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!

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.