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Spirited Toronto Blue Jays fans packed the sold out Rogers Centre on Sept. 21 for Connect with the Jays Night, presented by Honda. The home team won the ballgame and three lucky Toronto Blue Jays fans won fabulous Honda prizes, giving them even more reason to celebrate. Melissa Albright of Meadowvale, Saskatchewan won a brand new Canadian-built 2015 Honda Civic EX coupe on Friday night, while Lauren Rea of Milton, Ontario and Brittney Dzsudzsak of Hamilton, Ontario each took home a Honda lawnmower.

Honda

And with one final ground ball, it was over. The Toronto Blue Jays may have ended their season short of the World Series, but fans are still buzzing about the team's best performance in 22 years.

Honda Canada was particularly happy about the team's run, too. The company has been a sponsorship partner with the Jays since the team's inception in 1977; no mere jumping on the bandwagon for it. But while Honda's sponsorship of the Toronto IndyCar race might be obvious, considering the company's motorsport tie-in, why would an auto maker pair with a baseball team? Or any sports team, for that matter?

"You're not trying to sell anything in that environment; people are there to watch the game," says Dave Gardner, senior vice-president of operations for Honda Canada. "But you'll see a lot of people mingling through the concourse and they might say, 'Jeez, I didn't know Honda made outboard engines.'"

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Honda isn't the only auto maker to join forces with sports: Ford is partnered with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, Subaru is behind the Ironman triathlon competitions, Audi sponsors the skiing world cup, Nissan backs the CFL and Kia supports Toronto FC; the list is exhaustive. It's not just about buying ads, but joining in an exclusive partnership that might include giveaways, events or partnering on charitable causes. But how does sponsoring a round-the-world yacht race, such as Volvo does, sell cars?

Cheri Bradish, a sport marketing expert, says it's about finding your target demographic and then eliminating the competition. "In sports, you have a really identifiable, captive audience," she says, "who at the same time aligns with the objectives of the core partner.

"Because consumers are in a relaxed environment and there's not as much clutter – because of the exclusivity of sponsorship, there will only be one car brand on display – sport is a medium that will start to generate both aware and non-aware recognition of those car brands."

In 2013, Infiniti became the title sponsor for Red Bull Racing in Formula One for an estimated $45.5-million a season.

"Formula One runs two-thirds of the year, it has 19 races and is watched by half a billion people around the world," says Vincent Gillet, vice-president for global marketing at Infiniti. "As a brand which has performance at its core, there are few platforms with which we can showcase that at a global level."

From an advertising viewpoint, Tommaso Volpe, Infiniti's director of Formula One and global marketing, says the cost to sponsor the team has been paid back many times over. "We have been the first sponsor in the history of Formula One to achieve $2-billion dollars (U.S.) in terms of advertising exposure in official broadcasts," he says.

That number is gleaned from a third-party agency that measures the time and prominence of sponsor logos on-screen during F1 telecasts. But when it comes to other intangibles – such as how a partnership directly affects an auto maker's sales – it's next to impossible to measure. However, that's not always the point.

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"If you look at the involvement with the Jays, the sponsorship costs and contributions for events; that's a lot of money," Gardner says. "But if you look at promoting your brand on an annual basis – how much money you spend on TV advertising, newspaper advertising, magazine advertising – I would say these programs are cost-effective.

"We can see the level of engagement of our fans on our Honda social-media pages. If you can see that the level of engagement among your followers is energized by what's being done, then you can draw a conclusion that the more ambassadors you can build for your brand, the better off you are."

It's not all about major league sports, either. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Grand Caravan Hockey, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' (FCA) program with minor hockey across Canada – a fitting partnership when you consider the number of minivans in arena lots. Not only does it give $500 to minor hockey teams, but it participates in Rogers Hometown Hockey community festivals to reach its target market.

"We measure that we've supported 12,000 teams, 180,000 kids and over $6-million in funding," says Erica Sartori, with marketing and communications for FCA.

"But do we tie this to a hard sale? No, not at all. This is more of thanking our owners – and possibly future owners."

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