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Five Reasons Why The Ryder Cup Is Like Nothing Else In Sport

1. It’s Golf. But not as you know it.
Individual sportspeople, by their nature, are often selfish and driven exclusively by the desire to improve their own performance; so seeing some of the best golfers in the world unite as part of a collective - setting aside their rivalries, the pursuit of prize money and ranking points, for a common goal - is particularly thrilling. This team nature of the Ryder Cup provides a wealth of different narratives and these unpredictable storylines play out over five intense sessions of golf and the momentum of a Ryder Cup ebbs and flows in a way that no individual golf tournament can match. Players have the unique opportunity to etch themselves into the history books off the back of their Ryder Cup exploits; take Ian Poulter for example, a charismatic pro with a solid career behind him, whose legend is secured by his incredible performances in the event, particularly as the talisman of Europe’s amazing comeback at Medinah in 2012. Can one of Team Europe’s five rookies be the hero this year and reap the adulation (and commercial opportunities) that will undoubtedly follow?

2. It’s three magic days every two years.
With the Ryder Cup, less is most certainly more. As the event takes place every two years (alternating between a venue in Europe or the USA), the excitement levels for both the players and the fans crescendo to a fever pitch. There is no wonder that tennis’ Davis Cup is making major reforms to become a week-long tournament, as for both build-up and then intensity of world-class action, the Ryder Cup is unrivalled. I’m sure the event organisers, The European Tour and PGA of America, are sorely tempted to try and make this an annual event to fill their coffers as as reports suggest that The European Tour generated £80m in revenues from the 2014 event (, enough to sustain its finances until the next event on home soil). However, like the Olympics, the specialness lies in the fact that we fans are made to impatiently wait.

3. It’s all about the fans.
These first two factors are crucial as to why the Ryder Cup transcends beyond the core golf fan audience to reach a wider sporting one. As the fans either root for one team or another, support isn’t ‘diluted’ behind particular individuals and, whilst American fans need little excuse to rally behind Team USA, it is fairly unique for the whole continent of Europe to unite under one banner. According to research from Nielsen Sports, fan sizes for the upcoming tournament have surged by more than 6.7 million people compared to the same period ahead of the last event to be hosted in Europe in 2014. Perhaps the Ryder Cup is the next event that is ripe for the Netflix/ Amazon Prime treatment – an ‘All or Nothing’ style behind-the-scenes documentary could only grow this casual audience.
With its partisan nature, the atmosphere at the event doesn’t disappoint either. Over 55,000 fans are expected at Le Golf National during each day of the action and a huge 6,500 seat grandstand has been set-up behind the first tee, so the players can expect a wall of noise to greet them at the start of every match. The format of the event also means that the action tends to be focused on a concentrated area of the course, so unlike a typical tournament, where the fans are spread across acres of terrain, at the Ryder Cup there is a much more intense (and often raucous) atmosphere.

4. It features the best players in the world (and Team Europe tend to have the edge!)
The quality in both teams this year is incredible and for the first time the entire world’s top 10 are competing; in fact, 17 players out of the top 18 will be in Paris. The USA team has the winners of six of the past eight majors and are understandably the bookies’ favourites to take the spoils. The Ryder Cup however is rarely won on paper and Team Europe have been punching well above their weight for the last quarter of a century. Indeed, the last time the US won on European soil was back in 1993 and, of course, once again, nobody knows how this year’s edition will play out. It is this underdog story that helps to keep pulling the fans back again and again.

5. And to top off this year’s edition… Tiger’s back.
The timing of Tiger Woods’ 80th tournament win at The Tour Championship couldn’t have come at a better time and it is brilliant news that a fit, healthy, and in-form Woods takes his place in the US team. You only need to look at the TV viewing figures from that victory to understand the impact that Woods still holds - NBC saw a 206% ratings increase compared to the 2017 tournament. Yet, Woods’ Ryder Cup record isn’t hugely impressive for one of the all-time greats of the game (Won 13, Lost 17, Halved 3) and whether he can turn it around this year provides yet another glorious sub-plot. Anyone for a Woods vs McIlroy head-to-head to secure the winning point?

Whoever you’re supporting, whatever the result, it is fair to say that with the Ryder Cup, drama, magic, and potential greatness are par for the course.

The Pursuit of Greatness: How Wimbledon sets the pace for Global Sports Events

Whilst many rightsholders continue to hunt high and low for new partners in this soft UK marketplace, Wimbledon will have celebrated their continued success on and off the court once the last point of 2018 was played. Here are four reasons why I think The AELTC continues to go from strength to strength:

1/ The strength of the Wimbledon brand

As Wimbledon celebrates its 150th year anniversary, you really get the sense that the AELTC understands where it has come from, but equally as importantly, knows where it is going. Heritage is an easy play for lots of ‘traditional’ brands and Wimbledon recognise that the beautifully kept grass courts, all-white dress code and manicured grounds all play to its quintessentially British image. But they also know that to survive in this ever-competitive sporting landscape they must continually adapt, evolve and innovate to remain one of the leading events in not just tennis, but in world sport. Their ‘Pursuit of Greatness’ positioning shows a humble and relentless hunger to improve and also respects their distinguished history and crucially, Wimbledon are able to back this up. No wonder plenty of brands want to align themselves with this enviable status.

2/ The focus on improving the Wimbledon experience

Wimbledon is committed to reinvesting their profits to improve the overall fan experience and once the impressive £70m roof for Court One is in place for next year’s Championship, then their Debenture and Hospitality proposition will be even stronger (as all-day play is guaranteed on two show courts). It might therefore be tempting for the AELTC to sell out the tournament without the need to release tickets each day for fans who have joined ‘The Queue’ but this lovely tradition is part of the essence of the tournament. The Queue gives the most committed of fans the chance to see the best players in the world and helps negate a potentially sterile atmosphere. Here at Synergy, we talk a lot about the rise of the ‘experience economy’ and the ongoing status of The Queue gives many fans a spontaneous and memorable experience (before the tennis has even started) that they want to share with their friends and followers. It also has the added bonus of providing a captive audience that Wimbledon partners such as HSBC, Lavazza and Robinson’s can engage with.

Reports also suggest that Wimbledon is planning to treble in size if they can acquire a neighbouring golf course, which would allow them to bring their qualifying tournament on-site and welcome more than the current allocation of 40,000 fans each day – so clearly no resting on their laurels here.

3/ The desire to innovate with purpose

This year’s event also marked the debut of Wimbledon Broadcast Services (WBS) making the AELTC the new host broadcaster for multi-camera coverage on all 18 courts. This move will allow Wimbledon to take greater control over their own content and continue to grow their owned channels and also tailor their coverage to each market, particularly for those broadcasters without production capabilities. Speaking of their content, working closely with trusted partner IBM, this year Wimbledon have offered fans AI-powered highlights of the action. This AI engine recognised player emotions and movements with crowd reactions to curate instant reels of best bits across the hundreds of matches taking place. These innovations ultimately make Wimbledon more accessible to fans around the world and therefore benefit both the tournament and as importantly, the commercial family.

4/ The desire to create genuine partnerships with their sponsors

Wimbledon only take on partners who can provide mutually beneficial value back to the Championships and this stance forces partners to make a meaningful contribution to the overall event though VIK and activations. Sponsors recognise that there is a limited period around the two week Championship to make an impact and therefore closely work with the rightsholder (with a long planning window) to ensure their activity cuts through and adds value. These two factors go some way to explaining the stability of the commercial roster over an extended period. The addition of American Express will likely contribute to Wimbledon’s digital and innovation credentials as they inevitably move towards a cashless tournament (as well as offering high value rewards to their customers) and will therefore be a welcome fit.

It will be interesting to see how Wimbledon stays ahead of the competition in future years, but whilst they relentlessly pursue greatness with a long-term view then their future looks brighter than Roger Federer’s new Uniqlo whites.

Investigating the commercial landscape of women’s football and why it’s in better shape than ever

"There is a very strong brand and economic case for why a brand would sponsor women’s football. One in five women are the main breadwinners in the family. There is a fast growing female economy - women have increased financial stability and, huge buying power – and yet our research shows that women don’t believe they are being represented in brand marketing. Football in particular is a brilliant and powerful metaphor for what women can achieve.”

Read the full article here.

Feeling the Force

Liberty Media, who completed their $8bn acquisition of Formula One in January, are beginning to deliver on their promise to attract a new generation of fans to the sport.From creating a more inclusive and entertaining experience for racegoers, to looking beyond direct commercial gain to fully embrace social media and the proposed launch of an OTT channel (as well as making some very smart behind the scenes hires), Formula One is certainly moving in the right direction.

And in this new dawn for F1, one team is making giant strides off the track. With a striking new pink livery, Force India is undergoing a transformation that goes far beyond the aesthetics of the car. Through a savvy commercial strategy, they are putting themselves at the forefront of the Liberty millennial revolution.

Amongst the blue-chip brands, whose logos have adorned the cars across the grid for decades, Force India have quietly been attracting a new breed of partner – and one seldom seen in the paddock before Liberty Media entered the fray; those with a target audience under the age of 30. The illusive and oft-mentioned millennial.Menswear label Farah has been brought on as Official Apparel Partner, bringing to life the partnership through their #RaceReady campaign; “a six-part content series profiling the men behind the scenes of the world’s most stylish sport”. They have also announced deals with designer eyewear brand LDNR and Diageo, as well as a prominent charity partnership with Breast Cancer Care to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the famous pink ribbon.

But the deal which stands out is the recently announced partnership with SPORTbible. Part of the LADbible Group, SPORTbible has become one of the largest communities and distributors of content for sports fans in the world. According to Quantcast, SPORTbible reaches an impressive 2.7m people monthly, of which almost 65% are under the age of 34. The partnership will see SPORTbible given exclusive access to the team to create an array of content, including interviews competitions and behind the scenes video, which will be pushed across their burgeoning social channels.

One would assume that these partnerships may be below many of the inflated rights fees that we see across the grid, placing more emphasis on the reciprocal value that they will receive by association with these brands rather than upfront investment.For partners like Farah and LDNR, it gives Force India credibility and momentum. Brands want to appear alongside other like-minded brands and are likely to seek out teams who have a stable of sponsors who fit their values. We saw a similar situation in our work with Martini, whose very visible title partnership with Williams F1, helped to make Williams a more attractive prospect for sponsors such as Rexona/Sure and Hackett.

For SPORTbible, the association has the potential to enhance the whole sponsorship proposition at Force India. Firstly, it gives potential new partners (as well as the current stable) significant additional exposure to a younger audience and a ready-made activation platform; both of which are extremely valuable negotiating tools. Secondly, if SPORTbible can help Force India to develop a more sophisticated approach to data capture and segmentation, access to this database, full of rich customer data, becomes a very valuable part of any sponsorship proposal and something which not many rightsholders are able to match.

The shift in livery is also unlikely to be a whimsical choice but one made with commerciality in mind. Whilst certainly attractive to Indian brands, the Indian flag inspired livery of past seasons will no doubt have steered potential sponsors away in fear of not feeling a natural part of what was a heavily Indian stable of partners. There are even strong rumours, at the time of writing, that owner Vijay Mallya is also considering changing the teams name in order to widen the commercial appeal. One thing is not in doubt; their current choice of livery will certainly help them to stand out from the crowd.

What this new strategy does is not only open-up a new and potentially very valuable audience for Force India, with a monetizable relationship that could last decades, it also opens the door to a raft of new ‘B2C’ brands who want to reach millennials at scale. And as first-movers in this space, Force India are extremely well placed to reap the financial benefits.And crucially, this incremental revenue will help a team who have been plagued by financial concerns in recent times to safeguard their future. Concerns which would be magnified if they were to lose the sizeable revenue from numerous Mexican brands that come with driver Sergio Perez, should, as rumoured, one of the bigger teams come calling.

All of this happily coincides with an upturn of fortunes on the track. Indeed, in a world where there is a gulf in levels of spending between teams, Force India are, pound for pound, arguably the best team on the grid this season.

Formula One is changing and Force India may just have put themselves in pole position in the Liberty Media revolution.

And Then There Were Two: Will It Be LA or Paris That Hosts The 2024 Olympics?

LA 2024 and Paris 2024 Olympic Games

This being a gap year in the Olympic cycle, in 2017 we have no Olympics to look forward to, either of the Summer or Winter variety. But, as always in these gap years, there’s an Olympic spectacle of a very different, but no less competitive, nature to observe: the contest for the right to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be decided when the IOC meets in Lima in September.

When the IOC members gather, ostensibly their choice is simple - either Paris from the Old World or Los Angeles from the New, now that Budapest has joined Hamburg, Boston (LA’s forerunner) and Rome in opting out of the race owing to citizen activism. But paradoxically it will also be the most difficult hosting decision that the IOC has had to make for many years, because not since the latter days of the Cold War have the IOC and the Olympic Games faced so many existential threats: the spectre of the doping crisis and the continuing fallout from the IOC’s controversial decision not to ban Russia from Rio 2016; a flawed youth strategy resulting in an aged fan base worldwide; and the huge costs and questionable social and economic benefits of hosting the Games, vividly demonstrated by Rio’s many and continuing problems.

Against that forbidding background, what is now top of the IOC agenda ahead of Lima is not which city can best stage the Olympics, but which one can most effectively help combat the IOC’s two biggest existential threats: to make the Games and what they and the IOC stand for relevant to a new generation of consumers, in particular younger consumers; and at the same time to persuade a new generation of host cities to bid to stage the summer and winter Games, particularly in America and Europe, where disaffection in city halls and suburbs alike is strongest.

Both are key themes in the LA and Paris bid pitches.

LA is the most compelling, with its vision of Californian sunshine, West Coast tech innovation and Hollywood storytelling power combining to ‘regenerate the Games’ and ‘refresh the Olympic brand around the world’.

Paris is more traditional, a classic piece of Olympic realpolitik, invoking de Coubertin in a ‘new vision of Olympism in action’ in the grand old city, linked to those time-honoured Olympic bid promises of urban regeneration and increased national sports participation.

But the IOC’s dilemma runs much deeper than choosing one or the other: its problem is having to make a choice.

Saying no to LA would probably end America’s interest in bidding for the Games for a generation, the IOC having thus rejected bids from the three biggest American cities (following New York and Chicago, which bid for the 2012 and 2016 Games respectively) in succession.

Quite apart from ‘biting the hand that feeds’ in the shape of the country which is by far the biggest IOC investor, given NBC’s $12 billion Olympic broadcast contract and the IOC’s six US-headquartered global sponsors.

It would also mean that the IOC passes up the opportunity to use an LA Games to bring in new global sponsors from the world’s biggest economy – just as it has used Tokyo 2020 to sign Bridgestone and Toyota.

Saying no to Paris, again for the third time in succession, would also probably end France’s interest in bidding again for the Games in the foreseeable future, and run the risk of further emptying the dwindling pool of major European cities prepared to throw their hat into the ring.

So what will the IOC do?

There are clues in their recent behaviour.

First, a preference for long-term strategic deals – witness the NBC extension through 2032 (Thomas Bach’s first major deal as IOC President) and the recent Alibaba sponsorship through 2028 – rather than for playing the market.

And second, President Bach’s characteristically reformist statement back in December that the current bidding process “produces too many losers” and must be reviewed.

Go figure.

Now, making predictions in these interesting times in which we live is a risky business.

But assuming that the controversial Trump Presidency and the looming French Presidential election don’t derail the LA and Paris bids, I predict that when the IOC leaves Lima in September, they will do so having awarded the 2024 and 2028 Games simultaneously to Paris and LA.

And probably in that order, for three reasons.

One, because an LA 2028 Games will give President Bach the ideal timing to play the American market for the IOC’s next US broadcast deal beyond NBC’s current contract.

Two, because it will also give Bach significant leverage in his attempts to persuade his six US-based TOP sponsors to extend their current deals, all of which end into 2020, for eight years.

But most of all, because it will buy Bach and the IOC both time and two key partners in its battle to find a new relevance and credibility for a new era and a new generation.

Brands, Bands, Fans: What Music & Sport Can Learn From Each Other

Sport is way ahead of music when it comes to brand investment. It’s at least ten times bigger worldwide and the gap is growing. From a niche play only 40 years ago, sports marketing has boomed.This hasn’t happened by accident.

Sport set out to make it happen, and has done so brilliantly. With the fall in revenues from traditional sources, in particular record sales, the music industry has never needed brands more than today, not just as replacement income but also for marketing support. So what can music learn from how sport has so successfully attracted brand partners and budgets – and what can sport learn from music?

What Music Can Learn From Sport?

1. Sport has made brands a fundamental part of how it presents itself – broadcasts, events, leagues, teams, stadiums, players. This has done many things, but in particular it has normalised sport’s relationship with brands, in a way that is still evolving in music, and made sports fans more accepting of brands in sports than they are in music – although this is now changing for millennials who accept brands operating in the music space.

2. Sport has used the media to make itself and its brand partners impossible to miss. Globally, sport is ‘always on’ – and always on screen. Music, by contrast, rarely gets a look in and has nowhere near the exposure.

3. Sport has made itself easy to buy. Although, like music, sport is a complex ecosystem of rights, it’s alleviated the problem by commercialising its assets specifically with brands in mind, bundling rights and minimising buying points. Music is still wrestling with the problem of being much more complex, and much more difficult for brands to buy.

4. Sport thinks long term. Most big brand partnerships in sport are built around multi-year agreements – usually over a minimum of three years, although even longer deals are not uncommon – enabling brands to plan long term strategies with all the benefits that brings to both sport and the brand. In contrast, music deals tend to generally be short-term tactical hit and runs which scratch the surface of what is possible and often result in low ROI and poor experiences.

5. Sport can be a powerful ally: when sport and music come together, the results are often amazing. Adidas’s collaboration with Run-DMC. The Super Bowl halftime show. Coke’s 2010 World Cup collaboration with K’naan. And – as our recent #TalkinRevolution music marketing panel event at Spotify demonstrated - the natural synergies which happen when brands bring artists and sports stars together. The potential is huge and the possibilities are endless.

What Sport Can Learn From Music?

1. Although sports marketing budgets dwarf those in music, music offers brands the same mass reach and arguably even greater emotion. This emotion is what drives the relationship between brands, bands and fans, inspiring product demand and marketing pull. Sport gets this, but can take lessons from music’s much greater focus on creating credible brand partnerships and avoiding over-commercialisation, which we also talked about at our #TalkinRevolution event.

2. Music can be a powerful ally for sport, generating both connectivity and emotional engagement. Think of the Three Tenors and Italia 90, and probably most effectively of all, the Three Lions, which became the soundtrack of Euro 96 and still resonates today.

3. Music is brilliant at marketing to the young, as Engine’s Cassandra Report consistently demonstrates. Millennials, for whom music is a bigger passion than sport, embrace brands who provide them with music experiences, especially online. In contrast, the audience for most major sports, which are heavily reliant on TV, is ageing. Music is inherently viral online, fuelling many of the biggest social platforms. By leaning into music, sport can dramatically increase its reach and engagement – especially with the young.

4. Music is still under-exploited by sport. Traditionally the music industry has led talent and content decisions, often with poor results – most recently UEFA agreeing to use Alicia Keys for the Champions League Final. Wrong act, wrong demographic. Sport should get on the front foot and insist on better, insight-driven choices.

5. Sport is terrified of risk. Music embraces it. Yes, risk needs to be minimised, but risk can be good. No risk usually results in less or no interest. Building on this ‘edge’ creates stand out and differentiation. Look no further than Nike and Red Bull, for both of whom risk has been central to their sports strategies for years.

In summary, music clearly has much to learn from sport’s advanced commercial strategies. But conversely sport can learn from the edginess, risk and social glue that music creates. More joint ventures, and better execution, can create huge synergies for brands, bands and fans. Sport and music just need to lean in to each other more. The only limit is the power of our imagination. Let’s make it happen!

This is an enlarged version of a piece originally written by Arnon Woolfson and Tim Crow for Music Week.

Pogba + United + adidas – The perfect marketing match?

An announcement under the hashtag #Pogback at 12.30am signalled Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United after four years at Juventus. The boy who left England with bags of potential has come back as a man to finish what he started with his first senior club.Whilst Jose Mourinho has signed Pogba for purely footballing reasons, it’s clear the club, adidas and the player himself will all benefit commercially from this new partnership. From a marketing perspective it seems to be the perfect match.One of the biggest personalities and most exciting young players in the game has joined the biggest club in the world, which is just starting its second season with kit supplier adidas, for whom Pogba is already a key ambassador.

Signing up Pogba on a £31m 10-year deal earlier this year has helped adidas create a fresh, new look that capitalises on the Frenchman’s unique style, individualism, flamboyant nature and flashy personality. He has been the figurehead of the brand’s #FirstNeverFollows campaign, a brand position that builds on the previous #ThereWillBeHaters activation and mixes football, fashion and music. The aim of this is to appeal to the younger audience, the next wave of potential adidas consumers, and win them over from newer brands like Under Armour and New Balance, who are challenging the more established giants.

Pogba gives adidas a point of difference over its rivals, such as Nike, who were also competing for his signature. He wasn’t signed just as a face to shift trainers, but as a catalyst to help change the nature of adidas’ football marketing…to make his mark on the brand itself.

From United’s viewpoint, Pogba and adidas also help the club reach a younger audience, an audience that may be swaying towards supporting Manchester City, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or another of Europe’s big clubs.

Pogba will be the face of both United and adidas for years to come. He hasn’t returned to Old Trafford for just one or two seasons; he will surely be there for a significant proportion of his career. He represents the new United, forging a new identity in the post Sir Alex Ferguson, era under the leadership of Mourinho.

Adidas, like other sponsors, do not get a say in the club’s transfer activity (although they may have had a quiet word in Ed Woodward’s ear), but for them shirt sales are clearly critical. Aligning one of their big ambassadors with one of their biggest clubs (alongside Real Madrid) will have been music to the ears of adidas, as the ‘POGBA 6’ United shirts start flying off racks around the world.

One of the reasons adidas teamed up with United in the first place is because the club has a huge fan base in the US and Asia, both target markets for the German sports brand. Pogba will help to gain cut-through in those markets.The French midfielder’s social channels have more than 13m followers. For United, this offers an opportunity a reach a new audience; whilst for Pogba, joining the Red Devils will no doubt see this figure grow and grow, as has happened with other recent arrivals to the club – a win-win. And adidas can utilise this massive reach to push out branded content and messaging to his adoring fans.This branded content played a role in the announcement of Pogba’s capture. Adidas teamed up with UK grime artist Stormzy to record a short piece of music-focused film featuring Pogba that matches the #FirstNeverFollows theme, announcing the player’s arrival at United. We are likely to see more dual-branded content like this appear as adidas and United push Pogba to the front of their marketing activity and his global appeal spirals skyward.

The PeRiodic Table – the Science of Sponsorship at Rio 2016

Getting an Olympic Games right is rare alchemy. The Road to Rio has been long and hard for athletes, organisers and sponsors alike. In the seven years since it won the bid to host the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the country has experienced more than its fair share of drama: rioting around #changebrazil, a FIFA World Cup meltdown against Germany, the spectre of political corruption and the tragic emergence of Zika.Is the country really ready for the Games? Can the infrastructure hold up? Will the doping scandal forever tarnish Rio’s moment in the sun?

These will all have been questions and concerns for the sponsors of Rio 2016 – the 59 different brands that make up the four partnership tiers of the Games represent a unique ecosystem that has helped ROCOG meet its $570m target for sponsorship revenue and played a key role in making Rio a reality.

While sponsorship is never an exact science, Synergy’s PeRiodic Table is an interactive graphic that allows you to explore a little more about each of the brands that are part of the Games. From sponsorship category to Twitter following, our interactive infographic – designed to be sorted and filtered as you see fit – provides the chance to discover some of the stories hidden beneath the surface of Rio 2016’s sponsorship landscape. Click here for the full table.

Heritage Matters: whilst the entire list of brands is typically sorted in alphabetical order, it’s notable that Coca-Cola sits before either Atos or Bridgestone in the TOP sponsor hierarchy. This is a quirk of Coke’s gift of rights: they will always be the first-mentioned brand in the IOC’s sponsorship recognition programme, acknowledging a relationship stretching back to 1928.

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It: at time of publishing this, only 11 of the 46 brands with an active Twitter handle featured Rio 2016 marques on their profile. A potential missed opportunity for lager brand Skol, whose Twitter presence has perhaps the most overt Olympic theme, but lacks any actual recognition of its officialdom.

Missing The Tweet Spot: although it’s true that not every brand has to have a Twitter footprint, it’s interesting to note the official sponsors without a social presence, or those that have failed to build one ahead of the Games. For international brands with only a local relationship (anyone outside the TOP sponsor tier) like Nike, Nissan or Airbnb, the use of Brazil-focused feeds is also worth noting. While likely to be down to the IOC’s commercial restrictions around the use of social media, it will be interesting to see how many of the global Twitter handles end up giving a RT to their local market counterparts.

Toyota Revs Up For Tokyo: although the brand signed up as one of the IOC’s new TOP sponsors back in 2015, Nissan were already a Tier 1 sponsor of Rio 2016. This means Toyota can only talk about Rio in Japan (something Nissan cannot officially do), before turning their global attention to Tokyo 2020 following the conclusion of the current Games.

Necessity Is The Mother Of Investment: the outbreak of Zika not only created valid concern amongst athletes and spectators, but also led to the signing of OFF! – the Games first ever insect repellent partner. It probably depends on your level of cynicism whether you think this was to ensure a consistent quality control in terms of the level of safety provided to participants and attendees, or simply to head off commercial concerns around ambush of the category by unofficial brands.


Have a play with the various filters and sorting methods at the top of the screen, and see what stories you can unearth within the PeRiodic Table.

Heart Over Head: Spotlight turns on sponsors after Sharapova ban

In the 48 hours following the news that Maria Sharapova has been banned for two years for taking banned substance Meldonium, the spotlight has invariably shifted to her sponsors to see their reaction.

Many would have expected Nike, Head and Evian to pull the plug on their sponsorship deals with the former world No.1, but all three have done quite the opposite. Nike announced it will be continuing to partner with Sharapova, citing that she did not dope intentionally and is appealing the ban. Originally Nike had suspended its relationship with the Russian pending the investigation.

Evian, likewise, had first said it would follow the investigation closely before making a decision, but has now come out in full support of Sharapova and will continue to work with her despite the ban.

Head, though, took things a step further – a big and controversial step further – by challenging the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Head has claimed that the ban was based on WADA’s flawed process and was therefore a flawed decision, and so the brand will be sticking by Sharapova and continuing its sponsorship.

Quite why a tennis racket manufacturer is challenging WADA’s global drugs policy is baffling. What expertise does Head have to make such a criticism of WADA and doping in sport? A well-advised sponsor would steer clear of such a move and comment only on its relationship with the athlete, certainly not taking on a governing body that is trying to keep the sport clean and fair.

This follows the original statement Head released back in March when the failed drugs test first arose in which the company nailed its colours to the mast and came out in support of Sharapova without knowing all the facts or what the final outcome of the independent investigation would be. This did not sit well with one of its biggest athletes, Andy Murray, who openly criticised Head’s position in supporting Sharapova.

Sharapova is a Head ambassador

At the same time, another Sharapova’s sponsors, Tag Heuer, took the non-emotional route and put loyalty to one side by announcing it was suspending renewal talks and cutting its ties with the tainted tennis star. Tag has reaffirmed this stance and said it is not in a hurry to discuss any new contract, signalling the partnership will wind down

Porsche took a similar approach to Nike in suspending all planned activity with the former Wimbledon champion and has now said it will hold back final judgement until the outcome of the appeal is known.

Avon sensibly chose to remain silent back in March, but has now confirmed the sponsorship will expire at the end of the current contract without renewal, pointing at a limited engagement window for activity being the reason as opposed to the doping situation.

The Nike positioning is interesting when you look at the business value and the brand’s reputation. Supporting an athlete banned for doping damages the reputation of the brand, although a precedent was set by Nike’s renewed support of two-time drugs cheat Justin Gatlin. If there is a huge business value attached to the athlete that outweighs the reputational risk in the long-term then you could understand Nike supporting Sharapova. However, she is approaching the end of her career, especially by the time she can return to the court, and when put alongside the other stars on Nike’s books she no longer has the revenue pulling power.

We now await the verdict of Sharapova’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and to see what the sponsors do next. Will Murray and other top stars with Head or Nike partnerships speak out publicly against Head challenging WADA or Nike sticking by Sharapova?

Making the Most of the eSports Opportunity

From left to right: James Dean from ESL UK, Jonathan Hall from Gfinity & Chris Mead from Twitch

This year’s The Telegraph Business in Sport gave a significant share of the agenda and discussion to the rise of eSports and how brands, agencies and rightsholders can make sense of the commercial opportunities it is creating.

Miles Jacobson of Sports Interactive (creator of the Football Manager franchise) moderated a panel of eSports heavy-hitters.

It was an animated (pun intended) discussion with three key themes at its core:

1. Community

The belief that typical eSports fans are ‘nerdy’ and antisocial is a misconception. The eSports audience is inherently social. They are Millenials. They are digitally native. They are fluent in communicating via digital channels.

Community lies at the heart of eSports. Players and fans typically play one or two games – key titles include Counterstrike, League of Legends and DOTA 2 – and form tight-knit communities based on both playing and watching these games. Fans also come together to consume eSports via streaming sites such as Twitch, a platform which attracts more than 100 million viewers a month, and participate in discussion with like-minded fans in real-time.

Community has played a huge part in building professional eSports teams, identifying elite players and bringing them together to compete as a team. The size of that eSports community has helped fund the lucrative cash prizes on offer at international tournaments around the world. As an example, last year’s The International 2 tournament offered an incredible $18m as part of the prize pool on offer to the best DOTA 2 players.

2. Awareness & Commercialisation

The commercialisation of eSports is helping the sport become increasingly mainstream.

Sports clubs have begun to sponsor individual players and eSports teams. West Ham recently became the first UK sports club to sponsor an eSports player, while Besiktas and Schalke each have their own League of Legends team.

The live experience is also proving popular among eSports fans, with League of Legends tournaments selling out huge venues such as The SSE Wembley Arena and the Staples Center.

Mainstream broadcasters have been begun embracing eSports too. In March, Sky Sports became the first channel to air an eSports tournament by showing this season’s FIFA Interactive World Cup.

3. The Challenge for Sponsors

The current sponsorship landscape is dominated by ‘endemic’ brands that provide the peripherals and hardware that the games are played on.

Brands such as Corsair and Razer are well-established brands that have a long legacy in eSports with numerous successful teams around the world.

For non-endemic brands, gaining an understanding of the relatively new world of eSports is not without its challenges.

But these challenges present opportunities.

Despite the rapid ascent of eSports into mainstream consciousness and huge audiences, the category is yet to sculpt a clear commercial proposition for potential sponsors. Given the fragmented marketplace, comprising multiple publishers, games, events and so on, brands new to the game would have to work hard to understand and then profit from eSports sponsorship. But, if they do, this complexity could also give that sponsor more leeway to carve out a unique eSports proposition.

eSports as an industry will only continue to grow and the opportunities for a brave brand to make their mark are plentiful. If a brand wants to make the most of the opportunities that eSports have to offer, it is vitally important that they go into any partnership with their eyes open. As awarenesss and knowledge of eSports continues to grow. I am in no doubt that it will become a major category in the sponsorship marketplace. Which brands will be first to take advantage?