Sponsors must not look at things one game at a time

Every football team loses games, but sponsors should not despair at every bad patch. A sports sponsorship is a long-term investment, says Peter Gandolfi

Press reports of the England football team’s defeat by Australia last month were, unsurprisingly, critical of the team’s manager and of the FA’s approach to friendly internationals. They expressed sympathy for the fans who turned up at Upton Park or watched the game on TV.

With important Euro 2004 qualifiers approaching against Liechtenstein and Turkey, a feeling of gloom was in the air.

Press sympathy for sponsors, however, came as a surprise. According to some reports, the four FA partners – Nationwide, McDonald’s, Umbro and Carlsberg (now joined by Pepsi) – are concerned about negative exposure following the game. This has left me rather puzzled. Surely sponsors take a longer-term view of their association with the game?

There is no doubt that sponsors, like supporters and everyone else involved in football, are disappointed when the national team loses. However, it is imperative for the sponsor to look at its investment in a wider context than the outcome of a single match. If that were the case, England’s sponsors would have been trying to walk away from their deals soon after the final whistle blew in the last match at Wembley, a 1-0 defeat to Germany.

How naive we would all have looked in Munich less than 12 months later, as England recorded their famous 5-1 victory. Within a month, things had improved even further. David Beckham’s last-gasp goal against Greece sent the fans into hysteria and the England team to Japan. Memories of Germany’s victory had evaporated, in the same way that memories of Australia’s victory will if England go on to qualify for Euro 2004.

Brands seeking a quick return on their investment should not look to sponsorship, but all too often, brands enter the sports sponsorship arena expecting immediate payback.

This rarely, if ever, materialises. Even brands associated with the highest-profile sporting properties in this country, such as the FA Cup, the England team and the Premier League, need several years to build significant consumer awareness and recall register.

It is only when consumers know that a brand sponsors a particular property that the brand can start to benefit from the association.

High-profile sponsorship properties are cluttered with official sponsors, perimeter advertisers, broadcast sponsors, TV advertisers and ambush marketers. Whatever activity a sponsor undertakes to stand out from the crowd will not have an impact over a sustained period unless it is actually carried out over the long term. Longevity of association is essential, both during the official sponsorship term and, for the few really successful sponsors, long after the official association period has ended.

So, while Sven Goran Eriksson and the England team experiment with team selections and half-time changes, often to the disappointment of reporters and supporters, sponsors should be aware that, whatever they choose to experiment with, there is no substitute for time.

Peter Gandolfi is head of sports marketing at Nationwide Building Society

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