FA carve-up fuels brand clutter fears

Reports that the Premiership is to split its title sponsorship between Carling and Siemens has sparked fresh concerns that the value of sponsorship – for brands and sport fixtures – is being eroded.

The FA Premiership is in line to become the first sporting fixture to have two title sponsors, as Carling looks set to take up the domestic rights with Siemens securing the global sponsorship.

In effect, this means that next season fans in the UK will be watching the Carling Premiership while spectators abroad will follow the Siemens Premiership.

The idea of dual sponsorship is understood to have been mooted on the same day (March 23) the FA Premiership announced it had sold its pay-per-view rights to a media consortium, which included BSkyB and ONdigital, for £181m.

Speculation has linked a raft of top brand names – including Coca-Cola and Budweiser – to the title sponsorship. But they have been scared off by an estimated £20m a year asking price.

If the latest deal is agreed it is sure to put the issues of dual sponsorship under the floodlights.

The past few years has seen an explosion of interest in sponsorship and the rights for high-profile sporting events such as the Champions’ League and the Olympics.

It is no longer simply one sponsor, one event. Now there is multi-tiered sponsorship. Title sponsorships, associate sponsorships, supply partnerships and licences are all up for grabs, creating a potential recipe for confusion and conflict.

The search for a Premiership title sponsor has already been a long, drawn out and, at times, highly embarrassing affair.

Carling has been associated with the Premiership for eight years, during which time the beer brand has grown dramatically. It is now 50 per cent bigger than its nearest rival, according to Millward Brown figures. But it doesn’t have a market outside the UK.

Siemens is already an associate sponsor of The Premiership, which means its logo appears on some tickets and club programmes. Eighteen months ago, Siemens embarked on a global strategy to raise brand awareness, so it makes sense for it to extend its association with the Premiership, which is broadcast to more than 180 countries.

And as one sports marketer says: “It’s always best to make deals with companies that you know well, so it’s good for the Premiership too.”

Before news of the latest development broke, Sony, Siemens and Carling were all thought to be in the running to secure exclusive rights.

But negotiations began to fall apart when Carling pulled out, declaring it would not pay more than £13m for the rights. Sony followed suit, leaving Siemens in on its own and the Premiership in a weaker negotiating position.

In a bid to find a compromise and save face, it is understood that the Premiership asked Carling to bid for domestic rights, with Siemens bidding for worldwide exposure.

But insiders believe that while the “deal” may have saved face, it could turn out to be a complex affair.

M&C Saatchi sponsorship chief Matthew Patten believes the deal is a good one, but warns of problems on the horizon.

He says: “This new structure allows Carling to get back into bed with the Premiership. It’s a creative solution but it could lead to all out war,” adding: “The Premiership could end up as acting like a conciliatory body.”

Stephen Pearson, former commercial director of the FA Premier League, goes one step further and brands the proposed arrangement “unworkable”.

He says it will create a clutter of strong brands and confuse people into thinking there are three separate competitions (FA Premier League, Siemens Premier League and Carling Premier League).

Pearson believes the Premiership should steer clear from having a title sponsor, saying: “Commercial and sponsorship rights should be negotiated individually by the clubs because they can make more cash that way.”

He argues that, if the new deal is signed, each club will get about £500,000 – peanuts to a club such as Manchester United.

He also questions how the brand names will be used and which market will be seen as the more important. The Premiership already generates global audiences of up to 1 billion and enjoys high popularity in the Far East.

As sports analyst Simon Rines, in his publication Driving Business Through Sport, says: “It is difficult to see Carling’s sponsorship lasting beyond 2001 unless the Premiership can demonstrate that its prestigious position in the home market will remain as strong as that in the Far East.”

Many insiders believe that the jostling for sponsorship rights by big brands means the Premiership and other major competitions are getting greedy. Pearson says: “They are looking at maximising the rights without thinking about the implications.” When Carling first signed Premiership rights it was a £12m four-year contract. By 1997 the amount had trebled to £36m.

But the bubble could burst: many executives believe they are not getting a decent return on their company’s massive investments in sponsorship.

This dissatisfaction is fuelled by the fact that some brands are resorting to guerrilla tactics and in a few cases have gained more brand recognition than their official sponsor rivals. Research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing shows that, at the Sydney Olympic Games, 33 per cent of a pool of more than 1,000 adults identified either Adidas or Reebok when asked to recall an Olympic-linked brand. Nike, which was one of the 12 official sponsors, figured less prominently (MW September 7, 2000).

This season has seen Uefa cut sponsorship from six to four partners. While this means the four sponsors – Amstel, Ford, MasterCard and PlayStation – pay more for the privilege of sponsoring Europe’s most prestige football competition, the deal is perceived as “more exclusive”.

The Premiership is also considering cutting down on its nine associate sponsors, which include McDonald’s, Nestlé and Sony.

Connexus sports marketer Alastair Macdonald says: “Fewer sponsors means a clearer message. It gives the brand an air of prestige and exclusivity.”

Rines believes sports sponsorship is still an “immature industry” with a lot to learn. He says: “Many sponsorships at best fail to maximise their potential, and at worst waste a lot of money, in the process sending confusing messages to consumers.”

If the deal is signed between Carling, Siemens and the Premiership it is bound to raise eyebrows. Sponsorship is evolving, and though this dual title sponsorship could well be a one-off deal, the problem of how to make sponsorship work for both parties remains. Sponsors may have their own agenda and objectives they want to achieve, but the toughest battle is still making sure their brand stands out from the crowd.

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