On not sponsoring someone
So, over the past week while I was in Las Vegas for CES, the SC2 community seems to have discovered that SteelSeries no longer sponsors Grubby. A player we have been supporting and sponsoring for an enormous amount of time, as his career has taken him through various teams to now being an independent agent.
I was genuinely surprised about some of the comments I saw and would like to address this.
While eSports is for many of us a labor of love and passion, it is also a business. It has to be a business. If we don’t make money, we simply cannot grow this thing. As the guy who runs marketing and PR for SteelSeries, I sometimes have to make decisions I don’t like making. Should I invest in player X or player Y? Should I invest in team X or team Y? Should I invest in player X or in project Y?
Every year around New Year (when most of our contracts have a natural stop) I have to make these decisions. And some of them are super hard to make. As you sponsor a player or a team over the course of many years, you also establish more than a working relationship with the people you deal with. Some of them become people you regard highly, some of them become people you consider friends and a few select of them become close personal friends.
But at the end of the day fact is that I have a stupidly fancy title, I have responsibilities to my company and I have a team of people who work for me and their jobs depend on me making smart business decisions. Friendships and personal relations aside. Feeling aside.
When SteelSeries stops sponsoring a player we do that because of business reasons. Not because we don’t care about that player, not because we don’t want this player/person/team to succeed, but because we believe that it is a better decision for us to invest a limited budget into something else. Whatever that may be. Sometimes we have to hire more people to service our customers better. Sometimes we want to invest into R&D efforts we believe will change the world. Sometimes the cost of sponsorship is just not equal to the return. Sometimes healthcare prices increase dramatically. Sometimes we can grow the community faster by supporting something else. There are a million different reasons for stopping a sponsorship, but it is always a business reason. And sometimes it really hurts to make those decisions. Such is the life running a private held company with a finite budget.
For me it hurts a little extra when I see comments like this;
Really? After years of supporting a great player and a great person this is what we get? I feel comments like that are a slippery slope. If I was one of my competitors with budget to spare, I would think twice about sponsoring now - if it actually makes people consciously decide to avoid my products in the future when/if the partnership ends for whatever reason.
And it is quite frankly the first time where I started thinking about what would happen if I stop supporting other teams or players we sponsor - or if they stop the partnership with us, because someone else comes in with a bigger money cheque. Do I now need to choose teams/players/communities/tournaments/leagues with a total new metric in mind, and how do I as a professional marketeer start analyzing the emotional impact in fans?
Support the teams and players you love. Support their sponsors if they make products you like. But I don’t think you are doing anyone a favor, including the teams and players you like, by actively avoiding products or brands when a partnership/sponsorship ends.