IBM At The Masters: A Sponsorship Unlike Any Other

Apr 11 2014, 9:34am CDT | by

IBM At The Masters: A Sponsorship Unlike Any Other
Photo Credit: Forbes Apple

It is a sponsorship unlike any other.  IBM, a global sponsor of the 2014 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, provides not only a large amount of capital to help fund the grandiose event, but is also a key component to what makes the spectacle so spectacular.  From showering The Masters with support through its expansive cloud computing capacity to designing a fully functioning and aesthetically pleasing website to churning data and spitting out analysis that broadcasters can relay to at-home viewers, IBM is heavily involved in the product that everyone craves and consumes.  However, most fans of The Masters have little-to-no idea of IBM’s involvement.

Roam about the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club and find not one cell phone, iPad or camera (except for the days leading up to the main event wherein the practice rounds and Par 3 Tournament take place).  null

First of all, it is not solely about what IBM is able to do for spectators lucky enough to gain access to Augusta National Golf Club.  While the company does little in the form of flaunting its involvement to end users, IBM is responsible for the development and maintenance of The Masters official website, Android app, iPhone app and iPad app.  A small brand logo is positioned at the top right hand corner of each digital display; however, it is not IBM’s motive nor its prerogative to overwhelm consumers with cheap branding promotions.  Instead, the digital platforms provided to The Masters as part of IBM’s robust sponsorship of the event serve to show potential business partners the capacity of the 21st century IBM.

IBM is a multi-billion dollar company, but it has one major problem: People still associate the brand with hardware and many have not come to grips with the fact that Big Blue has gone through dramatic change in recent years.  It would be more apropos to refer to IBM as “Big Cloud” or “Big Analysis” or even “Big Social Media Engagement”.  That is the key to IBM’s sports sponsorship strategy — get people to understand that IBM has the manpower, intelligence and resources to outperform its competition in a digital world.

Second of all, IBM has singled out The Masters as the one perfect event to reach its target demographic.  IBM wants to spread its message to businesses and business owners.  It believes that by spending the requisite capital to become a global sponsor, it can infiltrate and communicate with its desired audience.  This is accomplished through the aforementioned digital apps, engaging with followers on social media by providing in-depth analysis concerning the course and players, hosting various potential and current clients at the tournament and airing 50 new TV spots (also available on IBM’s YouTube channel) displayed during live programming of The Masters on CBS and ESPN.

TV ads surrounding The Masters are reserved to Mercedes-Benz, AT&T and IBM as global sponsors.  IBM has decided to use its vast resources to create 50 brand new, unique mini-stories that show how companies are collaborating with IBM to use its data services, cloud computing, knowledge of mobile and Watson technologies.  The spots are part of a new “Made With IBM” marketing strategy aimed at demonstrating that partnering with IBM can enhance a business’s efficiency and create a “Smarter Planet.”

Interestingly, IBM has singled out sponsoring a select number sporting events (including The Masters) despite the fact that IBM does not have a dedicated sports practice.  Its executives admit that they do not actively seek to procure sport-related clientele (although one must wonder what kind of role its robust analytics platform could have in the world of fantasy sports), but believe that with a quality-over-quantity strategy, sponsoring events like The Masters will effectively hit their target market and justify any cost related to same.  IBM’s other sports sponsorships currently consist of the four tennis Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open) and The China Open.  Tracking data and providing analytics in real-time has extra value in tennis, where there are simply more stats and scoring items to track.  While analytics may take a backseat in golf, IBM has greatly enhanced the consumers’ media experience through web and mobile.

Nothing compares to walking the course at Augusta National on a beautiful day and moving from hole to hole following a favorite group of players or camping out in a spot where multiple holes are in close proximity.  However, IBM has made the second best option — watching at home or in the office — as pleasant as possible.  A power user can sit in front of a computer with a mobile device and iPad close by and watch a flawless live feed while choosing specific holes or groups of players to follow.

Streaming #AmenCorner from my phone the next 72 hrs. #TheMasters

— Matt Harris (@Matt34Harris) April 10, 2014

This is an experience that one cannot get on the course, but is made possible due to advances in technology, increases in the number of cameras on site, major development to the digital back-end and a powerful cloud infrastructure provided by IBM, which supports the barrage of users seeking to access special content.  The end user typically bypasses understanding the process.  Download an app, fire it up and soak in the scenery.  IBM loves that, but it also wants the ability to explain that process to create future business relationships.  Thus, the nontraditional partnership with The Masters makes sense.

Oftentimes, less is more.  That was the thinking when IBM refined The Masters website from its 2013 version, putting a greater emphasis on beauty, which is demonstrated by the magnificent images displayed on the home page.  Similarly, IBM has altered its sports sponsorship platform to cut out some of its less  meaningful deals and focus on core components like The Masters.

IBM’s sponsorship of The Masters really is unlike any other sponsorship in sports.  The company delivers a technological masterpiece to a tournament that restricts cell phones and cameras on its grounds.  IBM pays money to The Masters for the ability to provide the event services that most companies would charge to create and maintain.  Yet, somehow it all makes sense if businesses are able to take IBM’s oft vague messages from its commercials and get a better understanding of the services it is actually providing.

Want to learn more about the business of sports? Order my book How to Play the Game and follow me on Twitter.

Follow @DarrenHeitner

 
 

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