Re-claiming London 2012's marketing promise
How much would we all give now for another month like London 2012, which began five years ago this week? The memories remain crystal clear. The stadiums were ready on time, and packed out. Miraculously and gloriously, the sun shone, and the only thing raining was Team GB medals. Afterwards, the global consensus was that it was one of the best ever Games - maybe the best ever. And then we did it all again at the Paralympics, which was unquestionably the best ever. It put the U into UK and the G into GB, and being British felt good.

It also felt like a new dawn for sports marketing. But was it?

Famously, the London bid for the Games was won on the vision of 'inspiring a generation', especially into physical activity. But post Games, that particular needle stubbornly failed to move, until in 2015, Sport England's 'This Girl Can' campaign inspired millions of women to get active - with not an Olympic ring in sight.

There is no doubt, however, that one of London 2012's biggest marketing legacies was the momentum it put behind women's sport - now of course enjoying its highest-ever profile - owing to the success of Team GB's women, spearheaded by the Games' poster girl Jess Ennis-Hill. This led directly to the intense and continuing competition between the BBC, BT and Sky, all of whom ran huge London 2012 campaigns, to be seen as a champion of women's sport. And long may it continue.

A broadcaster also played a key role in another of London 2012's biggest and most positive sports marketing legacies: the re-invention of the Paralympics. Channel 4's dazzling exclusive broadcast coverage and award-winning 'Superhumans' campaign put sport's most inspirational spectacle from second class citizen to centre stage and made household names of GB's Paralympic athletes.

And again the legacy continues: Channel 4 repeated the coup at Rio 2016 and has just done so again for the London 2017 World Para Athletic Championship.London 2017 - the closest thing we have seen to the Olympics and Paralympics since 2012 - also offers clues to other sports marketing legacies of London 2012.

Whereas the London 2017 Para Athletics attracted numerous big-name sponsors, the London 2017 World Athletics Championship, which begins on Friday with major BBC coverage and the final appearance of Usain Bolt top of the bill, has struggled to sell any major sponsorships: the result, as it has admitted, of the Russian doping scandal which has engulfed athletics - and which we now know tainted London 2012.

How will athletics fill the huge gap created by Usain Bolt's retirement? And will fans and sponsors ever be able to believe again that what they are seeing on the track and field isn't doped?

Also striking: of the seventeen brands who were major domestic sponsors of London 2012, ten (including BA, EDF and Lloyds) are no longer involved in UK sports sponsorship at all, and of the other seven, only one sponsored London 2017 - BP, a Synergy client and committed Paralympic partner, who ran a major campaign around the London 2017 Para Athletics, as they did for London 2012.

Now you could advance various plausible theories as to some level of brand churn, in particular changed business priorities and sponsorship fatigue - not uncommon after sponsoring something as big and demanding as an Olympic and Paralympic Games. But to lose ten out of seventeen brands completely? Whatever sport was selling post 2012, it wan't for them. To paraphrase Wilde: to lose one may be regarded as misfortune, to lose ten looks like carelessness.

This is not to suggest, however, that other brands, and other events, have not stepped up. And here again the influence of London 2012 has been pervasive.

The UK’s State-sponsored strategy to win and host world class sporting events has seen the UK host an unprecedented series of events since London 2012, such as the Rugby World Cup, the Ryder Cup, the Tour de France, the Women's World Cup and more, with more to come. And in every case the staging and fan experience has been superb, inspired by the world class example (and in many cases the alumni) of London 2012.

But London 2012's biggest marketing legacy was how it transformed sports sponsorship activation. Faced with traditional barriers (the IOC's no logos policy) and new possibilities (the mass adoption of social media), the Games' sponsors re-imagined for ever the activation ecosystem around events, and demonstrated for the first time the enormous potential of the collision of creativity and technology at scale.

Every major event since then has evolved and accelerated this model, so that where we are now is light years ahead. But London 2012 blazed the trail. This truly was a new dawn.

And now, five years on from London 2012, sports marketing faces another new dawn and another generational challenge, and this one may just be its biggest ever: how to make sport itself relevant to a new generation who aren't satisfied with the status quo of how sports are organised, played and consumed, and who are re-defining what matters and what doesn't when it comes to following and engaging with sport.

Part of the solution to this challenge, which sport already recognises, is new, shorter formats such as Twenty20 cricket, and new media models which will see traditional TV rights deals give way to partnerships with the new tech giants, who are already at the table: the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed, as William Gibson said.

But the other is even bigger and more important: to nurture and market the uniquely unifying power of sport as a beacon of hope in a world where division and disunity are the new norm.

To give sport a purpose beyond profit, measured not on how much money it makes or spends, but how it and its brand partners uses sport to make a meaningful and tangible social, cultural and maybe even political difference.

Imagine, for example, how powerful it would be if cricket threw all its marketing weight globally behind bridging the gap between Islam and the rest of the world, which of all sports it is uniquely qualified to do.

Now that's what I call inspiring a generation.

This piece was originally published by Campaign
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