Women's Sport Draws Fraction of Sponsorship Investment, But Not for Long 18th November, 2011

Having read the recent articles from our most successful Paralympian ever, Baroness Grey-Thompson, I was saddened with how little revenue is generated through sponsorship in women’s sport in the UK. With some very successful elite teams based in the United Kingdom including football, hockey, and netball, I wrongly assumed this would also draw large sponsorship funding to the sport and players.

Perhaps I have been tainted.  I have always gone out with women who play sport and whether it’s been pretending to understand the rules of netball or be enthralled with a sublime left foot penalty, female sport has been nearly as big a part of my life as their male counterparts.

So why is it that the rate of interest has gone up but sponsorship hasn’t? Between January 2010 and August 2011 sponsorship of women’s elite sport in the UK contributed just 0.5% of the total market. Shocked? If not, you should be when you compare it to the 61.1% for men’s sport.  It is clearly time for a change.

A contributing factor for the significant difference in sponsorship investment is the amount of media coverage that women’s sport receives.  As audience awareness is a key benefit for sponsorship rights, this decreased media attention in women’s sport significantly affects the total sponsorship able to be retained.

However, it is possible that this is changing around – if even ever so slowly.  On a recent trip to Marrakesh, I was elated to be able to watch the women’s World Cup quarter final live! (albeit via the red button).  Also to note that this was due to an unprecendented 700,000 people who had watched England’s final group game.

When looking at the situation from a different angle, it becomes apparent that women’s sport is offering the rare opportunity for brands to associate with sporting athletes, teams and associations without having to compete with a plethora of additional sponsors and advertisers.

These opportunities also come at a heavily discounted price in comparison to the fees generally associated with sports sponsorship. With the London 2012 Olympics on the horizon, there has never been a better time to get involved with this relatively untapped marketing resource.

It seems to me that as long as the general public continue to be attracted to women’s sport in greater numbers, sponsors would be foolish to miss out on an ever growing opportunity as the cost of investment is sure to grow!

Fanatic.fm – a new sponsorship model for music 3rd March, 2011

As the social media channel becomes increasingly important for brand communications, brands need to find creative ‘story-telling’ elements in their communication contents that people can easily and readily share with their friends. As music is one of the most widely shared content on social media, brands are discovering that association with music and musicians is a great way to create buzz and deliver customized/branded messages.

fanatic.fm is a platform that allows brands to select music albums to sponsor. By sponsoring music albums on fanatic.fm, brands can benefit in various ways:

●        Brands can establish and express their identity through music. Starbucks, for instance, can be the #1 Jazz station while Red Bull can be the #1 Hard Rock station.

●        Sponsored musicians co-promote the branded campaign to their fans because 1) they directly monetize each time their music is played, and  2) 5% of the sponsorship is donated to charities of their choice. It creates a unique message that the “brands-bands-fans-charities” relationship forged changes the world for the better.

●        Fans of the sponsored musician appreciate the sponsorship in a whole new level, forming an emotional bonding to the brand. Not only can they enjoy free music thanks to the brand, but also they know that their favorite musicians are being fairly paid by the sponsors.

Samsung Case Study

Samsung has recently partnered with fanatic.fm and is currently sponsoring Sydney Wayser, an emerging artist from New York. They wanted to promote their programme called “Imagelogger” and thought that associating with emerging artists would be more engaging than going the traditional route of buying media inventories.  As expected, Sydney Wayser is spreading the word to her fans through her social networks including Facebook and Twitter.  In regards to investment, Samsung pays only when the music is played alongside Samsung’s marketing campaign based on detailed analytics reporting.

Premier League Football is an excellent example of how fan engagement creates a strong brand association and awareness than consumer marketing.  When speaking to Manchester United fans, almost all of them would be able to recall previous sponsors: beginning with Sharp in the early 80’s, to Vodafone, AIG and Aon today.

If football fans were simply consumers of the entertainment each team provides, these sponsors would have absolutely no meaning to them. However, becoming a fan is different. It creates an emotional bond that forms between their favorite football team and those brands that support it.

fanatic.fm is aiming to create the same emotional fan engagement by providing brands an opportunity to step beyond product-consumer relationships and leverage the affinity between musicians and their fans.

Is Barcelona Football Club Selling Out? 1st March, 2011

In a season where we have seen Torres leave Liverpool for Chelsea (not before he had ‘You’ll never walk alone’ tattooed on his arm) and Rooney demand a transfer only to reconsider once he had an upgrade, football fans would be forgiven in thinking that the game had finally lost its soul.

With all the cash being pumped into the Premier League and numerous new owners buying their way into the hype, as a fan you can’t help but feel less engaged with the game.

Barcelona Football Club is a great example of the shift in football sponsorship funding.  For years, Catalan purists raved about 111 years without a sponsor.   The positioning showcased their love of the game and created fan loyalty to their brand.  This year, they provided the main shirt sponsorship spot to UNICEF – providing this charity a fantastic opportunity to drive awareness and raise much needed funds to the cause.  Through this sponsorship, Barcelona was able to create an emotional response from their fans by supporting UNICEF in this way – further increasing their fan loyalty.  It also provided a stepping stone for the club into brand sponsorship ensuring that they didn’t isolate their die hard supporters.

The introduction of UNICEF’s sponsorship has helped pave the way for the Qatar Foundation to come on board as an official sponsor through a 5 year deal for a total cost of £125 million. The non-profit foundation funded by the Al-Thani family, has splashed out on one of the most lucrative sponsorship opportunities available.  This raised further issues with the winning bid for the 2022 World Cup with many of the rival bids believing the deal was in place before, as the Barcelona team had such an influential part to play in their selection.  

Speculation indeed, but whatever the answer this is certainly one of the most far reaching and eye catching sponsorship deals this year. Manchester United’s sponsorship deal worth £80 million over 4 years with AON in 2009 now seems like a distant memory.

Ambush Marketing & the London Olympics 14th February, 2011

With the upcoming London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, brands have joined in the big race to bag top sponsorship slots. The London 2012 Games is expected to attract an unprecedented number of visitors and a worldwide viewership, hence the attraction for sponsors is evident.

However, there are brands that cannot afford an association with an event of this magnitude, as well as those that can, but choose not to. This brings us to the issue of guerrilla or ambush marketing.

A legal sponsorship involves purchasing rights to the use of a property for promotional purposes. Ambushing refers to using a property without a right in a way that deflects attention from the main sponsor, or creating an association with a person, an event or a team without the right to do so. Here, a brand takes advantage of a highly publicised event without paying any sponsorship fees. Regarded by many as immoral, this cost-effective and strategically valuable marketing technique continues to attract big brands and master-marketers.

Some interesting ambush marketing strategies by brands during past Olympic Games include:

  • Reebok was the Official Sponsor of the games in 1996, while Nike purchased billboard spaces in close proximity of the venue and handed out team flags with Nike’s logos on them to spectators, ensuring their visibility both on and off camera. Nike thus clearly stole the limelight and sabotaged Reebok’s sponsorship goals, without having to pay for the rights to do so.
  • In 2008, Li Ning, China’s sport-star was chosen to light the Olympic Torch, which he did so while wearing  shoes from a sportswear line that he had founded with the official sponsors Adidas standing on the sidelines. The publicity that followed this stint got Li-Ning’s brand more coverage than the lighting of the torch itself.
  • During the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, Official Sponsor Ansett Air’s major competitor, Quantas Airlines increased advertising under their slogan ‘The Spirit of Australia’, which was very similar to the Olympic Game’s slogan “Share the spirit”.  
  • During the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, American Express launched a campaign that stated, “If you’re travelling to Lillehammer, you’ll need a passport, but you don’t need a Visa”. This was due in response to Official Sponsor Visa’s claims that American Express was not accepted as credit card at the Olympic Village.  It will be interesting to see what else they come up with for the London Olympics.

The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act have introduced the London Olympics Association Right (LOAR) which provides LOCOG with the exclusive right to authorise persons to use and exploit any visual or verbal representation (of any kind) which is likely to create, in the public mind, an association between the London Olympics and goods or services, or a person who provides goods or services.

Furthermore the Act sets out a variety of words such as “games”, “2012”, “Two Thousand and Twelve” and “twenty twelve” which must not be used in combination with any of the following words, “gold”, “silver”, “bronze”, “London”, “medals”, “sponsor” or “summer” in an unauthorised manner which will be likely to suggest to members of the public that there is an association with the London Olympics.

Official Sponsors and commercial partners can therefore be granted exclusive rights by LOCOG under the Act to associate themselves with the games.

However, with increased restrictions comes increased use of creative marketing techniques in order to win market share through competitive brands.  It will be interesting to see both how LOCOG will manage this and even more interesting to see how competitive brands will try and overcome it.


Sachin Tendulkar: the last ethical man in sport? 16th December, 2010

So, with the England team about to complete a historic victory over the Australians in their own back yard, I read with interest a cricket story making slightly fewer headlines.

The darling of India, “The Little Master” and a genuinely good guy, Sachin has once again underpinned his iconic status both on and off the cricket pitch. As quoted on Cricinfo, the popular Indian saying goes; “Cricket is my religion and Sachin is my God”.

The integrity of sponsorship and the importance of picking both a spokesperson and a target sport is crucial. Getting someone like Tendulkar on board to promote any product to the huge Indian market, would provide any potential company with a huge new clientele. Unfortunately for whoever was trying to get Tendulkars endorsement misjudged the maestro and were left with less impressive options.

Before he made it, Sachin was given a piece of advice by his father; “Never accept endorsements for alcohol or cigarettes, no matter what they offer”. It would now seem that these words have been fully adhered to. Reports say that this recent offer would have been the biggest deal for any Indian sportsman (No mean feat considering the package that MS Dhoni has just received!), but Tendulkar stood true to his morals and turned it down.

So far we don’t know the exact brand of alcohol that he declined to sponsor, but his agents (World Sports Group) did offer the following; “He did get an offer but we are not in a position to name the company or give details of the offer”.

What else would you expect from a character that has been in the spotlight since his introduction as the saviour of Indian cricket? The first man to deliver a double century in one day international cricket and now turning down a well paid (albeit moral bending) offer, Sachin can do no wrong and fully deserves the adulation of his adoring fanbase. That includes me if you hadn’t noticed!