The ‘unofficial’ issue with sports sponsorship

Shabaz HussainIn this guest post, Shabaz Hussain wonders what a posh British drink’s surprise social media win at Wimbledon says about sports sponsorship for brands.

According to a recent Brand Intelligence Report from Amobee the brand most associated with The Championships at Wimbledon in 2015 across social and digital is Pimm’s – a traditional cocktail drink that spectators enjoy at the event.

What makes this more interesting is that fact that they were not an official sponsor of The Championships.

Wimbledon is a classic old-school high profile Tennis Championship that keeps its values (and commercials) firmly rooted in tradition; wearing all white, no play on Sunday, and no court branding. As a ‘clean’ venue, similar to The Olympics there are significant impacts on how sponsors approach their sponsorships and activations.

Pim'sIn 2014, the US Open generated $89m in sponsorship revenue from 23 partners, while Wimbledon approximately $65m from 12. So whilst The Open secured a greater overall value of deals, The All England Lawn Tennis Club is able to demand higher average agreements. $5.4m per sponsor to The US Open’s $3.9m per sponsor.

And in this case, Pimm’s beat out a host of official sponsors without contributing a cent to the rights holders.

Given the greatest single dollar value of most sponsorship deals is found in TV exposure; does this policy of ‘clean’ venues offer sponsors less protection in today’s digital media landscape?

There are two sides to consider.

The best sport sponsors know they need to do much more than rely on venue branding to fully leverage their sponsorship and reach sports fans. But should rights holders review and reconsider their policies to better protect sponsors who are spending huge sums to associate with a sporting event?

Without a certain level of protection, it may leave room for vulnerability where the sponsor can be ambushed.

On the other side, clean venues can be seen to be in the fans interest. With few exceptions (like NASCAR or F1, where sponsors have been engrained into the culture of the sport) if you ask a fan if they like seeing a multitude of brands during their sporting event, they will likely say “No thanks.” So it could be said that enforcing a clean court improves the fan experience, and as such builds a larger and more engaged fan base that smart partners can access in less traditional ways.

And if this forces brands to think more creatively to reach fans, might this be a good thing?

So what is the right recipe for brands looking to gain the strongest brand association through sports platforms?

One part strategic sponsorship. One part effective activation.

In order to make the most of a sponsorship, brands must first study and understand the psychology behind fan passions, using data and insights to inform their strategies.

Tapping into consumer passion through on-site activations, digital, social media and mobile applications can hold the key to fast-tracking brand relationships from transactional to value or purpose based. To bring purchase decisions from the head, into the heart.

Octagon’s own recent study into interactive Tennis fans in Asia – The Passion Shift – surveyed hundreds of passionate tennis fans in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, China and Australia. This report shows that across the seven nations fans are increasingly using a mobile device to augment their TV and live tennis viewing experience.

On average, 71 per cent of Asian Tennis Fans use their mobile device whilst watching a match on TV.

Even more interestingly, 74 per cent use a mobile device whilst watching matches in person at a tournament.

Furthermore, these interactive fans are on average 80 per cent more likely to Trust, Try, Buy and Recommend brands from official sponsors of the sport they love.

So Pimm’s has likely got the right idea. Engage with fans in the ways they are demanding – that means adding utility to their tennis experience via social and mobile – and they will reward you with their attention. After all, that what sponsors are buying, attention.

It’s time to start understanding the difference between sponsoring a sport, and connecting brands to fans through passion.

Shabaz Hussain is an account manager at Octagon Singapore with experience in NASCAR, Formula One, and Tennis sponsorship activation, content production and communication strategy.


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