Sports Sponsorship: More Than Just Branding
25th January, 2012
Ever since Kettering Town became the first English football club to host a sponsor – Kettering Tyres – across their ‘famous’ red and white shirts, in 1976, corporate sponsors have been obsessed with branding. Every sport, from snowboarding to horse riding, is full of brands trying to get the most prominent position on a racer’s helmet or the best placed advertising board on any given sports field around the world.
The most pertinent example I can find of such blatant logo blasting is FX Pro’s sponsorship of Fulham – signed chiefly so the foreign exchange broker could have its logo streaked across the roof of Fulham’s home ground, which lies directly along the Heathrow flightpath. A multi million pound deal, just so people flying in from Beijing can see your company emblem. No message explaining what they do, how they do it or what their company ethos is – JUST the logo.
Exposing customers to logos has been a tried and tested formula, creating profit for brands for decades. But in today’s market, where we are constantly blasted with logos of innumerable brands – many of which we don’t even recognize – is it enough? And from a sponsor’s perspective, is it even worth it?
In today’s world a simple logo is no longer enough – it does not convey enough about your company to make a positive impression on the consumer. With marketing budgets being slashed, brands are being forced to ENGAGE with their target audience, to ensure resonance. Well-executed sponsorship activations can do just this. They bridge the communication gap, allowing the target audience to experience exactly what the brand has to offer. For the rights owner, such sponsorship deals offer the opportunity to provide a richer and more complete experience to their audience.
Whilst many sponsor relationships remain stuck in this branding culture (especially within sports sponsorship), some brands and rights owners are leading the way through truly innovating sponsorship campaigns. One of the most forward thinking approaches is the partnership between Spanish giants Real Madrid and network provider Cisco Systems. The agreement will see the installation of Cisco’s high-density Wi-Fi system at Madrid’s home stadium – Santiago Bernabeu – allowing fans to:
- Access specifically designed applications through their smartphones, encouraging them to engage directly with the Santiago Bernabeau.
- Watch Hi-Definition screens throughout the ground that will broadcast replays, highlights and interviews exclusively to those in the stadium.
- Utilise social media – encouraging match-goers to share tweets of their match day experience with those at the stadium and those around the world.
Whilst there is an argument from die-hard fans that such technological progressions may detract from the atmosphere on match-days, I actually think it has the potential to enhance it. I’m not advocating everyone sitting on their iPhones, tweeting for 90 minutes. Rather, at half-time or during injury stoppages people in the ground can watch a replay of a missed opportunity they couldn’t see clearly; get information about a new player; or even find out the words to a chant they weren’t aware of – meaning they can actively contribute to and thus improve the atmosphere in the ground.
Another interesting approach to sponsorship within the realm of football has been the recent partnership between Manchester City & EA Sports. Both partners have fully embraced the relationship, making user-interaction a far more engaging and rewarding experience both at match days and online. A few examples of the activation have included:
- A virtual launch of the club’s kit for the 2011-2012 season, exhibited by a computer generated Manchester City eleven.
- Full motion capture of the Manchester City squad, making player movement even more realistic – resulting in Manchester City being the most commonly used team by online FIFA 2012 players around the world.
- A proposal to use FIFA statistics to simulate upcoming Manchester City matches.
All interesting stuff, however the innovation of this campaign lies in the way users are directed to the data. The plan is to deliver the latest software – Sergio Aguero’s new haircut, up-to-date statistics, or the new Manchester City away kit – to users via smartphone, be it using a personalized QR code or the RFID chip on the back of fan’s membership cards. Once the code is scanned, the fan receives unique FIFA 2012 data, which they can then trade with other consumers. Friends could swap them via smartphone, match-goers could swap them at a game and online users could swap them over Facebook. While EA Sports and Manchester City would create the initial software, the fans would be tasked with sharing the data – taking the EA Sports and Manchester City brand into a more social setting.
Although football sponsors have the tendency to simply ‘brand’ everything, Formula 1 sponsors are undoubtedly more culpable: every driver, every car and every available space is awash with corporate sponsors. Such branding may still be effective to a point, but some companies are realizing that they can get so much more out of their sponsorship. A perfect example of this realization is the ‘Step Inside the Circuit’ campaign, produced from Johnnie Walker’s sponsorship of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes racing team.
Viewers are directed to branded content via Johnnie Walker’s Facebook page, where they are then transported to the hustle and bustle of a Formula 1 track. Users can mingle with the other drivers, check out the last minute adjustments to the cars or take a spin around the track to experience what it’s like for Lewis Hamilton or Sebastien Vettel on race day. To further personalize the experience, photos are taken from the user’s Facebook, along with webcam input and text-to-speech technology. The campaign culminates with 20 competition winners being taken to Silverstone for three days of training, finishing with VIP tickets to the Grand Prix itself.
It is still unclear, which of these different sponsorship channels will prevail and prove to be most rewarding for a partnership in the long-term. Many of these alliances are still in their infancy and it is impossible to tell if anyone has already found a winning formula. However what is clear is that, if done correctly, there are substantial gains to be made for the sponsors, right owners and fans themselves:
- Sponsors better engage with their audience and promote their brand
- Rights owners can offer a richer and more varied experience to their brand/event
- Fans receive a more interactive and diverse experience.
From what we’ve seen, it is clear that future sponsors cannot rely simply on branding alone.