Short-change for TV sport sponsor

Heineken has already had one dispute over its 1m sponsorship of ITV’s international rugby coverage. The result was a cut in spend to 800,000 – but new research revealed exclusively in Marketing Week on the eve of this weekend’s opening games in the Five Nations tournament, may lead to a return to the negotiating table.

A detailed study by CIA’s research arm MediaVision of two southern hemisphere rugby series games last November, reveals that an audience can drop by half in the final few minutes of a match. The broadcast sponsor was Whitbread-owned Heineken.

During ITV’s transmission of the England versus Australia game on November 15 the audience fell from 4 million at the whistle to just over 2 million in the final three minutes it took to go to a commercial break.

A week later, the pattern was repeated during the network’s coverage of the England versus New Zealand game. The audience fell from 5.5 million to 4.5 million in the time it takes to rustle up a soft-boiled egg.

The audience falls have been blamed by ITV on what was on other channels when these “as live” games were showing. Towards the end of the first game, live coverage of the England versus Cameroon football international began on BSkyB. And during the second match, BBC 2’s Top Gear Rally report has been blamed for taking away ITV’s share. On both occasions ITV went straight to the commercial break after the final whistle.

In the live broadcast of the England versus New Zealand match shown on BSkyB the audience dropped from 550,000 to 100,000 in the four minutes it took to go to the Ford-sponsored bumper breaks and the ads.

Blair Kremple, managing director of broadcast sponsorship consultants Sponsorvision – which advised on Cadbury’s 10m sponsorship of Coronation Street – is alarmed by the figures.

Kremple says: “If any programme loses that kind of audience in such a short space of time then advertisers and sponsors have the right to ask the programme makers whether they have the structure of the show right. Certainly if I was advising anybody on this I wouldn’t want to advertise in that break.”

Colin Jelfs, account director at rival sponsorship consultants MGA Broadcasting, says: “ITV has to maintain editorial control. But if the commercial proposition changes then the sponsor has a right to renegotiate the package.”

ITV sales house TSMS sold the sponsorship to Heineken. TSMS head of sponsorship Tim Brady says that bumper break times can be agreed but not guaranteed: “We usually do cut to a break after the final whistle. If we do not, it is because of the pressures of time, particularly on an early evening Saturday slot.”.

A senior figure at ITV maintains that whenever sports broadcast deals are cut between the sponsor and the network, the sponsor is always advised on roughly what the break pattern will be during transmission.

This source adds that when it airs other live sports, particularly football, the network often cuts into the commercial break straight after the final whistle. This decision depends largely on what the producer thinks is best, as well as pressures of time exerted by the following show.

The MediaVision results will make interesting reading for Whitbread’s head of sponsorship Jeremy Wilton. In November he signed a 1m deal to be the network’s sponsor for the southern hemisphere series and the Five Nations. However, a month later he called ITV back to the negotiating table after it transmitted two later games in the competition as highlights rather than “as live” (MW December 11 1997). He was able to shrink the deal to 800,000. News of how widely the audience fluctuates may have Wilton again considering a renegotiation. He was not available for comment.

Ironically, Kremple says that the medium is finally beginning to make strides since it began in 1987 with the network sponsorship of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado by Clerical & Medical for 50,000.

“The marketing directors I meet now see it as an essential part of the communication package,” says Paul Vaughan, managing director at Alan Pascoe International Consulting. “They recognise that they are able to spin off a number of messages around their slots.

“This is one of the drawbacks of the Heineken deal. The broadcast period is very short and the matches are infrequent and irregular. Heineken is doing this without being the event sponsor or with any accompanying on-pack promotions. A broadcast sponsorship in isolation like this gives you a weak voice when it comes to being associated with the series in the minds of consumers,” he adds.

MediaVision says its research leads to three main conclusions. Firstly, that the price of a broadcast package depends on what is being shown on TV as a whole. Its study shows that if other sports are being shown on either BSkyB or the BBC, audiences waver between channels.

Next, the best place to run spot advertising is in the middle of a live game when the audience has built up and is willing to see the game through. Finally – and most importantly – it concludes that it is “essential” for sponsors to have a sponsorship credit immediately after the final whistle. MediaVision believes that failure to secure this agreement from the broadcaster devalues the sponsorship by 20 per cent.

The broadcast sector is supposedly maturing. However, Media Vision’s figures suggest that there are still problems with maximising its impact, and it is not just Heineken which will study the figures closely.

Vauxhall is developing its broadcast sponsorship for this summer’s football World Cup and will be a keen observer of how many people put the kettle on, or switch over in the final minutes, when England’s rugby match with France ends at 4.20pm on Saturday.

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