Brands fall short of their goal

O2’s success since teaming up with Arsenal is proof that sports sponsorship is effective in reaching consumers, but it is the young who are most responsive, with brands failing to make a mark on adults

Sponsorship is ubiquitous, from television programmes to comedy clubs, and is now woven into the fabric of most professional sports. Over the past 20 years, the value of sports sponsorship has mushroomed into a multi-billion pound industry, yet not all consumers welcome brands’ association with sports or music events and some fans even expect reduced ticket prices as a result of sponsorship deals (MW June 2). From the brands’ point of view, sponsorship has become an integral part of their marketing repertoire to drive awareness, but does the huge investment pay dividends?

Major consumer brands use a plethora of sports sponsorship platforms, from players to stadiums, to communicate with a global consumer market and gain international exposure and recognition, particularly in new areas. Sporting events are an effective vehicle to gaining access to a swathe of potential customers yet, according to research by TNS Sport, young people and children have a greater awareness than adults of those brands that sponsor leading football clubs.

TNS Sport research among people who watch football on television reveals that spontaneous recall of brands by adults (aged 16-plus) across a range of sponsors was generally less than half that of children (aged ten to 19).

Sponsors such as Nike recorded 42 per cent spontaneous awareness among children, compared with just 16 per cent among adults, while Adidas registered 40 per cent among children against 18 per cent among adults. Similarly, Vodafone was recalled by 40 per cent of children versus 21 per cent by adults. Perhaps surprisingly, even beer brands, including Carling (20 per cent of youngsters versus 13 per cent of adults) and Carlsberg, sponsor of the England and Liverpool teams (15 per cent of youngsters versus 11 per cent of adults) fail to break the pattern.

The high levels of awareness of Adidas, Nike and Vodafone are likely to be driven by the relevance of their products to the youth market – the brands of leading clothing and mobile phone providers are ones that tend to engage children.

TNS data from its CAPI children survey shows the strength of the associations that can be created in young people’s minds between high-profile celebrity sportsmen and -women and brands. For instance, more than eight out of ten (82 per cent) ten- to 19-year-olds questioned at the start of this year knew that David Beckham plays for Real Madrid. More significantly, from a sponsor’s perspective, 70 per cent correctly identified the mobile phone network that Beckham is most associated with as Vodafone.

O2 is another brand that has been involved in sports sponsorship for some time, and the impact of its association with leading English sports teams on its sales performance has been marked.

O2’s sponsorship of Arsenal Football Club during the Premiership seasons 2001-02 and 2002-03 and the England rugby union team since 2002 correlated with an enormous increase – 56 per cent – in the volume of handset sales and upgrades for the brand, against an industry-wide increase of just ten per cent. Moreover, O2 increased its volume of sales and upgrades by 75 per cent among those customers who watched sport on TV and 81 per cent among those who were also Sky Sports viewers.

However, the research shows that of the ten- to 19-year-olds surveyed who watch football, 11 per cent were unable to recall a brand associated with football. Meanwhile, 14 per cent of those who claim to watch televised football and support a Premier League team say they cannot recall a brand associated with football.

Despite this, sports sponsorship is managing to maintain – and broaden – its appeal. Technological advances allowing viewers more control of the content they watch on TV will further increase the value of sports sponsorship. As revenues for traditional advertising continue to fall, the value and importance of sports sponsorship in building brand awareness among core consumer groups will increase, with young people becoming the driving force behind brand success.

The multi-million pound deals that brands such as Adidas, Nike and Vodafone are willing to pay to sponsor sporting events and teams is clearly paying dividends among the youth markets, but they need to reconsider their strategy for targeting and engaging with older sports fans.v

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