

Contributing: Kate Fitzgerald,

Jeff Jensen.

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