Standard Life Investments and The Lions: the big cat is out of the bag!

The big cat is out of the bag: on January 11 Synergy helped Standard Life Investments announce their agreement to become the Principal Partner of the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

After months of hard work, initially in supporting Standard Life Investments negotiate the partnership, then into campaign planning, the launch featured five legendary Lions as brand ambassadors, whose stature reflected Standard Life Investments’ world class positioning.

The launch was staged at The Gherkin, the iconic London base of Standard Life Investments, and generated impressive results:

As part of the launch we produced this spine-tingling film evoking the Lions’ unique heritage and highlighting the shared values and ambitions of the two new partners – enjoy.

To complement the Lions partnership, Standard Life Investments’ is also a Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup – a unique, prestigious and highly effective combination that delivers powerfully and precisely to the needs of the business and the brand.

Roll on Hazeltine 2016 and and New Zealand 2017!

Synergy Launches Entertainment Division

LONDON – JANUARY 20, 2016: Synergy, the award-winning sports marketing agency, today announced the launch of a new division specialising in creating Entertainment strategies, partnerships and campaigns. The new division will be led by renowned entertainment specialist Arnon Woolfson, who will have a global remit, reporting to Synergy CEO Tim Crow in London.

Woolfson has a 15-year track record in music, marketing and entertainment, focused on creating strategies for brands, artists and labels. Some high profile campaigns Woolfson has worked on include the Official Anthem for FIFA World Cup, Brazil (2014) with Avicii, Wyclef, Santana and Alexandre Pires, The Vaccines ‘Wetsuit’ campaign which became the world’s first ever Instagram video and Mini’s 50th Year celebrations featuring Paul Weller and Calvin Harris

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for years” said Woolfson. “Synergy’s capability, creativity and digitally-led innovation provides the perfect platform for a better Music & Entertainment agency offering for brands and rights owners. And being part of The Engine Group, with its roster of complementary agencies, means that Synergy can provide additional highly relevant services that no other Music & Entertainment agency can deliver.”

“The Entertainment agency ecosystem is ripe for disruption,” said Crow. “There’s a lot of selling and a lot of doing but a real shortage of strategic capability and integrated campaign planning and delivery. Arnon’s industry-leading experience from strategy to delivery makes him the perfect person to fill that gap and perfectly complements our model.”

Synergy works worldwide with clients including BMW, Coca-Cola and MasterCard on global marquee events such as the Olympic Games, the UEFA Champions League and the Ryder Cup. Synergy’s move into Entertainment comes just two months after the agency opened its first office outside the UK, in New York, in November 2015.

Synergy is part of the Engine Group, the global marketing services network which is growing rapidly following its acquisition by Lake Capital in August 2014, with more than 2,000 employees across the U.S., U.K. and Asia.


Media Contact:

Reema Babakhan, Synergy /+44 (0)7736 836081

Synergy at CES Sports Forum: Tech for 2016

Last week, I joined 170,000 people descending on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. The name is deceptive – this is a show about the new and next technology in all forms and sport (on and off the field) was playing its strongest game.

This was evidenced at the packed Sports Forum sponsored by Turner, attracting a stellar line-up of panelists including two commissioners (NBA and MLB), two NBA team owners (Mavericks and Kings), the CEO of Intel and even Shaquille O’Neal.

So what was getting the buzz? I’ve drawn out the main talking points below and in some instances set them in the context of our bespoke US Millennial & Sports engagement research (Synergy / IG / Cassandra Report – ‘Millennials, Sports & Sponsorship 2015′ – 3,145 sample in US).

1. Tech for tech sake is a waste of time

A general consensus across all speakers and attendees that whilst sport has been slightly behind the curve in relation to other forms of entertainment (film and music in particular), when it comes to harnessing tech to benefit fans it’s making a fast comeback.

Central to this is that with more Millennials coming to support teams and players via their friends and their social community than ever before, technology is becoming a new driver of tribalism that before came through family. Our research underlines this as 43% of Millennials state that the reason a sport is their favorite is because their friends are into it (compared to only 33% of Gen Xers).

Both the league Commissioners and team owners agreed the strength of social as not just a content driver to existing fans, but as a powerful data collection and educational tool for a whole new audience.

But tech for tech sake is a total waste of time and sponsors can burn money fast trying to jump on the latest innovation. As one brand CMO said – ‘we simply can’t try and answer all tech and platform needs of our consumers, because after we’ve spent months trying to find a solution the next big thing has already come along and our audience has shifted.’

So brands should choose their weapons carefully and invest in them properly.

2. Virtual Reality is the new TV

As weapons go, Virtual Reality is moving from stealth bomber to conventional warfare for brands and rightsholders in sport. One team owner described the potential impact of VR on sport over the next five years as ‘the same impact TV had over radio’.

The possibility to move it beyond simply an alternative at the event to commercial applications is already live. The Sacramento Kings, for example, have sold season tickets in their new arena by giving fans the chance to experience the view from their seat before walking courtside to interact with one of the star players.

With only 29% of Millennials relying on official team and league channels for information, brands should be looking at VR as deepening the story-telling potential of sports – beyond just a ‘be there’ experience which will be more the natural domain of the rightsholders and broadcasters. Also, any brands concerned that VR is potentially a solo experience should have seen the connected and simultaneous VR experience on the Samsung stand – a truly shared and shareable use of the technology.

3. E Sports is mainstream

The debate over whether or not it’s a sport is irrelevant – it’s the fastest growing pursuit amongst Millennials across the world and is truly borderless. As a brand, if you’re targeting a sub-35 age group and are not either in it or thinking about it you need to move fast. The E League was launched in a live match between two teams and it was standing room only in the arena – our research showed that 52% of Millennials are drawn to eSports because of the access the game allows them to both the players and 55% because it feels ‘innovative’ – this number is way higher than the ‘big four’.

It’s a passion that, due to its very nature, is perfectly ‘socially enabled’. And if you’re wondering if it’s a sport just ask the top competitors who are generally burnt out by 25 and practise up to 12 hours every day…

4. Social Enhancement of Live Sports

Mavericks owner and tech entrepreneur, Mark Cuban stated – ‘every one time someone looks down at their phone during a game in the arena we lose them’. This was focused on fans in the stadium and I believe that the opposite is true for fans watching in bars, at home on the move – brands that understand how to enhance the human dimension of sports – not replace it, can own a live moment when fans (especially Millennials) are connecting with each other more than ever.

Our research showed that a huge 53% of Millennials are second screening to show behind the scenes content of what THEY are doing, while they talk to their friends about the live game.

Beware the bright lights of innovation – the evidence is that on the whole a Millennial sports fan is after simple, quick ways to get & share a wide breadth of content not hugely immersive experiences and interaction / UGC.

In other words – always know your consumer.

But for those that have experienced the endless queues and traffic of Las Vegas during CES, last word goes to one of my taxi drivers…’these guys can invent the future but they can’t solve a traffic jam?’

Success & Scandal: The Inspiring Early History Of Women’s Football

Goodison Park was packed to the rafters as 53,000 fans watched Alice Kell – captain of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies – score a hat trick in her team’s 4-0 win over St Helens Ladies. By all accounts, the 14,000 supporters turned away from the stadium missed a great game of football. The day was Boxing Day; the year, 1920.For the best part of a century this game stood as the record attendance for the women’s game. It wasn’t till London 2012 when 70,584 saw England beat Brazil 1-0 that this dusty record was broken. In recent years – and especially in the wake of the England’s heroics at the 2015 World Cup – women’s football has been experiencing an extraordinary rise in popularity. England’s semi-final against Japan peaked at 2.4m viewers on BBC 1 and Round 7 of The FA WSL in July 2015 experienced record crowds. Moreover, the Women’s FA Cup – boosted by SSE’s historic title sponsorship – drew 30,000 to Wembley.A challenge for the game’s champions and sponsors is to consolidate and grow this fanbase ahead of the European Championships in 2017.

Given compelling stories celebrating brands’ pasts are often the backbone to strong campaigns, (see Johnnie Walker and Lloyds), perhaps the same strategy could be applied to women’s football, given its fascinating and tumultuous history…

In 1894, feminist Nettie Honeyball founded an unprecedented entity – the British Ladies Football Club – with the aim, she said, of “proving to the world that women are not the ornamental and useless creatures men have pictured”. It was a radical idea and led to the first official recorded game of football between two women’s teams. This took place in 1895 when a collection of players from North London took on their Southern counterparts.

A “huge throng of ten thousand” travelled to Crouch End to witness the spectacle. There followed a series of games, raising money for charity, around the country. Some reporters were sneering, “the laughter was easy, and the amusement was rather coarse” (Jarrow Express); whilst others were supportive, “I don’t think the lady footballer is to be snuffed out by a number of leading articles written by old men” (The Sporting Man). However, by the time the year was over, crowds – apparently blasé to the novelty – had petered out and the women’s game disappeared.

Twenty years later, with World War I raging on the Western Front, The FA suspended the Football League as players joined the ranks in the trenches. Meanwhile, 900,000 women were sent to work in munitions factories, where kicking a ball around at lunch breaks was a welcome respite from their dangerous job. From these kick-abouts, ‘Munitionette’ teams from various Northern factories were formed.

The most famous and successful of these was from Dick, Kerr’s & Co. in Preston. The team’s first match drew a crowd of 10,000 but this success was unlike the short-lived successes of 1895. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies went on to play numerous matches, raising £70,000 (£14m in today’s money) for charities supporting ex-servicemen and other causes. True, there were mutterings of the game’s unsuitability for women but the crowds continued to pour in even after the war ended – 35,000, for instance, saw Alice Kell’s team play Newcastle United Ladies at St James’ Park in 1919.

Alongside Alice Kell, Lily Parr was Dick, Kerr’s Ladies star player. One local newspaper wrote that there was “probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country” and it is said her shot was so hard it once broke the arm of a professional male goalkeeper. Parr’s 31 year playing career saw her score over 1,000 goals, 34 in her first season in 1920… not bad for a 14-year-old.

1920-21 represented the peak of Dick, Kerr’s success. In 1920 they represented England, beating the French women’s team on both sides of the Channel and finished the year at Goodison Park in front of 53,000 fans (by comparison 50,018 attended the men’s FA Cup Final that year). Meanwhile, 1921 was packed with 67 fixtures in front of a cumulative audience of 900,000. Yet, 1921 was also the year of the second downfall of the women’s game, courtesy of a directive from The FA banning female teams from all FA affiliated stadiums and grounds.

The perennial complaint against women’s football – and the excuse used by The FA – was that it was harmful to female health. In 1895 the British Medical Journal had declared “We can in no way sanction the reckless exposure to violence, of organs which the common experience of women had led them in every way to protect.” Now in the ’20s, Harley Street’s Dr Mary Scharlieb wrote, “I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a women’s physical frame”.

However, one might argue that these medical opinions were merely a pseudo-justification for The FA’s real fear that women’s football represented an uncomfortable shift in society’s hierarchy. Now the war was over, here you had female teams – “in knickers [shorts] so scanty as would be frowned upon” – attracting more fans than many men’s games being played on the same day.

What’s more, the women’s football matches, which had raised thousands for charity, were now supporting the struggling families of miners during the 1921 Miners Lock Out – a politically charged dispute where miners were had been banned from working in the coalfields, having refused significant wage reductions.It was a lethal combination: Women flouting the role dictated to them by social convention to play a scandalous sport that drew bigger audiences than their male counterparts, whilst raising funds in support of anti-establishment trade unions.

The FA’s ban effectively squeezed the sport into obscurity. Whilst teams such as Dick, Kerr’s continued to play, their banishment to nondescript playing fields meant that never again would they be cheered on by thousands in Goodison Park or St James’s. Years in the wilderness followed until the FA ban was finally lifted half a century later, allowing the game to begin its slow recovery. Although that’s another story for another time…

Back in 2016, with the women’s game reaching the popularity levels of the 1920s, the challenge is to maintain its upward trajectory ahead of, and beyond, forthcoming major Tournaments. The stories, characters and controversy from women’s football’s intriguing past are potentially a real starting point from which to catalyse powerful campaigns around the sport.

Shelley Alexander, ‘Trail-Blazers who Pioneered Women’s Football’ (BBC)
John Simkin, ‘British Ladies Football Club’ (Spartacus Educational)
John Simkin, ‘History of Women’s Football’ (Spartacus Educational)
‘The History of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge’ (The Guardian)
‘WW1: Why was women’s football banned in 1921?’ (BBC)

Roman’s New Empire: Why Chelsea’s New Stadium Bucks The Trend

Chelsea’s new stadium by Herzog & de Meuron

Towards the end of last year, Chelsea (finally) submitted plans for their new stadium on the Stamford Bridge site – something of particular interest to me as both a fan and architecture graduate. The release of the designs was followed by the now obligatory social media backlash. A run through comments on various news sites brought up comparisons with a slinky, an ash tray, a filter and, my personal favourite, an egg slicer. Factor in the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater and London is one Baguette away from a rubbish sandwich.

But despite these ‘creative’ insights, I like it.

The UK is littered with identikit stadia, distinctive for their plastic facades and truss supports. In the Premiership, Swansea, Southampton and Leicester’s grounds are almost indistinguishable. The story is much the same in the lower leagues. Reading’s stadium, for example, sticks out on the town’s outskirts like a grey Lego/K’NEX hybrid toy.

I will concede that these teams have an excuse. Many old grounds were in need of an overhaul and the ‘off the shelf’ nature of these pre-fabricated stadia appear the most cost-effective way to improve the match day experience. However, that excuse holds less weight when you consider the super rich teams at the top of the Premier League.

The Emirates stadium cost £360M to build and, whilst impressive in scale, is largely a bland mass of coloured plastic and glass. The Etihad bowl isn’t much better and it looks like Tottenham will be heading the same way too.

There are lots of examples of great stadium design out there. However, the sad fact is a lot of them rarely get used.

The most interesting venues seem to be saved for one-off tournaments – the Olympics and World Cups. It was great seeing 80,000 people pack into London’s iconic Olympic Stadium to watch ‘Super Saturday’ and witness the enthusiasm for football across South Africa’s impressive array of World Cup venues. But there is an under-lying problem. What happens to these stadia following the tournaments’ conclusions?

The notorious issues of legacy and spiralling budgets seem an inescapable side-story to international tournaments. Brazil’s organisation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both mired in debt and political controversy, is a very current case in point. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the debt of which was only paid off 30 years after the 1976 Games, another.

In the UK at least, football is the only sport both lucrative and popular enough to fund such ambitious design, with the Olympic Stadium viable proof. For all Lord Coe’s rhetoric of a strong athletics legacy, we needed West Ham to step in as permanent tenants (landing the deal of the century in the process) to justify the construction cost.

‘The Big O’ designed by Roger Tallibert

You may question why the design of a stadium is actually that important, considering its principal function is purely to seat fans and showcase the sport. However, I would argue that the best venues in the world – iconic landmarks such as the old Wembley, Lord’s and Fenway Park – accomplish much more than pure function.

The reality is most people who encounter these huge arenas do it from the outside and never actually enter, particularly in a prominent city location like West London. Therefore, exterior form and contribution to the local area are crucial.

Looking at Chelsea’s new stadium, the brick piers are the most prominent feature and, in my mind, also the most successful. They give a sense of occasion and celebration which typifies a football match. Two thousand years ago the Romans needed an arena with the grandeur of the Colosseum to do its festivals justice. In the 19th Century, the Victorians advertised their industrial prowess through magnificent train stations, which we still use today.

Monumental brick piers at the new Stamford Bridge

Sport has an equal social impact on our generation. It is part of our national culture and deserves a significant legacy. Somehow I don’t see the Etihad stadium lasting the next 100 years. At least the robust piers of Chelsea’s new stadium look like they might.

The Chelsea project is also in safe, responsible hands. Herzog & de Meuron (the former an avid football fan and player) are excellent architects with an outstanding track record in stadium design. The Bird’s Nest in Beijing is their most famous work but the new stadium in Bordeaux is equally stunning. Add to that the colour changing Allianz Arena and it makes for a fairly impressive portfolio.

Of course premium design comes at a price, so good on Mr. Abramovich for splashing out on bricks over plastic. Not everyone will like it but at least it makes a statement. A stadium is more than a way to make money from fans. It is a club’s home, steeped in heritage and history, a pilgrimage destination made by thousands every week. Chelsea deserve huge credit for bucking the trend and giving their fans an interesting venue to come to. It might even do some good for the reputation of football, and wouldn’t that be nice for a change?

adidas & Manchester United: Keeping Their Eyes on the Prize

Back in late 2014, Synergy cut through the wave of commentary on the record-breaking £750m adidas kit deal with a value-based view on whether the deal would be worth it.

According to adidas CEO, Herbert Hainer, it has.

However, in a recent interview with German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, Hainer appeared to place equal emphasis on United’s style of play, saying “Business with Man United is going very well, we sell more shirts than expected. We are satisfied….even if the current playing style of Man United is not exactly what we want to see.”

And, sure enough, it’s Hainer’s comments on the United playing style which have hit the headlines…with many football fans agreeing with him.

But as adidas CEO, responsible for maximising value for shareholders, aren’t Hainer’s remarks concerning the £ value added to adidas’ bottom line more interesting? Is it not more remarkable that a £750m deal, regarded by many sports marketing experts at the time to be too expensive, is in fact outperforming sales expectations? As I’m sure Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal would insist, sports marketers and newspapers should focus on the value-based facts and figures like:

- “… we sell more shirts than expected” (Herbert Hainer, adidas CEO)

- “Many adidas retail partners have reported a 200% increase in day one sales vs. last year’s kit launch” (Steve Marks, adidas’ Director Of Sports Marketing for Manchester United)

- Sales of the club’s shirts broke the existing Megastore record by almost 50% (Manchester United)

Though Hainer’s single comment on the United playing style hit the headlines, the adidas CEO is clearly keeping his eyes on the prize – profit. Whilst adidas’ Manchester United kit sales are off to a strong start, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Only with time and effective measurement will we know whether adidas have created lasting value for their shareholders over the full 10-year term.