Soccer a lottery for sponsorship

In principle it sounds simple and highly appealing. Your company scouts out a young and green soccer star, handcuffs him to (say) an astutely inexpensive seven-year boot deal, waits for him to make his debut in the next World Cup and bingo! – massive amounts of positive publicity for minimal outlay.

New research from NOP reveals what a tempting prospect sponsoring your boy on the fields of France can be. All in all, nearly three quarters of the British adult population claims to have watched at least some World Cup games on TV so far. Just as reassuring, the hardcore of viewers are young males, whose attention is so difficult to engage in other parts of the programme schedule.

Of course it’s not that easy, is it? For one thing, everyone’s at it, pushing up the sponsorship and airtime prices. For another, viewers may be fascinated by every footfall of their favourite team but sick to the back teeth of the media and promotional clutter surrounding the event as a whole.

Little research seems to have been carried out so far on this particular aspect of the World Cup, although Marketing Week hopes to oblige readers with its own survey very shortly.

Then again, there are the stars themselves to contend with. Stellar performance on the field can be fitful; and own-goals off it, rather too frequent for comfort.

Sometimes it comes down to sheer bad luck. Take, for example, Adidas, an official sponsor to France 98. Who would want the unenviable task of picking a few leading players to front your ads before and during the competition? Certainly, the choice of Alessandro del Piero (injured), David Beckham (stayed on the subs bench until the Romanian match), Patrick Kluivert (suspended) and Zinedine Zidane (also suspended) has proved far from inspiring so far.

More often it’s a matter of careful judgment – about stars’ likely reaction to fame and the repercussions on their private life. While it may seem smart to sign up a callow, clean-living 18-year-old on a long-term contract, who’s to know that the ghost of Gazza or Best won’t come to haunt him long before it’s up?

There is, of course, no sure-fire formula for picking reliable stellar quality. Companies differ widely in their approach.

Some, like Adidas, prefer to grow their own and invest heavily in talent scouts. Others, such as Nike, tend to hire them at their peak.

Most, however, will seek to minimise the effects of adverse publicity by inserting a carefully-worded ‘break-clause’ in the contract.

Cover Story, page 35

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