Tackling brand value keeps footie fit for sponsorship

Yes, football is paying the penalty for low marketing budgets and tough market forces, but sponsors shouldn’t blow the whistle just yet

Last week’s cover story in Marketing Week – “Marketers blow the whistle on ballooning sponsorship costs” – suggested that some football clubs will end up striking sponsorship deals that are lower than they initially hoped. However, it would not be correct to assume from this that football is “not the sponsorship vehicle it once was” nor that “football’s business model is being turned upside down”, as the article suggests.

It is true that football clubs seeking new sponsors face a tougher challenge than they did a year or two ago. But this isn’t because football has become a less attractive sponsorship vehicle.

From the short-term perspective it is true that football clubs are experiencing a supply and demand squeeze: a number are seeking new sponsors but marketing budgets – set at a time when there were fears of a recession in 2002, compounded by September 11 attacks – are lower than a year ago.

In addition, the fact that almost half the Premier League’s clubs are looking for new sponsors at the same time is, inevitably, impacting on the prices they can command. But this is not a sign that the football bubble has burst, it is just the forces of supply and demand.

The truth is that while clubs may not achieve the prices they commanded in healthier economic climates, football will still do better than many other sports. One reason for this is that the Premier League and its clubs have invested in one of the most sophisticated research programmes in the industry. It offers proof of the cost-effectiveness of their sponsorship packages, and provides sponsors with a credible and meaningful level of accountability for their investments.

Football can provide clients with a solid argument that demonstrates what they will gain from their sponsorship money. The data covers both the value of the media exposure and its effectiveness at delivering brand communication objectives.

When Unilever’s Michael Brockbank announced last week his company’s intention to increase its $200m (&£140m) sponsorship budget, he said: “Work will be judged in terms of the effect on consumers, rather than the visibility it achieves.”

This is the challenge for any media owner or rights owner seeking advertisers’ money, and I believe football can meet this challenge.

Football sponsorship is not some vague awareness exercise, with a bit of corporate hospitality thrown in. It can be an extremely powerful instrument, capable of delivering a wide range of objectives cost-effectively. These include brand awareness and positioning, positive business relations, to demonstrably selling more of the product. As in any communications channel, accountability is key and football sponsorship is accountable.

Right now is a very good time for sponsors to get involved in football sponsorship. Marketing directors won’t just get a good price, they’ll also get a strong and credible argument that they can take back to their board, showing exactly what they’re buying and, ultimately, an excellent return on their investment .

Alastair Macdonald is a director of Connexus Group

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