In my 12 years working in on both sides of the fence at the Evening Standard, I have never had a single complaint from a reader about any sports sponsorship that we have carried.
The make-up of sponsorships at ESI Media has changed radically in that time. As sports editor, its purpose was to pay for writers to travel overseas, to now, where over the past six years as head of sponsorship we’ve developed campaigns that use every touchpoint across all our platforms.
This is a great testament to the power of sport both as a consumer event but also as a platform for brands. Audiences are not offended by it in fact they have almost now come to expect it but this does not mean there should be any complacency.
With such huge investments going into sponsorships in the sports world, its important marketers and newsbrands consider carefully who they choose to enter into this unique partnership with. Real Madrid have won three Champions League titles in a row and have one of the most marketable players on the planet so it is no surprise they pocket $220m a year in sponsorships.
Los Blancos have the biggest bill for kit manufactures, pocketing a cool $158m every single year from Adidas. And while Fly Emirates shell out $34m a year to get their name on the famous white strip, the United Arab Emirates as a nation pay the Madrid team a whopping $28m for rights to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Adidas, Fly Emirates and the United Arab Emirates have their reasons for getting involved with Madrid – the halo effect of success being the obvious one! Every brand has a different motivation. It can be a great synergy with an audience or sometimes maybe just because the sport is one loved by the CEO! Some brands match their customer demographic closely to the event while others can seem less clear – Hafnia Ham sponsoring the most successful Everton team in their history springs to mind, yet you could not buy a tin of the stuff in the UK.
Ultimately, as long as the brand involved has an authentic story to tell and a reason behind its sponsorship that will resonate, it will work. Two perfect examples of this scale for ESI Media are DFS choosing to amplify their campaign designed to emphasise their British credentials through their partnership with Team GB and the more longstanding relationship with O2 galvanising the nation behind England for a home Rugby World Cup.
When England failed to get out of the group stage in 2015, it looked like game over for Rugby Football Union sponsor O2. Yet, working together, the message was changed, focusing on O2’s ongoing support for the team, even when things got particularly difficult on the pitch. It has continued to back England, remaining a proud shirt sponsor now for more than a quarter of a century.
Events that touch on the passion points of the target audience of a brand will always be particularly engaging and effective. It’s important for advertisers to identify the unique space where these two events combine. We are currently working with health and life insurance company Vitality, who are the official wellness sponsor of England Hockey, to promote the Women’s Hockey World Cup which takes place in London next month. This partnership works so well because there is a clear synergy between the brand and the activities aligned with health, activity and lifestyle.
The context of an event is key. At this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, it’s clear that brands are behaving more cautiously than usual. FIFA did not sell all its packages and there has been less activity around this event than you would expect. As the second biggest sporting event behind the Olympic Games, it is still a great opportunity for brand exposure regardless of where the competition is taking place. The risk for smaller brands trying to make an impact is that often they do not have the clout to cut through, which is why partnering with organisations that do is crucial.
ESI Media’s partnership with Paddy Power-Betfair is designed to help enhance our audiences experience of watching football by integrating the bookmaker into all coverage across the Evening Standard; standard.co.uk and independent.co.uk.
Demand for our branded World Cup Wallcharts has extended beyond the streets of London where we handed out 250,000 to the Midlands, Manchester and even Scotland. Even in the digital age, sticking them on the wall and filling in the scores – my son Alfie is doing it for the first time – is a national pastime.
Obviously, consumer mindset is as crucial for sports sponsorship as success on the field. Fortunately, there is widespread understanding by consumers that sports and sponsorship do go hand in hand. When entered with thought and consideration, sponsorships can be a powerful tool for brand building and visibility. Sporting events allow room for brands to be creative and innovative on a huge scale reaching a global audience.
Top Tips for Brands
Follow this simple checklist to ensure your sponsorship is as successful as possible
Join in the passion. Audiences with passion points gravitate to brands with credibility, the sponsor has to be an authentic voice in the conversation to be heard.
Think beyond the obvious. Sponsorship really comes alive when multiple platforms are activated such as events and vendors that add to the experience
Trust your content provider. As a newsbrand we are expert in keeping our audience interested so work with us to develop the campaign
Focus on the long term. Build connections with your audience. Discuss sponsorships with three years in mind. Develop and grow together.
Steve Cording is the head of sponsorship at ESI Media