Barclays' axing of 'Boris Bikes' sponsorship is down to internal politics and a disjoined sponsorship portfolio

John Reynolds, a former Campaign, Marketing and Media Week journalist who now freelances for titles including The Guardian, casts his eye over the big stories in sports marketing.

Barclays’ decision to axe its sponsorship of Boris Johnson’s flagship cycle hire scheme can be traced back to 2012 when the bank bought in veteran marketer David Wheldon in a fire-fighting role.

Barclays had pulled the plug on its 'Boris Bikes' sponsorship

Wheldon was handed the grandstanding job title of head of brand reputation and citizenship for Barclays group.

In effect, Wheldon was given responsibility to oversee Barclays' corporate reputation in light of the battering it – and other banks – had taken over the banking scandal.

Wheldon has a big reputation – he had previously held senior marketing roles at Coca-Cola and Vodafone – and according to one well-placed source, Wheldon did not like what he saw when he arrived at Barclays.

Wheldon said some of its sponsorships were “unsophisticated” and likened some of its agency relationships – including sponsorship, creative and media – as run “like cartels”, said the source.

Barclays is now reviewing its disparate sponsorship deals, which include title sponsorship of the Premier League, title sponsor of the ATP tennis world tour finals, sponsorship of golf tournaments, personal sponsorship of golfer Phil Mickelson, the Springboks rugby union team, and the Barclays Centre in New York.

It is also reviewing its media and creative arrangements.

Some of its sponsorships including the flagship Premier League one, date back a long way, hence the “like cartels” accusation.

In short, Barclays has too many disparate sponsorships in these austere times and something had to give.

And the cycle hire scheme, which always felt like an adjunct to the rest of the portfolio, was the obvious candidate, as it was expensive (£50m over five years) and frankly to some looked like wasted money with little activation support and little tangible ROI.

There has been a suggestion that internal politics are rife at Barclays: Wheldon has an agenda for change when it comes to the bank’s sponsorships, while others perhaps don’t see it that way.

For instance, Matt Appleby, sponsorship director at Barclays, has been with Barclays more than 10 years and signed off many of the deals.

It is interesting that Barclays is mirroring Vodafone (Wheldon’s former stomping ground) in reviewing its sponsorship properties but perhaps unsurprising.

When times are tough, marketing is the first to get axed, the old adage goes.

Perhaps, in light of public distrust of banks, Barclays will call time on its entire sponsorship programme, as it does not want to be seen throwing money around on flashy and fuzzy marketing projects.

But that argument does not really stack up, as days after Barclays was fined $453m over the Libor scandal, at a time when public distrust of banks was at an all time high, Barclays extended its Premier League sponsorship deal.

That 40 million pound-a-season sponsorship of the Premier League will be the interesting one.

The deal runs out in 2016 and there is no doubt Premier League chief Richard Scudamore will want a big premium, irrespective of Barclays being a sponsor since 2004 (prior to that it was Barclaycard).

Like its sponsorship of the cycle hire scheme, critics would suggest that Barclays has done little creative activation around the Premier League sponsorship, although it did launch a TV ad before the start of the season.

Barclays' biggest fear – and it has been since its first singed the deal – is that the Premier League sponsorship goes to a rival bank, which would be a massive blow and undermine all the work it had done with the Premier League.

In light of this, Barclays is likely to do everything it can to keep the PL sponsorship, which could include ditching a raft of its other sponsorships.

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