|That sound you heard on Monday was the popping of champagne corks as the US Supreme Court ruled to strike down the law that made sports betting illegal in the US outside the state of Nevada.Technically, the ruling doesn’t legalise sports betting in itself but it does allow each state to legalise it if they so wish.|
Not surprisingly, most states so wish.
New Jersey brought the case to the Supreme Court in the first place so you will be able to place a bet there within a couple of weeks. Four other states passed pre-emptive legislation legalising sports betting in anticipation of this ruling, while a further 14 have already introduced bills to their legislature. Within a year or two, this will be a tidal wave that will cover the whole country — with the probable exception of Utah and Hawaii.
However, those champagne bottles weren’t being opened to celebrate any sense of justice being done. This was all about the money. Frankly, other than the illegal, underground bookmakers who are currently feeding the (significant) gambling habit of Americans, it is hard to think of anyone who won’t benefit from an enormous commercial windfall.
First and foremost, the individual states are now able to collect tax on the profits of an industry that some people estimate to be worth at least $400bn (£296.4bn) per year.
Bookmakers are the next obvious beneficiaries with over £1.5bn added to the market values of British betting firms immediately after the ruling was made public. Shares in Paddy Power Betfair soared by over 12 per cent. Meanwhile companies like DraftKings and Fan Duel, who currently navigate a loophole in the legislation with their daily fantasy propositions, already have an active database of 10m people who like to stake money on sports predictions.
The major sports leagues and their teams are chilling their champagne flutes as well. Ironically, they were fighting against the ruling, arguing instead for a Federal solution rather than a state-by-state one. But that technicality notwithstanding, Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team has gone on record saying that this ruling will double the franchise value of all teams in the major US sports leagues.
Even if the - frankly preposterous - one per cent “integrity fee” that the leagues are proposing doesn’t come to pass, there are multiple ways that the leagues and teams will benefit commercially. People are significantly more likely to watch more minutes of more games when they have money on it, so that increased viewership will be reflected in the rights fees. Sports data will become the oil in the engine of the industry so expect to see significantly more deals like US Soccer’s $1.5bn deal with STATSports and Sportradar’s exclusive deal with the NFL.
Even more significantly, the ruling has also opened up a gigantic new sponsorship category. Gambling companies now account for a staggering 45 per cent of Premier League shirt sponsorships and completely dominate the commercial breaks as they compete to be front of mind in the “moment of truth” when the bet is placed. That is worth a lot of money to betting companies and they have shown a willingness to pay for it. Let the land grab commence.
But the biggest winner of all will be those responsible gamblers around the country, who no longer have to go underground to unregulated, dark markets. They will now have access to transparent odds, payouts on their winning bets will be guaranteed and there will be a route to legal recourse if necessary. Contrary to some who argue that an explosion of betting might lead to more corruption, almost all evidence suggests that this increased transparency will decrease the opportunity to manipulate the markets as irregular betting patterns become easier to identify.
Of course, there is a long way to go and there are likely to be plenty of bumps in the road before this all plays out. But the genie is out of the bottle and sports marketing in the US will never be the same again.
That’s something you can bet your mortgage on.
|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.|
|Shauna Coxsey, Tara Hayes, Matt Cousins and Nathan Phillips. Four names you’re probably not familiar with, but it might not be long before you are. All four are climbers and not just the best in Britain but some of the best in the world. With yesterday’s announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that climbing is to be one of five new sports added to the Olympic programme, they could be set to take Tokyo 2020 by storm.|
|The progression of climbing from a sport regarded for eccentrics and adventurers to one on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has been swift. Yet the reasons behind its incredible growth are as diverse as the sport itself and the IOC’s decision could be another leap forward.|
Entering the Mainstream
Arguably it was two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who pushed climbing into the spotlight like never before, with their historic free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan last year. Their epic 19 day ascent of the 3,000 metre Dawn Wall, drew media attention from around the world and made stars (if only reluctantly) of Caldwell and Jorgeson. Whilst the media’s gaze was only fleeting, it gave a unique look at a sport that has slowly been taking off around the world, particularly in the UK.According to the British Mountaineering Council the number of climbing walls in the UK has risen by over 100 in the last five years alone, with 350 public access walls listed in the BMC wall directory. The increase in walls is driven largely by an uptake of young people joining the sport, with the number of people taking part in the BMC Youth Climbing Series rising by 50% over the same period.
Technology, Technology, Technology
So the sport is a clearly a growing force but why and how has it become so, and more interestingly, how far can it go? The simple answer is technology. As with so many extreme sports new technology has allowed climbing to grow through improved equipment, providing a safer and more complete experience of a sport that inherently carries risk – without removing the thrill. Sport climbing is itself a descendant of the introduction of technology. Permanent anchors are secured to the rock face from which climbers can place protection to ensure survival from even the most eye watering falls.
|The shift may appear to be a natural progression from the days of Royal Robbins placing steel pitons into the Yosemite cliffs, but the effect has been more wide-ranging. The improvements in rope, harnesses and other climbing gear has allowed the very best climbers to push the limits of what’s possible. The dynamic and occasionally terrifying nature of these new challenges has opened up the sport of climbing to a new thrill seeking audience, one that is looking to not only participate but create and consume as much content about the sport itself as possible.|
In 2006 film makers Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer created the first Reel Rock film tour, taking a collection of short climbing films to live audiences all around the world. Now in its 11th year the tour has been a huge success and attracts sponsors such as The North Face, National Geographic and Petzl, highlighting the growing appetite for climbing content. It appears the sport has become as much about capturing the ascent, as the ascent itself. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
It’s a question that a number of companies and brands are already looking to answer. Epic TV has been quick to provide a channel for the new band of climbers wishing to share their latest exploits, earning them not just an audience but an opportunity to create their own brand with which to attract sponsorship and turn professional. Climbers such as Alex Honnold and Sean McColl regularly share not just their climbing achievements, but their training regimes and other aspects of their lifestyle that hold as much interest to fans as the climbing.
So the sport is growing, with new stars, increasing brand presence and a highly engaged audience mostly made up of Generation Z and Millennials - surely then a place in the Olympics would be a positive next step for a sport on the rise? Yet there remain concerns, including those from professional climbers such as Adam Ondra, who feels the expected format of the competition may need to be amended to reward the more aesthetic aspects of the sport. It’s a concern that isn’t exclusive to climbing, with the much publicised trouble surrounding golf at this summer’s games proving that format is a difficult area to get right for even the biggest of mainstream sports.
|Where Next? |
Regardless of the concerns around format, it’s clear that climbing is entering another stage of its development and a place in the Olympics will act as validation to the thousands who compete in and watch the sport worldwide. It won’t be long before brands outside the outdoor and adventure space take notice and names such as Coxsey, Hayes, Cousins and Phillips move from the unknown to the everyday.
|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.|
|Does anyone out there still doubt that women’s sport offers one of the most exciting opportunities in sponsorship?|
In a week where Synergy is hosting #ThisGirlDoes, a brilliant panel exploring why no brand should be without a strategy for women and women in sport, it makes sense to have a quick look at how rightsholders and brands can work together to not only fuel this fire, but benefit from it. And it’s actually pretty simple:
Where possible, any rightsholder with both men’s and women’s propositions should commercialise them separately. And where they are not currently commercialised separately, brands should ask for them to be.
|The fact is that most big properties that have both men’s and women’s propositions still tend to bundle them together. Sponsors of the FIFA World Cup (let’s be honest, no-one sponsors FIFA, they sponsor the World Cup), get the Women’s World Cup as part of the deal. The exact same thing applies to the UEFA European Championships, the Champions League, the RBS 6 Nations and the ICC Cricket World Cup. Similarly, if you sponsor England Rugby, Arsenal, Manchester City, PSG or any other major team, you typically also get the women’s team thrown into the deal. While this may simplify things for both rightsholder and sponsor, it is not necessarily the best solution for either side.|
One competition where this is not the case is the FA Cup, with the Emirates FA Cup and SSE Women’s FA Cup running side by side. Synergy have been working closely with both SSE and the FA from the beginning to create a bespoke programme for Women’s/Girl’s football, so we have seen the power of this unbundled approach first hand.
|By bundling the men’s and women’s propositions together, rightsholders are likely to be leaving value on the table. Basically, this sponsorship version of Buy-One-Get-One-Free doesn’t attribute the appropriate amount of value to the Women’s proposition. How much value do the FIFA World Cup sponsors attribute to their Women’s World Cup rights? Would Emirates expect to pay any less for their overall sponsorship of Arsenal if the Women’s team had a different brand on their shirts?|
This isn’t to say that those sponsors don’t value the women’s property at all – of course they do. It’s just that they don’t value it as much as a brand that wants to focus on the women’s property in its own right. And a brand that values it more highly will also be willing to pay more for it.
The brands that value the women’s propositions more highly in their own right are also the brands that are going to create more powerful activation campaigns. Although a slightly different form of unbundling, what Sainsbury’s and Channel 4 did with the Paralympics was one of the most powerful lessons from London 2012. As “Paralympic-only” sponsors they could identify what made the Paralympics so uniquely powerful and could focus their activation budget on bringing it to life. They were able to create brilliant Paralympic campaigns – not just Olympic campaigns that ran during the Paralympics.
|There is no doubt that this same principle applies to brands that want to tell empowering women’s stories. As an industry, we need to make sure that they have access to great properties that will allow them to do so. Campaigns like This Girl Can, Always #LikeAGirl, Dove Real Beauty Sketches, Under Armour #IWillWhatIWant and Nike #BetterForIt show what’s possible when a brand gets it right. And it’s a strategy worth pursuing as research by Google suggests that women ages 18-34 are twice as likely to think highly of a brand that creates an empowering ad about women and nearly 80% are more likely to engage with it.|
So brands with a strategy for women and women in sport can create better, more relevant and more targeted activation campaigns, while rightsholders can extract more value. Imagine the Possibilities.
|Synergy’s recent launch in the US got me wondering whether sports marketers closer to home could learn from America’s love for stats. My search for an answer unveiled some unexpected sources of inspiration and insight. This blog shares them and, in doing so, shows the answer to my question is a resounding YES.|
|Say the word “statistics” and memories of miserable maths lessons are what flood back for most of us. Yet today, US sports fans and coaches LOVE data. Broadcasters ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports and NBC Sports are feeding fans, via their websites, with a constant flow of facts and figures in every American sport going. The traditional Big Four – NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB – are perhaps the most stat-heavy sports on the planet.|
So why are US sports fans and coaches today so hungry for data? Perhaps the answer can be traced back to the US in 1950, when physicist and astronomer Professor Arpad E. Elo introduced a system to rank the world's chess players. Elo’s approach has since been adopted and adapted by sports organisations, especially in the US. FiveThirtyEight, for example, use it to predict future NFL performance. In brief, using analysis of past performance and a bit of maths, his system has been used and adapted to estimate and rank the future performance of players and teams, and in doing so has come to the attention of sports fans globally.
The power and popularity of Elo’s approach among fans lies in how it can arm them with data to help win debates with fellow fans, and potentially even cold hard cash through betting. DraftKings, which gives gamers (gamblers?) sports research before they ‘play’ is both enormously popular and controversial in the US. Whatever you think of it, it may not be long before DraftKings is the latest US to UK import. Subjectivity and gut instinct no longer rule fantasy transfer decisions and heated half-time debates. The popularity of FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo Rankings is just one example of how the appetite for data among US sports fans is being met. Closer to home, @AccentureRugby’s analysis of the RBS 6 Nations is an equally compelling case of how data is changing sport.
Snapshot from FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo Rankings
|Player turned manager Billy Beane attracted criticism when he started using sabermetrics to make decisions on trades, rosters and the like at Oakland Athletics baseball team. Success ensued on the pitch to such an extent that in 2009 Sports Illustrated placed Beane in their Top 10 sporting GMs/Executives of the Decade, and in 2011, Moneyball, with Brad Pitt playing Beane, hit the screens to critical acclaim. Whether it be sabermetrics in baseball or mathematical modelling at Brentford FC or FC Midtjyjlland, data in coaching decisions is here to stay. Data has become integral to decision-making and debate. Why? In sport, data helps you win.Data is integral to decision-making in business too. How many CEOs and CMOs do you think invest in multi-million £ or $ campaigns with no view on expected return on investment (ROI) vs. viable investment alternatives? To prove the point with data (I couldn’t help myself!), recent research from Millward Brown Vermeer’s Insights 2020 showed 51% of over-performing companies said “Insights & Analytics Leads the Business” vs. a 27% for global average. In business, data helps you win.|
The lesson for sports marketers? Yes, you guessed it – data can help you win. Sports fans and coaches realised long ago data can deliver success. The title of sports marketing’s answer to Billy Beane is still open to applications but – with such high financial gains to be made – it’s only a matter of time until the vacancy is filled.
If you want to chat about ROI in sponsorship or anything to do with sponsorship measurement and evaluation, please do send Synergy an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and, if you haven’t already, take a look at how Synergy think about sponsorship value in our white paper here.
All marketers are seeking that ‘first’, that innovative use of technology that is going to garner awards and make their brand, their agency, or themselves famous. In this quest for originality, however, there is the danger that new technology in our industry is being used purely for the sake of it – with very little strategic rationale for the brand involved.
At Synergy, we are of course tracking with interest the evolution of this technology, but the challenge we face week in, week out is to ensure that we are creating both innovative and effective sponsorship campaigns. We therefore recognise the importance of continuing to offer original thinking, but are keen to discourage the ‘it’s been done before (and is therefore not appropriate)’ attitude than can be prevalent in the industry.
We believe that it is not necessarily about winning the race to use any new technology – but instead ensuring that this tech is used appropriately to make sponsorship activations as authentic and impactful as possible.
So why are we so interested in correctly handling this balance between utilising new technology at both the right time – and also for the right reasons – in the first place? As sponsors increasingly look to reach Millennials, we know that these digital natives fully expect their interactions with brands to be grounded in technology, and are eager to try out new things (even if they can’t yet envisage how these forthcoming devices are going to influence their lives). The onus therefore lies with brands to attract and then engage with this audience through digital activity that makes their experiences both memorable and sharable. Clearly, for things to be memorable for Millennials, activations need to feel fresh and different, and this audience is less likely to share something that is starting to feel old hat – so timing remains a crucial consideration. The Fall/Winter 2014 Cassandra Report from Engine Group agency The Intelligence Group reiterates this: Millennials ‘want to be the first to do or share something, [and] they admire brands that take this approach too’.
To ensure that we are creating original activation concepts for the right reasons, two key questions need to be answered:
Does the technology being used…
• …play an authentic role for the brand?
• …make the experience better or solve a problem?
If the answer is yes, then our thoughts can turn to how we can create impactful and engaging experiences that are seamlessly grounded in this tech.
We wanted to share some examples of brands using emerging technology in the recent past in truly authentic and innovative ways (whilst not necessarily being first to leverage them) that have helped set the benchmark for the future.
3D Printing – Coca-Cola & EKOCYCLE Cube
Coca-Cola, in collaboration with will.i.am, have invented a 3D printer that uses a cartridge made in part from recycled plastic bottles, to create an array of lifestyle products – with the aim of bringing 3D printing to the masses. This initiative clearly fits as part of Coca-Cola’s commitment to sustainability and also has the potential to make recycling relevant to a younger audience. It will be interesting to see, however, whether The Cube’s retail price of $1,199 really helps lead to the democratisation of 3D printing.
According to Cassandra, 72% of trendsetters have heard of 3D printing and are interested in this, and as this technology begins to reach the masses, it could provide a great solution for a sponsor looking to give away bespoke, branded merchandise to fans at sporting events, for example.
Internet of Everything – Optus Clever Buoy
Optus, the telecommunications company, wanted to show the breadth of their network coverage and solve a genuine problem in Australia – creating the world’s first shark-detecting ocean buoy. Sensing their movement using sonar, the buoys then send instant alerts to lifeguards via Optus satellites. ‘The Internet of Things’ has been widely discussed in recent years, but this is one of the best examples of a brand using this connected technology to solve a long-standing, real-world issue, as well as to highlight one of the company’s key infrastructure strengths.
From a sponsorship perspective, this technology could be naturally used by Optus or organisers in surfing competitions, alerting surfers (via smartwatches) of any hidden dangers in the deep.
It will be interesting to see if rightsholders and sponsors will begin to find a role for innovative examples of NPD such as this. Saracens, a leading Aviva Premiership rugby club, plans to assess real-time data around the impact of big hits on the rugby field, which is a great example of a rightsholder using new technology to address a genuine challenge facing their sport.
3D Scanning – John Lewis and Monty’s Magical Toy Machine
John Lewis teamed up with Microsoft Advertising UK to produce an effective and emotive in-store activation that quite literally brought to life their Christmas 2014 TV ad. Using advanced 3D mapping technology, they gave children the chance to bring in their own soft toys and then watch them come to life in front of their very eyes, just as Monty the Penguin did. With this, John Lewis creatively connected an otherwise unrelated technology to deliver a genuine moment of wonder for children and parents alike.
50% of trendsetters have heard of image or facial recognition technology* and we have already seen a few nice examples of this technology being used by brands. Wouldn’t it be great to see this in a sporting experiential arena – anyone fancy shadow boxing with Floyd Mayweather?
Wearable Tech – VB Cricket Watch
Another great example from Australia – with Victoria Bitter using their sponsorship of the Australian cricket team to offer fans the world’s first ‘cricket watch’, a wearable timepiece that delivers live scores from the Aussie matches by pairing with a compatible smartphone. Supported by an on-pack consumer promotion and a multi-platform campaign, this is a really nice example of a sponsor improving the fan experience (and we all know how much the Aussies love their cricket) through the appropriate use of new technology and also generating widespread PR through this ‘first’.
Only 18% of trendsetters have currently heard of smartwatches and tried them out (The Cassandra Report Digital Fall/ Winter 2014), so this is a great example of a brand using technology first, but in a relevant and engaging way.
There is a school of thought that brands are taking a risk by using the latest technology before their target audience can fully appreciate it. Whilst this approach can bring the obvious benefit of a completely novel and fresh experience, it does raise the possibility that consumers will only associate certain technology with marketing campaigns, which in turn could bring a degree of cynicism.
We know that Millennials don’t like being ‘sold to’ and therefore, if new technology isn’t being used to genuinely improve an experience (or worse, seen as a poorly thought out gimmick), then this approach risks damaging both the brand and the tech in question. This is a criticism that has been levelled by some at the Oculus Rift headset – and despite a few interesting activations involving this specific hardware – it is fair to say that we’re yet to see a game-changing execution using this equipment. With the big money purchase of the company by Facebook and the news that they are to launch a consumer product this year, however, it’s likely to be a case of when, rather than if.
There’s no question that the pace of technological innovation will continue to create new opportunities for sponsors – but rather than racing to be first, the marketing challenge for brands remains as it always has been: to reach their target audience with key messages in a relevant and authentic way.
The challenge for how sponsors use new technology should mirror how they approach key strategic considerations: it’s not just about white space, but right space; not just real time, but right time – in terms of tech, think less first-mover and more right-mover advantage.
Matt’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.
|As Ed Miliband stated, the 2015 General Election is set to be the ‘tightest for a generation’. With policy focus on heavyweight areas, and media attention revolving around the potential results and the resultant political permutations, you could be forgiven for growing weary of the wall-to-wall election coverage.|
However, there has been very little attention paid to the topic of Sport. It's clear the seductive vision of the Olympic legacy promised in the 2010 UK General Election has not been realised. London 2012 brought more Team GB medals than any other Games, but participation levels in the UK are still falling, and yet Sport has been sidelined in the 2015 party manifestos. Within the combined 327 pages of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos, there were collectively 23 sentences referencing the subject. Not only is this disappointing, but it also seems illogical considering the impact Sport can have on on other policy areas, not least as physical inactivity is said to be costing our national economy £8.2 billion a year...
We must therefore ask: what effect, if any, will the election have on the Sport and sponsorship industry? To find an answer, we pored over the party manifestos, and delved into the political news archives to establish which elements of pre-election party chatter around Sport would actually make it on to the election agenda.
A summary of the major points can be found in our infographic here
For a more detailed view of these key topics, please read on...
Funding cuts leave door open for brands
In the weeks leading up to the 2015 General Election, much of the rhetoric has focused on each party’s approach to reducing the UK’s vast deficit (£101.8bn in 2014 alone). This need for collective belt-tightening makes cuts inevitable. With parties keen to ensure focus on the heavyweight policy areas, such as Education, Housing and the NHS, Sport has taken a back seat.
The prospects for sports funding, especially at the grassroots end of the spectrum, are poor. Whilst this is a worrying trend, any funding shortfall could open opportunities for brands to bridge gaps to provide capital, manpower, facilities and amenities. Work like McDonald’s grassroots football campaign and Barclays' ‘Spaces for Sport’ programme have shown that brands can provide vital funding, equipment and coaching where there is a real need. With cuts to be made, and a prioritisation of welfare services, sponsors could play a key role in keeping Britons active.
Manifesto game plans show limited football focus
|MPs are often accused of politicising football, but parties have comfortably avoided any such accusations around this election, by barely including the national game in their manifestos at all. Following the February announcement of the new Premier League TV deal, worth £5.14 billion, leading politicians wasted no time in adding their two pennies, but Labour's manifesto was the only one to mention the subject.|
Miliband has pledged to ensure the Premier League delivers on its 1999 promise to invest 5% of its domestic and international television rights income into funding grassroots. Further, Labour look to mix pounds and passion with a proposal to enable accredited supporter trusts. The move would mean fans could hold their football club far more accountable by appointing and removing at least two of the directors, and purchasing shares when the club changes hands.
The trickle-down of funds from the new TV deal and the enhanced ability for fans to hold their clubs to account could mean an evolving role for brands. Sponsors' changing role within football can be seen in recent high-profile examples, including that of Ched Evans, where club partners successfully supported Oldham fans in their calls to cancel the signing the player following his previous jail sentence.
After their focus on 'Reclaiming The Nation's Game' at their 2014 conference, it was hoped that football may play a large part in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto, but there were discouragingly few references. One of the few sport-related pledges concerned an exploration of safe standing, a stance that is sure to please a number of fans. Given the popularity of such a policy among football supporters, it might be tempting for brands already involved in the sport to show their own support by influencing policy-makers on this topic.
Worrying times for alcohol, betting and fast food brands
|Alcohol, betting and high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) brands would have been following the manifesto releases with a sense of trepidation, given the noise from major parties last year. Labour were most forthright in their views, referring to sponsorship of sports events by alcohol brands as 'potentially harmful' and calling for a debate on current rules. Their pre-election consultation on sport also included references to introducing a levy on betting companies, which could act as a new revenue stream for community sport. Additionally, a leaked document also proposed a 9pm watershed for TV adverts for unhealthy products that might appeal to youngsters – a policy mirrored by the SNP.|
However, upon manifesto releases, there was barely a mention of marketing restrictions in any of the aforementioned industries. This does not mean these policies have been forgotten, rather, they appear to have been temporarily sidelined, due to the focus on 'safer' traditional policy areas. Given the impact any fresh legislation could have on brand advertising and sponsorship approaches – as well as marketing budgets – companies and rightsholders in the firing line will have to keep their eyes open.
A lot to learn on school sport
|A minimum of 2 hours per week from Labour, £150 million investment a year from the Conservatives and half a day a week from the Greens. These are the manifesto pledges made by the parties on the subject of school sport. The immediate question is, of course, what on Earth do they all mean? Comparing these disparate units of measurement is an almost impossible task, and that’s before chucking in extra layers of confusion, such as Labour's rebuttal that the Conservatives' promise actually represents a reduction of current funding, when taking inflation into account.|
The lack of a substantial commitment by any party ensures that schools still remain fertile ground for sponsors, as Lloyds Bank National Schools Sports Week programme has shown, and brands that can best understand where funding gaps will arise, once the anointed party has implemented their policy, will be best placed to create fruitful partnerships.
Closing the gender gap
|The push for equality within sport, in terms of both participation and representation, is gathering pace, with FIFA’s No to Racism and Sport England’s ThisGirlCan campaigns being just two high-profile proof-points. But whilst all parties vocalise support for women’s sport when prompted, the Conservatives were the only party to clearly put pen to paper, pledging to push the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25% by 2017. The Green Party included a more vague reference to ‘setting targets for participation by women’.|
The silence was particularly disappointing from Labour, who had put a primary focus on the subject within their pre-election sports consultation. Within the party's ‘More Sport For All’ document, there was even suggestion of a government fund incentivising commercial sponsorship of women’s sport.
Such silence presents sponsors with the opportunity to bridge the gap on gender policy. The profile of women’s sport is growing, but investment accounts for just 0.4% of the value of all the sponsorship deals and just 7% of total sports media coverage. As outlined in Synergy's NowNewNext article on the subject, brands can make a real difference within women's sport if their activity is grounded in appropriate insights. Savvy sponsors with existing partnerships stand to benefit the most. Our advice to the (right) brands not already engaged would be to get involved whilst you can.
Tories target American Sport
Increasingly popular in the UK, it was never going to be long before US sport landed on the political agenda. Referenced in the Conservative manifesto, David Cameron aspires to increase UK links with the major US sports, with a long-term view of franchises based in the UK. More than 600,000 people have already attended each of the previous two NFL events on Regent Street, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have long been rumoured to become a permanent NFL London-based franchise. On top of this, Britons have already witnessed regular-season NBA games on home turf as the Global Games Schedule expands overseas.
The globalisation of sport, as discussed in Synergy’s NowNewNext report, is happening fast. It seems that a Conservative government would be prepared to turbo-charge this process. Sponsors need to be ready for the opportunities - and challenges – that this will bring.
Minority parties explore major changes
|Despite UKIP repeatedly referencing their support for ‘unifying a British culture’, the promise may be somewhat inhibited by a pledge to abolish the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as part of their streamlining measures. Given the department’s crucial role in administrating UK sport at every level, including a major role in delivering the Olympics, the policy seems potentially ill-judged.|
Another policy that stood out from the manifestos was the Green Party’s position on horse racing. The proposal for a whip-free Grand National, and consequent ‘full review of the sport’ would represent a step towards the event being cut from the sporting (and sponsorship) calendar altogether. With £80m bet every year by the British public and 600m TV viewers globally, the policy would have widespread impact.
These more outlandish promises might be laughed off in almost any other election campaign, but given the likely delicate balance of power, concerns are justifiable, especially if either party were to grab power under a coalition or alliance.
Boiling 500+ pages of manifesto down into a seven-point snapshot was easy. Not because the Synergy Insights team comprises some of the brightest sponsorship brains in Britain (although this may well be true), but because sport and sponsorship have largely been sidelined by the UK political parties. While our seven snippets show that the parties have not been totally silent, one thing is emphatically clear:
Sport could use sponsors now more than ever.
Conservative Party https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto
Labour Party http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto
Liberal Democrat Party http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto
Gambling Watch UK http://www.gamblingwatchuk.org/
Office for National Statistics http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/index.html
Sport England https://www.sportengland.org/
Sport and Recreation Alliance http://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/
Sports think tank http://www.sportsthinktank.com/
*Microassets Ltd. is the world-leading provider of small ‘features’ within a bigger sponsorship asset, including content, giveaways, challenges, stats and in-game moments than can be sold to a Presenting Partner.
On a recent trip to New York, Tim Crow and I had the pleasure of going to Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Knicks take on the Indiana Pacers. Anyone who has followed the NBA this year knew that we were unlikely to witness a basketball masterclass or a win for the home team. Rather, we were going for a first-hand experience of US sports marketing and sponsorship activation. And where better than in one of the world’s most iconic sporting venues?
We certainly got more than we bargained for. Here’s what we found (and I promise I’m not making any of this up):
We couldn’t quite believe the sheer intensity of the brand bombardment that we had just experienced. But when we told one US sports marketing veteran about it, his response was simple: “Welcome to America!”
Really? Is this the direction that sports marketing in the US is heading? Is the Madison Square Garden a template for the future or a relic of the past? Will the future just be an endless collection of semi-meaningless assets like “The FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Week” (NFL), “The Dominos #DomiNoNos” (MLB) and “The Dunkin Donuts Dunks of the Week” (actually that last one doesn’t exist, but it probably should)?
The appeal of this model for rightsholders is obvious. It’s about carving up rights into smaller and smaller pieces and creating saleable “micro-assets” out of thin air – basically money for old rope. Who can’t see the appeal of that? But that’s only if you see sponsorship as a zero-sum game – a transaction rather than a true partnership.
The best way for rightsholders to create more value for themselves is by focusing on creating more value for their sponsors, and then figuring out ways to tap into that incremental value; not by coming up with more and more things to sell them. And the plain truth is that this model isn’t particularly good at creating value for the sponsors.
First and foremost, and at an incredibly basic level, with 16 different brands all vying for a bit of attention at this particular event, there are simply too many brands present without enough whitespace between them. The problem isn’t the number of brands per se, but the fact that they are all basically doing the same thing (sticking their name on a particular feature), meaning that none of them are really memorable. Without scrolling up, try to remember who the presenting partner of the mega T-shirt machine was, or what Terra Vegetable Chips sponsored.
Great sponsorship needs a Big Idea: a powerful insight that connects the brand to the audience via the asset they are sponsoring, and an activation campaign which brings that Big Idea to life through different channels, over time and in new and interesting ways. But frankly, it’s really hard to see how any of the items on the list above connect to a bigger, more meaningful insight or are part of a broader, more engaging activation programme.
Sure, there are some obvious connections like the fact that the ‘drive of the game’ was being presented by a car company or that the two assets involving children are presented by a brand of chewy sweets. In fact, I’m pretty certain that someone, somewhere has come up with a logical justification for all of them (“We dance on Norwegian Cruise Line Ships so we should sponsor Dance Like a Champion”; “Trees for Threes rhymes with PWC” etc.)…but, in truth, none of them help to tell a meaningful and compelling brand story that the audience cares about. Because, to do that, you have to go beyond the obvious.
Also, it was hard to see how any of the activity we saw in the building was part of a broader campaign. Clearly, Sprite’s Latin Night was part of a bigger NBA-wide sponsorship property, but nothing happened on the night to give it that sense. Is there a PR or social media component to Douglas Elliman’s celebrity spotting? Do Chase have a campaign around helping people make better decisions which their sponsorship of the video review brings to life? Do Delta use stats in any of their other marketing communications?
If the answer to all these questions is “no”, then what’s the point of even doing them? The fact is that none of these “micro-assets” are big enough to stand on their own, so if they aren’t part of a bigger campaign, they are just tactical media buys that reach the 18,000 people inside Madison Square Garden.
Surely that’s no template for the future.
Although consensus on London 2012’s tangible legacies in the UK remains elusive, arguably the most high profile and certainly the most sustained legacy is the momentum behind greater recognition for women’s sport, created by the medal success of the Team GB women and their starring role at the Games.
It was clear before London 2012 that momentum was already building, with the public furore at the omission of women from the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist a clear signal of things to come.
Now, post Games, nowhere is the legacy in the UK more evident than in the competition between the BBC, BT Sport and Sky to out-behave each other as champions of women’s sport.
BT and Sky both have dedicated editorial platforms and sportswomen of the year awards. BT Sport broadcasts Women’s Super League football and the BBC has ramped up its coverage of England women’s international football, in particular the most recent England v Germany friendly, which also out-sold – for the first time ever – the previous month’s men’s international.
And what a difference a few years has made to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, with the 2014 Team of the Year award presented to the World Cup-winning England women’s rugby team.
But these are the exceptions that prove the rule, as consistently demonstrated by a long-running Women In Sport campaign, that women’s sport in the UK is overwhelmingly the poor relation to men’s, in terms of both media coverage and, as a result, sponsorship.
The transformative financial effect that media coverage can have can be clearly seen in women’s tennis. Billie-Jean King’s pioneering work in creating the WTA, and above all the dual men’s and women’s format of many major tennis events – in particular the Grand Slams – has kept women’s tennis and its stars in the spotlight, and as a result the money, for years. Other women’s sports, lacking the media spotlight, are playing catch-up, and the gap is growing.
Bridging it will not happen overnight, but in time, increased media visibility will come and will inevitably drive increased commercial viability for brands looking to sponsor women’s sport.
However, media coverage is only part of any viability equation for brands.
New behaviours will also be required. The inconvenient but undeniable truth is that much of the brand money invested through sponsorship in women’s sports is connected to sex appeal – what one might call the ‘Kournikova factor’.
It’s easy for brands to get quick wins by adding to the purses of the planet’s most glamorous stars – after all, sex sells, right? But sponsors that genuinely care about the advancement of women’s sport will look to celebrate women as athletes, not pin-ups, and to lead the way in promoting an attitudinal change.
This is something that has been confronted by the brand Always, with its highly creative and engaging #LikeAGirl campaign. Based on the simple question of what it means to do something (such as run, throw or fight) ‘like a girl’, and demonstrating quite how loaded this phrase has really become, the campaign challenges both genders’ thinking, acting as an apt reminder of the effects adolescence has on both girls’ and boys’ perceptions of themselves and others.
And, as well as new behaviours, brands interested in using sport to market to women will also need to navigate two major and related disconnects between theory and reality in this space.
The first is the assumption that a higher profile for women’s sport will automatically drive greater women’s participation in sport. This is unproven. Famously, for example, after London 2012, sports participation in the UK actually decreased across all groups, including women.
Which leads on to the second disconnect. The fact is that many women, for a variety of reasons, are not sports fans. As such, another widely held assumption, that using women’s sport to promote exercise amongst women will be effective at scale, is also unproven.
|The new Sport England ‘This Girl Can’ campaign recognises this, attempting to drive attitudinal change to sport amongst women by confronting the fear of being judged, a key barrier for many women.|
At Synergy, our understanding of these disconnects has led to successful campaigns for clients, proving that brands can make a difference if their activity is grounded in the appropriate insights.
Bupa’s ‘My First Run’ campaign demonstrated how crucial the right female ambassador is (in this instance, Jo Whiley) to drive coverage, engagement and ultimately behaviour change, which in this case led to an estimated 23,000 women being inspired to take part in their first ever organised run.
|Similarly, Coke Zero’s ParkLives programme, which offers free, fun, family activities in local parks, has seen great success, with communications specifically avoiding the ‘s-word’ to ensure female participants are not put off by a direct association with ‘sport’.|
So, there’s no doubt there is a big opportunity for brands here. That said, they must beware of thinking about it solely in the context of sponsoring Women’s Sport – capital W, capital S. For us, the biggest opportunity lies in driving attitudinal and behaviour change in the context of women in sport and in women’s relationship with sport in its broadest sense: in building trust, providing inspiration, and creating the environment in which women can express themselves, and audiences and participants can connect without prejudice or agenda.
Tim’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.