When our telecommunications and broadband client italk announced an official three-year partnership with Brighton and Hove Albion, we were instantly caught up in the Premier League buzz. Content Specialist Alicia Lewis offers insight into the lucrative world of sports sponsorship.
italk’s sponsorship deal includes a dedicated lounge at the Amex Stadium, which we’re busily decking it out in full brand regalia, reflecting italk’s dedication to top-level digital entertainment while offering their guests an unbeatable view of the game.
Companies aligning with key sporting names is no new trend - from Puma’s sponsorship of Usain Bolt and Emirates’ monopoly of the FA cup to Red Bull’s extreme sports empire, any avid sports fan will be inundated with brand messaging online, on TV and at live games.
But how can sports sponsorship benefit smaller brands? And how can you find the perfect sponsorship deal for your growing business?
Many medium-size enterprises believe that sports sponsorship is only for Coca-Cola-level corporations. This isn’t true. In fact, Coca-Cola themselves draw on the expertise of agencies of all sizes to help them elevate their brand presence during sporting events such as the Olympic games. Bozboz designed the pins for the Olympic games in 2012. These pins then helped to carry the Coca-Cola brand even further, as they were worn by politicians, Athletes and celebrities long after the Olympic games had ended.
The big question to ask isn’t “is my brand big enough for sports sponsorship?” so much as “do my audience enjoy sports?” You’ll already have thoroughly researched your audience in relation to your own brand, but how much can you learn about their sporting preferences? YouGov’s Profiler uses tens of thousands of survey results to generate a typical consumer profile. This tool will not only tell you whether your average audience member enjoys sports, but which sports and teams they love best.
If your target audience is predominantly male and aged 24-44, for example, it’s worth setting your sights on the Premier League - men are twice as likely as women to be fans, while 24-44 year-olds make up 66% of the viewership.
Nobody knows brand loyalty like sports fans - they’re committed to supporting their teams and players through thick and thin, spreading the word via merchandise, catchy chants and fierce pub debates.
Aligning your brand with a person or team that attracts such a passionate fanbase means a chance to turn those fans into passionate customers - as loyal to your product or service as they are to the team that wears your logo.
A significant aspect of this relationship is the legal permission to use a team or athlete’s trademarks. By creating a campaign in conjunction with a particular trademark or capitalising on the relationship via branded social media posts, companies can quickly capture fans’ engagement, generating fan buzz around their product or service.
"Nobody knows brand loyalty like sports fans - they’re committed to supporting their teams and players through thick and thin."
Take Barclay’s, for example. A 2013 brandwatch study found that around one in four online conversations about the Premier League also mentioned the bank as its title sponsors. While you may not have an entire league in your sights, attaching your name to a local team, event, venue, or a lounge in a stadium will ensure significant name-dropping in conversations about fans’ experiences.
Sponsorships also lead to significant media interest. With each new season, sponsors can expect a flurry of interest from the UK’s biggest news and media outlets. With 4.7 billion TV viewers across the globe, having your name on show in a stadium or on a shirt has endless potential for national and international brand awareness.
While shiny logos and swanky lounges are sure to grab sports fans’ attentions, modern sports sponsorship requires more than simply reach. It’s important to cut through the endless marketing messages that fans will see on their screens and in their stadiums, we need to create conversations. Here are our tips for maximising a sponsorship deal’s potential for engagement and conversions.
When Red Bull bought Major League Soccer team the Metrostars and renamed it "The New York Red Bulls", fans of the brand were surprised - at the time, soccer simply didn’t captivate the American public in the same way American football, basketball and hockey did.
Over the next decade however, Red Bull’s target demographic of 18-29-year-olds got serious soccer fever, making the energy drink the go-to favourite of soccer viewers around the USA.
By identifying upcoming sporting trends and keeping an eye on smaller teams on the rise, your brand can get in early and be associated with the next big thing from the very beginning.
Sports fans can be extremely loyal, yet equally unforgiving when it comes to branding blunders.
In 2011, Sports Direct’s sponsorship deal with Newcastle United led to the team renaming the much-loved St James’ Park to the Sports Direct Arena. Outraged local fans responded with a social media furore and acts of criminal damage, before Wonga purchased the rights to the stadium the following year and restored its original name.
"Sports fans can be extremely loyal, yet equally unforgiving when it comes to branding blunders."
Even on a smaller scale, a bold act that ignores fan culture could result in disastrous bad press. Ensure that you take time to understand a sports team’s fans before entering into a partnership, and ensure that your brand ethos will resonate with them.
While fans of your chosen team or athlete may reward you with intense brand loyalty, fans of rival teams may react in the opposite way, avoiding your product or service to show solidarity with their own team.
This is less of an issue on a local scale, as it makes sense for a locally-based company to partner with their home team. However, when a team takes off, it’s worth considering whether you’re alienating more fans than you’re winning over.
It’s always exciting to use the phrase “official partner of” in your brand messaging, but for modern digitally-driven audiences, this isn’t enough.
Campaigns need to be carefully considered in order to create impactful statements and build trusting relationships with fans. Consider how you can add value to the fan experience, whether through exclusive content, ticket giveaways, or calls for audiences to submit their own favourite sporting stories.
Whether you’re supporting your local league or looking to follow a team all the way to the top, sports sponsorship can be a lucrative opportunity for the right brands.
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