Euro 2016 – time for sponsors to put in a big game performance

The majority of the Euro 2016 sponsors have stuck to tried and tested strategies but by playing it safe are they opting for smash and grab wins that won’t leave a lasting impression with fans?

Marketers have been quick to talk up the “unconditional relationship” they want to build with fans during the tournament, stressing that it’s those who love the game who matter most, not a product. While there’s nothing wrong with that strategy – it can still deliver short-term gains - it’s one of the oldest tactics in a sponsorship play book that is increasingly becoming redundant amid a more voracious appetite from fans for authentic content.

That’s not to say all the marketing around the event will be safe. Adidas, Nike and Beats are dropping their own campaigns in the coming days, all of whom can call on long-term bets on football and its biggest stars to make people sit and up take notice. For those unable to call on that well of equity, showing fans they are understood starts with being brave enough to take a leap – no matter how big – to humanise their brands under the dark cloud of corruption scandals, the migrant crisis and terrorism fears swirling around this summer’s tournament.

Orange’s ‘Orange Sponsors You’ campaign suggests it is touching on this to an extent by applying a formula devoid of any sense of decadence or luxury and instead opting to focus on human emotion by attempting to recognise the passion fans have for their country in sport competitions.

While not entirely an original concept, the campaign tries to stand out with its activations which include giving fans the opportunity to determine the appearance of one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, the Eiffel Tower.

Donna Soane, head of global sponsorships and partnerships at Orange, said: “The aim of this part of the campaign is to look at the important role the fans play in the game and to be able to recognise that support and leverage an iconic structure in the centre of Paris is fantastic.”

Giving fans more control and celebrating their support seems like the right approach to take as it makes the audience part of the narrative rather than the end point. It’s this level of engagement which can give a brand a greater sense of amity with people, according to marketing experts.

“We need to go further to develop unconditional emotional relationships with fans,” says Simon Joyce, global brand partnerships director at Copa90, which is working with Uefa sponsors Turkish Airlines,and Hyundai around the tournament.

“Creating a symbiotic relationship can’t be achieved alone. You need to create it with fans, not for fans," he added.

None more so will this approach be more prevalent than in Ibiza. The football network will take its hugely popular ‘Fifa and Chill’ show to the beachfront for a live broadcast at the Ibiza Rocks music festival.

The potential to strike up emotional experiences is there for brands but not via the traditional highs and lows to be expected from a global event like the Euros. There’s a dark cloud hanging over this tournament which has subsequently propagated a sense of tension throughout France and Europe as a whole.

While this presents something of a hurdle for sponsors, it also opens up the opportunity to take a more human approach, and to drop the façade of marketing to touch on the sensitivities of human emotions in a way that will help instigate optimism around issues which transcend sport.

It’s important to consider the credentials for measuring success when determining whether sponsors will truly make a lasting impression with fans. Copa 90’s Joyce maintains too often brands “measure egotistical metrics that are redundant outside of a brand boardroom”. Instead he poses that they “focus on the people who matter most, the fans”.

The measurement of success will be fully determined after the tournament wraps up but in terms of sponsors activations in the build-up then there’s little standing out amidst all the noise. One platform

“This means concentrating on the brand values and how they can be reflected in a creative idea, rather than focusing on the brand promise and jamming it into a social media conversation," said Steve Ackerman, managing director at Somethin’ Else. "Fans see through a lack of authenticity as B&Q found it with its David Bowie tweets earlier this year.”

Instagram is one platform looking to match that ambition. Like sister-network Facebook, the photo-sharing app is setting its sports stool out this summer around the Euros and Rio Olympic Games, built on the promise of unrivaled access to athletes. One in the top four Instagram accounts are sports relate and one in five of those are football related. With such breadth of profiles it’s no wonder then that Instagram will be pushing brands to take up the video features it has been expanding since the turn of the year.

“Football is by far and away the number one sport on Instagram,” said head of global sports partnerships Brandon Gayle. “Whether it’s the Euros or the Olympics expect to see a lot of great video content and behind-the-scenes posts to wrap around the experiences that people actually be consuming on TV. We want to complement what the broadcasters are doing.”

Carlsberg and Coca-Cola have both opted to stick to the tried and tested sponsorship model of giving away free tickets to Euro 2016 and have accompanied this with TV spots. Similarly, Kia have used their sponsorship status to give away tickets and have accompanied this with sponsored 5-a-side tournaments and official match ball carrier competitions.

“Purely looking at the activations, from what we’ve seen so far it’s hard to argue that the official brands are really maximising their official partner status,” says Gavin Peters, director of partnerships at Pitch.

“The official partner status could give brands a real opportunity to take some risks and do things differently, as they don’t need to work so hard to explain their relevance in football so can focus on adding real value. However, we haven’t really seen that yet.”

There’s little doubt that Euro 2016 sponsors have made a lot of noise in announcing their campaigns and the advancements in technology have better facilitated the means for them to humanise their brands more than ever before. However, the strategies thus far suggest that they will instead stick to the rulebook, perhaps in the hope that fans will be more receptive to any distractions from the dark cloud looming over the tournament.

Tony Connelly

I cover media, marketing and sponsorship news within the sports industry. This includes breaking news as well as writing feature pieces with insights from experts in the sports marketing world.

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