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Using the affiliate playbook to activate multiple mediums. Wade Tonkin, Head of Affiliate, Fanatics shares how to educate the market

Sep 15, 2023 by Michael McNerney, Publisher, Martech Recored

Working as Fanatic’s Director of Global Affiliate has changed the way Wade Tonkin watches sports.

“Now, in my head, I almost always have the permutations of what happens if this team wins or this team wins,” he said. “It can definitely add some layers of excitement and frustration.”

The reality of sports means that there’s always a team that comes out of nowhere to make a run that wasn't in the projection. Fanatics’ planning team works to get a feel for teams that are going to be big. The company then looks to partner with the biggest bloggers and content creators talking about that team.

But if Tonkin is watching a game headed toward an unexpected outcome, he finds himself texting and trying to recruit potential partners in real-time. 

That can present another challenge because the onboarding process must be accelerated. 

“It comes down to ‘hey, here’s an image, here’s a link and here’s what I want you to do with it,’” Tonkin said. 

Fanatics has long had partnerships with newspapers, including the New York Post. When those partnerships proved successful, the company worked to ramp up those efforts. 

“The connection is obvious,” Tonkin said. “If you’re a sports fan, you are checking in with the paper that covers your team every day. It’s an obvious place to go find that sports than that we’re trying to sell gear to.”

Fanatics worked with the Tribune Company when the Chicago Cubs ended a more than century-long drought by winning the World Series in 2016.

“They ended up doing stuff that was so cool that we hadn’t even really seen before,” Tonkin said. That included print ads, product ads, traditional display and social. 

“In general, they were able to drive a pretty massive sum of money,” Tonkin said. 

That builds social proof, Tonkin said. 

“As we were selling more media partners, we were able to say ‘If it works for Tribune, it could work for you,’” Tonkin said. That was an especially appealing pitch for smaller publishers. 

Particularly for championship situations, Fanatics puts together an email playbook and lays out a recommended ad timeline and cadence after the big game. 

That’s important because many publications may not have done a performance marketing deal before, Tonkin said. 

Still, working with publishers has gotten easier in the last few years, he said, particularly as large publishing groups have developed their own performance groups. 

“In the past, there was a lot of education that went on,” Tonkin said. “There wasn’t really anybody that was responsible for performance marketing dollars.”

Plus, success breeds success, Tonkin said – as partnerships prove successful, it becomes easier for other partners to sign off on deals because they feel less risky.

Fanatics has always had a direct consumer focus, Tonkin said. 

“It’s always been performance with us,” he said. 

The company doesn’t do a lot of brand advertising. A branding campaign about eight years ago didn’t resonate, he said. 

“That stuff is so hard to quantify and I think we’ve had a much better increase in our brand recognition since we’ve been branding through partnerships.”