Sunday, February 18, 2007

Football highlights sponsorship Dos and Don'ts

Sponsorship is one of the fastest-growing marketing disciplines and it can be the hook upon which a host of other activity can be hung. It drives advertising campaigns, creates reams of media coverage and can even help build new areas of business for brand owners. "Sponsorship, in short, is an excellent way to get your brand noticed. Coca-Cola provides a good example," Richard Gillis discussed in Brand Republic. "As the most famous brand in the world, its £15 million sponsorship of the Football League must do more than just generate media exposure. The rights allow Coca-Cola to use platforms such as online, digital and user-generated content to talk direct to its customers. The sponsorship is the starting point of an ongoing conversation between the brand and a large and influential constituency: English football fans."

As the uses of sponsorship broaden, the contract between sponsor and rights holder becomes more complex. Traditional elements such as branding opportunities, hospitality and ticketing remain in place. However, sponsors are demanding greater flexibility to use a property in areas such as retail point of sale, digital marketing or even staff motivation and training. The people responsible for sponsorship must therefore liaise closely with other areas of the business to fully flesh out the possibilities. 'When it comes to evaluating a sponsorship, wastage is often a major concern,' says Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sponsorship, who estimates that about 75% of the value of rights are wasted. 'The feedback asks why the marketing department bought it. If you had asked the right questions to the right people within your own business beforehand, it is a problem you could avoid'.

With mass TV audiences seemingly a thing of the past - in 1998, 250 programmes were watched by more than 15 million people in the UK; by 2004, this figure had fallen to four, according to MindShare - sponsorship has become one of the few ways to reach a big, diverse audience. Sadly for brands, this has come at a price, with the cost of rights to major sporting events rising rapidly. FIFA, for example, has sold its top-line partnerships for the period up to the 2014 World Cup for between £150 million and £220 million. The reason prices are rising to this extent is the simplest rule of economics: supply and demand. Despite inflated figures, more and more brands are seeking to associate with these events, creating the danger of clutter. Take the 2006 World Cup as an example. This summer's festival of football was supported by 15 top-line sponsors. Can you name them all? More to the point, can you name any of them?

SPONSORSHIP DOS AND DON'TS

Do identify your key objectives. Are they media exposure and brand awareness, hospitality, goodwill and sales generation, PR or brand positioning?

Do ensure the contract with the rights-holder meets the objectives. Invest in a legal specialist to work on it.

Do involve personnel from your marketing, sales, corporate affairs and PR departments in your business plan.

Do invest in research and evaluation to assess the sponsorship's impact.

Do develop a relationship with the governing body or rights holder. Aim to work together as partners.

Don't undertake a sponsorship programme unless you have enough money to cover the legal work, hospitality, PR, promotion, and in-house/agency support team.

Don't lose focus of your objectives. Avoid being seduced by the sexiness of sponsorship or by working with high-profile events and celebrities. It is primarily a business relationship.

Don't just pay the money and run. Ensure an activation team is in place either in-house or at an external consultancy.

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