Taking part isn’t enough in sporting sponsorship

Nike came out near the top of a survey of brands associated with the World Cup – despite not being a sponsor. It’s all down to exploitation, says John Owen

The recent feature on sports event sponsorship (MW July 25) raised some important questions about what sponsors actually get for their investment. It made the undeniable point that sponsors must feel satisfied with the value they have extracted from such deals if they are to reinvest – and the market is not to soften.

Let’s be clear: rights holders need to give sponsors some meaningful assets – above and beyond perimeter board ads and a logo on official publications – if the market is to grow. But we should also recognise that this is already happening – and that much of the fault for not exploiting those assets lies with the sponsors themselves.

The point about sponsoring a major global sporting event like the World Cup is that it provides brands with a marketing platform. If they do not build on that platform – through advertising, events, PR and other marketing activities – they will have almost certainly wasted their money.

According to a survey of the British public, conducted by NOP in the week following the World Cup, it is clear that those brands which exploit their sponsorship assets are the ones that enjoy the greatest cut-through.

Coca-Cola – a World Cup sponsor since 1978 and a brand that has invested consistently in football throughout the past decade – was top of our poll. Others to do well included McDonald’s and Nationwide – both long-term, high-profile, through-the-line supporters of the game in England. Budweiser, which was sponsoring its first World Cup since 1990 and supporting its sponsorship with on-pack, point-of-purchase, event and online activity, was another. And then there was Nike, the bête noir of FIFA and other official bodies because it is so clever at exploiting its unofficial sponsor status – on this occasion via its online activity and its three-a-side football tournament at the Millennium Dome.

The other thing that unites all these brands is that they created World Cup-specific TV ads. ITV may have taken a pasting – at the hands of many critics in our industry – for its performance in the World Cup, but the survey clearly illustrates that a focused presence on ITV was critical to driving sponsorship cut-through. To illustrate the point, Hyundai – which was sponsoring its first World Cup – achieved more than twice the cut-through of JVC, a sponsor of 20 years’ standing. The difference? Hyundai advertised heavily in World Cup airtime, while JVC spent not a penny (save for a token effort in press and radio).

JVC wasn’t the only one. In all, only five of the official sponsors were among the ten brands most associated with the World Cup by the public. The lesson is clear: sponsorship alone is not enough. Brands must either commit wholly to a sport or event – whether in an official or unofficial capacity – or they should leave it well alone.

John Owen is communication director of Starcom Motive

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