There’s No ‘I’ In Team 10th January, 2017

Athlete endorsements are not a new concept. Brands have been using household names to increase the sales of their products for hundreds of years. It adds credibility, differentiates from competitors and becomes synonymous with the athlete.

In recent years, athletes and personalities are generating enormous revenue from sponsorships that surpass their earnings from their respective professions. Sport, is of course, the stand out example here, but movie stars are not far away. In 2016, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is estimated to have earned more than $51 million from various endorsements. In sport, there is no bigger example than Cristiano Ronaldo who generated more than $250 million throughout 2016 from numerous deals, including; a lifetime deal with Nike and a host of other deals with brands such as Herbalife, Toyota, Armani, Tag Heuer, Castrol and Monster Headphones.

Celebrities are not just competing against each other for sponsors, they are competing against teams, in some circumstances, their own team. In 2016, Real Madrid amassed over $265 million in sponsorship revenue which is not a small amount. Compared to their star man, it is only $15m more.

The attractiveness of an individual is their engaged fans, who idolise them, some of which would purchase anything that their idol endorses. Teams, of course, have these fans but they are potentially less engaged. With stars becoming bigger than the teams they are in, teams need to become more creative with their assets and increase their offering to a potential sponsor.

What a team does have that an individual cannot offer are larger media platforms, which include branding within stadium for matches, stadium naming rights, and kit sponsorship. This provides a tangible link to the team and is where the majority of value stems from in sponsorship. However, with the increase in recent years of Social Media, athletes are catching up with the teams and in some circumstances surpassing them. Real Madrid’s Twitter followers are 6.7 million, Cristiano Ronaldo’s is 49.3 million!

The team does however, have access to not just one athlete, but an entire team of athletes. It is standard in most contracts for players to commit to sponsor activations such as player appearances, image rights to use in sponsor campaigns and even the use of their social media. This eclipses the offering one player can offer a sponsor. Team sponsorship will offer larger awareness. In addition, teams can also offer direct fan engagement, not just through media channels. Utilising stadium assets such as activation areas and hospitality for B2B engagement.

Barcelona’s partnership with tyre manufacturer Lassa is a perfect example. Through its sponsorship of Barcelona, Lassa leveraged player access and created an entire advertising campaign featuring Arda Turan, Gerard Pique, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Through this they now have multiple athlete endorsers, not just one.

Although the teams have a greater pool of assets to offer a sponsor, it is crucial they offer creative and ROI driven activations for a sponsor. If not, these individuals could even start poaching sponsors from under their nose.


#Ad Spells Fear for Brands 24th November, 2016

Use of celebrity endorsements on social media have arguably become one of, if not the most craved sponsorship asset for many millennial-focused brands. Whether it be sport stars, pop stars, or people just famous for being famous, the upper echelon of these role models has such power and influence over society, and brands have benefited hugely from alignments since the social boom.

With certain role models boasting multi-million figures in terms of followers it’s easy to understand why brands are happy to pay out such significant fees to these influencers for product endorsements on social platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, and it has proved a winning tactic dating back to the 1760’s where Wedgwood, producers of pottery and chinaware, used royal endorsements – in a time of divine right you can only imagine the influence that had on society.

The power of having someone you admire and look up to endorse a certain product or service is unquestionable, yet brands understand that to fully maximise the commercial potential there is a need to develop a stronger, longer term association with their chosen influencer so that all endorsements come across as authentic. Hence why brands decide to strike up sponsorship arrangements, partly because it is cost effective but also to change the perceptions of these influencers from a celebrity endorser to more of a brand ambassador.

Through sponsorship, brands can purchase rights to access these influencers across a variety of platforms creating a much stronger connection with the ambassador, which resonates better with the influencers’ audience. Within the terms of such sponsorship agreements, brands will add in exclusivity clauses effectively banning the ambassador from promoting a rival brand whilst contracted, again adding to the illusion that the millionaire role model really does shop at H&M!

However, recently the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) have been clamping down on this clear attempt by brands to subtly influence society – the 21st century version of subliminal messaging. ASA have stated that “if content is an advertisement, it should be obviously identifiable to consumers using the hashtag #ad” and there have already been several high-profile cases whereby brands and celebrities have been reprimanded.

Although this seems like a small formality to add onto the end of a Tweet, Instagram post or vlog, brands now need to ensure that this clause is written into contracts to avoid hefty fines. In addition to this extra bit of housekeeping, the hashtag has the capability to cause a much bigger problem for brands. These two letters have the potential to completely spoil the illusion for consumers and ruin the authenticity that a brand may have invested in for years. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how brands look to counter and gloss over this in future.


Pathway To The Next Megastar – Under Armour & Athlete Owned Platforms 10th May, 2016

Athlete endorsement is nothing new, whether its Nike ownership of the once evergreen Tiger Woods to Kellogg’s deal which saw Bruce Jenner as the face of the cereal through the 1970’s. What is new however is the success which Under Armour is delivering against its more established, been-there-and-done-it, global rivals Adidas & Nike.

Not to be misquoted, it is worth acknowledging that Under Armour also has a cohort of team sponsorships with Wales RFU and Tottenham Hotspur FC, however it is the roster of athlete endorsements which has seen the brand break the sporting apparel duopoly.

One of the most recent acquisitions provides a great case study on the brands strategy and the proliferation of athlete owned platforms, Under Armour’s sponsorship of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

The accomplished actor/sportsman/fitness star/ social media sensation is now an Under Armour Ambassador. With one look at The Rock’s owned Instagram account it is easy for the 51.2m followers to see the brands integration across both gym and lifestyle apparel. In addition, The Rock has worked with Under Armour to design his own exclusive, limited edition range, self-titled ‘Project Rock’. Utilising both the brand and The Rock’s audiences these products have been seeded across multiple channels, with The Rock showcasing the equipment on Instagram prior to its release on the ecommerce area of UA’s website further supporting the hype. Clearly this strategy provided successful returns with the first three released products selling out in minutes of being on sale.

With the signing of The Rock it appears Under Armour have beaten the competition to the next ascending media megastar, with this tactic duplicated with a number of the other Under Armour talents (Jordan Spieth). Perhaps the rise of the brand and the subsequent affiliations are not as surprising as the fact that Nike and Adidas appears to not have provided a significant counter action to this activity.

However, it is worth mentioning that Adidas is now looking to address this having reviewed its strategy (especially around the NBA) where it will opt out of renewing the NBA league sponsorship in favour of individual athlete endorsements, where it hopes to double its NBA athletes by the end of 2017.

This is an area which one would assume brands would have a core focus on, after all there is a well-trodden tale of Nike’s turning point to megabrand when not so long ago the challenger brand secured the signature at all costs of a kid by the name of Michael Jordan beating out the dominant brands at the time, Adidas and Converse.

Some may view this as an archaic model which the dominant brands of today have moved away from, however it might just be the pathway which Under Armour needs to become the next global megabrand.


To Buy or Not To Buy – Michael Jordan & the Cost of Two Coupons 30th October, 2015

Money is almost always a closely guarded secret, whether between friends, business relations or colleagues.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than the world of sports business with undisclosed fees for player transfers and the value of sponsorship deals rarely disclosed, so not to alert others to an inflated bank balance or be extorted for a fee. However, what happens when a company uses rights it has no possession of?

This was the focus of an unusual dispute between Michael Jordan, Safeway and Jordan’s long-term sponsors Nike.

Following Safeway’s unsolicited use of the Michael Jordan name without permission the two recently visited court to settle a proposed $10 million payment from a 2009 infringement.

In 2009 a subsidiary of Safeway’s placed in an advert and coupon incorporating Jordan’s name and Chicago Bulls number within a commemorative Sports Illustrated issue (of which only two were ever redeemed). However Jordan’s lawyers and endorsement history advise that he would not have accepted such a deal. Safeway believed this should be in the region of $126,900, more widely reported as closer to $500,000 from a licencing agreement which MJ held at one point over the last decade.

The argument posed by the athlete is that Jordan name is such a force in the marketing world that this requires a substantial rights fee, something he is keen to reinforce following a statement reporting an income of over $536 million in sponsorship alone from 2000 to 2012.

This is where Nike and other sponsors take interest.

As MJ and his legal team seek to prove how much an organisation typically purchases these rights leading to Judge John Blakely to rule that Nike and other sponsors must divulge their contracts to the court – something that they neither asked for, nor were keen to divulge to their competitors.

Despite being desperate to retain the fiscal anonymity within Michael Jordan’s contract, (a document so closely guarded reportedly only three member of staff have access and it is held in a separate area to all other contractual agreements at the Nike headquarters) the judge ruled this must be shown to the court.
The case is now settled with Safeway ordered to pay $8.6m in rights fees to Jordan, despite Michael expressing “it was never about the money”.

In the world of sponsorship it is always better to acquire those rights than use without permission – who knows it might just save you $8.1m in the long run.


Player Power – Athlete Success Impacts on Brand Fortunes 4th September, 2015

Player power is well documented across sports business with demands on endorsement deals, publicity requests and the ability to influence the many across the globe. However rarely has a player’s performance vindicated the price of company stock.

As Serena Williams appears in New York this week with sights set firmly on the US Open & ‘Serena Slam’ (winning all four majors in the calendar year) there will likely be comparisons drawn with Jordan Spieth’s attempts to achieve the same feat in the world of golf this year.

Following an examination of Spieth’s miss on the final hole at the British Open, ultimately ending hopes of the calendar Grand Slam the finance department of Serena’s sponsor Nike might be a little more focused on her success this week than the previous wins.

Recently Under Armour became the principal sponsor of the young athlete, signing a multi-million 10 year deal (read more on a previous Slingshot blog here). Following this Spieth promptly returned faith securing the Masters and US Open titles with Under Armour equipment pride of place.

Next the British Open loomed with hype surrounding Spieth’s opportunity to complete the impossible and collect a third major of the year. Jordan Spieth was in contention until the final hole where a birdie was required to keep the challenge alive for a play-off.

This is where the parallels with Serena might interest Nike’s finance department and shareholders.

As following the missed putt by their star ambassador, Under Armour’s share price dropped falling from a price of $89.46 before the putt to $88.79 minutes afterwards – decreasing the company’s value by almost £90 million.

Whilst the exact nature of this depreciation is unknown, this occurred within the 6 minutes between the putt and missing of the play-off. Sport marketing professionals have cast views on the occurrence with Nigel Currie believing the “share price to have grown due to the accumulation of previous successes and the expectation on further success”, with the drop merely showing a return to a normal level.

Whatever the explanation, Nike shareholders will be wishing Serena success at Flushing Meadows just a few percent more.

 


How Under Armour Delivered a Champion 30th July, 2015

With brands becoming fixated on trialing creative across a plethora of digital channels with mixed engagement success, it is easy to overlook the value of athletes in respect to capturing the consumer. Athlete sponsorship is now as competitive as the sports themselves, with the biggest brands in the world battling to obtain the best athletes – a key reason why athlete sponsorship deals are more lucrative than ever.

During the last decade Nike and Adidas have gained a stronghold on the sporting market utilising established sports stars to endorse their brands. This spend surpasses most other brands requiring them to become more resourceful to obtain the same benefits enjoyed through a high level brand ambassador partnership. Talent acquisition is crucial.

The big success story of 2015 has undeniably been Under Armour and its association with the new golfing sensation, Jordan Spieth. Under Armour originally signed the unknown Spieth to an endorsement deal in 2013. However, Under Armour granted the 21 year old a 10 year contract extension just months before his inaugural Masters win, creating an estimated $34m worth of exposure for the brand.

Whilst this would seem a gamble for the brand to invest a 10 year contract in someone who only had one career victory to his name, from Under Armour’s point of view this was by no means a gamble. The company’s senior professionals had followed Spieth and his career for a number of years, critically evaluating the potential of the player, much like a chief scout would in the professional game.

Following on from the Masters, Spieth has gone on to win the US Open – crediting two majors to his name. Most recently, he narrowly missed out at St. Andrews, which ended the chance of the newly coined ‘Spieth Slam’ but nonetheless delivered incredible exposure for Under Armour, leaving the Nike, Adidas and the rest of the field feeling as if they have missed the cut.

The Under Armour partnership with Jordan Spieth is evidence that innovation can overcome spend when implemented with creative insight.

Red Bull Challenges F1's Sponsorship Stallion 5th December, 2012

In the last couple of weeks, the Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel vs. Ferrari and Fernando Alonso rivalry has dominated sporting headlines. In the end it was yet again the former who took both the Constructers’ and the Drivers’ World Championship titles in the thrilling Formula 1 season finale in Brazil. This nail-biting end to the season has prompted a closer look at the team’s and driver’s success off the track and their contention for the commercial crown.

The Constructers’ (Sponsorship) Championship:

Despite prize money being in the millions, sponsorship is by far the key source of revenue for both teams and their drivers which begs the question: who is leading the commercial championship?

According to Forbes’ latest list of the ‘Formula One’s Most Valuable Teams’ Ferrari’s total revenue is estimated to be around £240m with £190m being generated from sponsorship alone. Nearly £155m is generated via three major deals with Shell, Santander and title sponsorship partner Marlboro. These three deals are worth more than any other team’s total sponsorship revenue.

But what about Red Bull Racing? Out of all teams on the grid, they are surprisingly down in fourth in the overall revenue standings at £100m in 2011. 60% of this revenue comes from Red Bull’s success on the track earning them more prize money than any other team in the championship however the contribution from sponsors falls significantly shorter than Ferrari, coming to £38m positioning the team in the middle of the sponsorship field. The main reason for this is that the brand does not seek sponsors for most of their advertising space as this is generally used for self-promotion. As opposed to Ferrari (whose title sponsor is Marlboro at £100m) and other leading teams like McLaren Mercedes (Vodafone, £47m) and Mercedes AMG F1 (Petronas, £35m), Red Bull is sacrificing a significant amount of commercial opportunity in this area. However, this may all be about to change with the constructors’ champions securing their first title sponsorship deal with Nissan’s luxury arm, Infiniti.

When reviewing the revenue potential of both teams, Ferrari should still be out of reach in the short-term with regards to team value however with Red Bull being the fastest growing team in the paddock, the commercial gap is certainly narrowing.

The Drivers’ (Sponsorship) Championship:

Are Vettel and Alonso also competing for a sponsorship title? In his latest blog post, Mark Mylam asked whether sports men and women as brand ambassadors were really worth the money from a sponsor’s perspective as there is always a risk associated with their image deteriorating and affecting the image of the endorsed brand. An almost risk-free sportsman for instance could be Sebastian Vettel. The driver is unarguably one of the most charismatic Formula 1 drivers, as demonstrated at last year’s Autosport Awards and although his interview at the podium ceremony of Abu Dhabi included some strong words, nothing seems to be able to tarnish his image. This is why Sebastian Vettel, who manages his endorsement deals himself, enjoys lucrative sponsorship deals with Casio and Procter & Gamble’s Head & Shoulders worth around £2m in total, according to a study carried out by Sport + Markt.

Fernando Alonso, on the other hand, seems to have a completely different persona. One could perceive him as being rather introverted although he is not one to shy away from commercial opportunities with earnings upwards of £6m through his deals with Santander, Tag-Heuer and Puma in 2011. This positions Alonso at the top of the sponsorship leaderboard with Michael Schumacher way behind at £3.5m and Lewis Hamilton (£2.5m) ahead of both Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, both at £2m. Marcel Cordes, Executive Director at Sport + Markt, points out that it is unlikely that Vettel will be able to close this gap as “he (Vettel) is already very strongly associated with the Red Bull brand”. Also, Sebastian Vettel is not interested in signing sponsorship deals just for the sake of securing a higher income. He’s already stated in the media: “It is not a goal for me to earn more money. For me, it is important that the brand is ideally suited to me”.

Compared to other sports stars like Roger Federer or Kobe Bryant, sponsorship earnings of Formula 1 drivers are minimal because in most cases, the teams control almost all of their driver’s sponsorship rights.

It is interesting to see that championship wins have by no means been reflective of either team’s or drivers’ respective commercial successes but will this continue into 2013? With the pressure mounting on Sebastian Vettel, could we see Ferrari’s sponsorship stallion overtake the Red Bull both on the track as well as off or will the power of the ‘Vettrick’ prove too much to contend with? Let us know your thoughts!

Are Brand Ambassadors Really Worth It? 25th October, 2012

This month we’ve witnessed an end to one of the longest running and high-profile brand endorsements of all time –Nike’s sponsorship of Lance Armstrong, the shamed cyclist and denounced Livestrong founder. Inevitably there’s been a flurry of media activity since Nike unceremoniously ditched Armstrong; some quarters questioning Nike’s moral integrity (having stood by Woods, Vick and Bryant in the past); others praising the sportswear giant’s knack of only sticking by those with ‘come-back-ability’; and one journalist even going as far to put the drop in Nike’s share price down to the whole debacle.

My questions is – given the recent controversy surrounding  brand ambassadors like Armstrong and John Terry – are these egotistical mega-stars really worth the investment from a sponsor’s perspective?

The answer, in my opinion, lies with the sponsor’s brand values.  As long as the respective sportsman or sportswoman is representing the brand and its values correctly, then there can be little complaint.  For ease, let’s take Nike, whose principal reason for spending almost $800 million dollars per annum on individual endorsements is to associate the Nike Swoosh with the sporting elite; whose success has been achieved through years of hard work, dedication and natural talent.  Essentially, as long as its ambassadors are excelling in their chosen discipline, be that on the pitch, on the golf-course or on the track, they are promoting the Nike brand how they are supposed to.   Tiger Woods cheated on his wife; Michael Vick held pitbull-fights at his home (!?) and Kobe Bryant has a long list of offences that most would agree are far worse than doping, yet none of these wrongdoings directly impacted on their ability to drive a golf ball 350 yards, run a 50 yard touchdown or score 80+ points per game respectively.  For all of their wrongdoings they still represented Nike’s brand values.

In contrast, Armstrong’s doping completely shattered the illusion that he was this super-human machine whose achievements were entirely down to his dedication and intense training. As Laura Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing consultant says, “Nike is about ‘just doing it’ and that doesn’t mean drugs. It means hard work and ethics. And this flew in the face of it.”  Furthermore, his doping charge removed any thought that the clothing and equipment supplied by Nike had any impact on Armstrong’s competitive edge – we have been left with no false impressions as to what gave Lance his competitive advantage.

Whilst Nike will continue to represent the cream of the sporting elite (Rory McIlroy has reportedly been offered a ten-year £15 million per annum deal to replace Armstrong), it’s likely that certain brands will follow Red Bull in focussing on less famous athletes and increasing spend on activation. The energy drink has been hugely successful over the years in getting great market exposure and engagement through lesser known sportsmen and women – whether that be through taking BMXing to the next level, hosting the world cliff-diving championships or throwing the previously unheard of Felix Baumgartner towards earth from space.  Obviously these types of endorsements tend to suit the more extreme brands, but perhaps the Armstrong incident will encourage sponsors to see if their money might be better spent on endorsing the Felix Baumgartner’s of the sporting world, acting as the bridge for success from grass roots level to the pinnacle of their ambassadors’ careers.