A Sporting Chance

I’m yet to be gripped by World Cup fever. I remember 24 (!) years ago dissecting the tournament as it happened on the bus journey to school each morning and truly believing we stood a chance. Now I am older, and bitter, all I think about on the journey to work each morning is why might a grown adult spend time and money decorating their car with St George’s flags?

But there is one side to the World Cup that intrigues me. The money. The vast amount of money spent by hosts and sponsors, competing teams and their fans, to be a part of it all.

I studied a Sports Science degree at Loughborough University, and part of my study was the economics of sport. On top, of course, of learning to throw and catch REALLY well.

The former subject enlightened me as to why all this fuss exists. The pre-tax profit of the 2006 German World Cup (for Germany’s football association) was €135 million. Add to this the revenue generated for Germany’s tourist industry, and the benefit of such things as increased employment, and there’s a compelling case for getting excited. But where it gets interesting in our line of work is of course the finances relating to event sponsorship. Brazil’s World Cup has generated $1.4 billion in sponsorship to FIFA alone (that doesn’t include the sponsors paying to associate themselves with the individual teams, players and so on).

We often get asked about the relative benefits of sponsorship. Like much marketing activity, sponsorship is one that is notoriously difficult to measure. It runs alongside a host of other marketing support, it usually coincides with a feel-good event skewing the figures, and the variables just cannot be accurately discounted. Still, it must be working because the big brands are still doing it. Unfortunately, so often, the reason it works for them is that they are doing it WELL.

Industry speak refers to ‘activated’ sponsorship, which in short is the opposite of the approach often taken: sticking a logo on a poster and the poster on a club noticeboard. Activated sponsorship means thinking about how the partnership in question can offer benefit, make sense and offer clarity on what the end objective is. Is it immediate sales increase (the short-term gain), or increased brand awareness and loyalty (the long term gain)?

Let’s think about the recent Olympic sponsors. The published Think!Sponsorship Poll on sponsorship success at the London 2012 Olympic Games positions Procter and Gamble as the most successful sponsor in terms of this second criteria, as a result of their ‘Thank you Mom’ campaign. This is simply based upon surveyed opinion as to the most memorable and compelling campaign, but a quick glance at the 860,000 likes on the dedicated campaign Facebook page makes it believable. So far I have found no statistics or results surrounding the former. But then these are brands that are so large and so well known, that developing and safeguarding their brand equity is the best way to achieve increased sales anyway.

I was lucky enough to work on the London 2012 Olympic Games. I was part of BP’s sponsorship team, where it was always clear that the intention was not increased revenue; this would happen in the long term by achieving the prime objective. It was reputation. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill had occurred only two years previously, and the company was not popular. BP adopted a very clear strategy, aligning itself with environmentally and socially responsible routes. The Target Neutral scheme aimed to offset the carbon production of all competitors, suppliers and spectators’ journeys to the Games. The athletes’ sponsorship programmes carefully incorporated welfare elements and there were numerous schemes to ensure less fortunate communities gained an Olympic experience courtesy of BP. Surveys conducted post-campaign reveal that those aware of BP’s sponsorship programme attributed twice the merits to BP than those who weren’t when it came to environmentally responsible, caring, community-focused and committed-to-improvement values.

There are many ways to connect your brand or organisation to an event, be it big or small. But there are fewer ways to do it well. Our experience tells us that the MD being a supporter, or there being a cheap sideline banner available, at the last minute aren’t amongst those. But thinking about it creatively, understanding the brand alliances between partners, as well as the media opportunities that will be created, are the best first steps. We don’t think you should charge ahead and put down $200million to enjoy the Title Sponsor position of Russia’s World Cup – that’s too much to pay for a city break that doesn’t guarantee a tan. But if you take a long-term approach and have the wherewithal to think about a creative execution, you could certainly do worse with your marketing budget than align your brand with an appropriate, well loved partner. Just don’t forget to PR it. CS