The branding battle to boost a minority event’s audience

Promoters of the Paralympics who want to attract more coverage and boost sponsorship should create a strong brand identity, as well as emphasising the team’s spirit and determination to succeed, says Iain Ellwood

Marketing spend on sponsorship is set to double in the next five years, according to the European Sponsorship Association. The ESA predicts that sponsorship’s share of total European marketing spend will rise from eight per cent to 15 per cent by 2010. Good news for sport, you might think, which accounts for 80 per cent of all sponsorship deals, but not all sports benefit.

In Athens 2004, Great Britain’s Paralympic team took home 35 gold medals and ranked second in the medals table, while the Olympic team finished in tenth place with 30 medals. Despite the Paralympic team’s success, the event receives significantly less coverage than the main Olympic Games.

Before Athens, when the BBC covered some of the major events live for the first time, the triumphs of Team GB’s Paralympians were mentioned briefly at the end of the main sports bulletin, if at all. Unable to gain guaranteed air time, disabled athletes face great difficulties in attracting sponsorship, relying on lottery funding and their own financial resources. Clearly, the Paralympic brand is failing to provide athletes with enough support. A sea change is needed if these athletes are to secure sponsorship and coverage.

There is a stigma associated with watching the Paralympics, and this must be overcome. To create positive perceptions that challenge existing preconceptions and create appeal, those managing the Paralympic brand must focus on three key issues.

First, they need to raise awareness among the public at large if they are to apply consumer pressure on sponsors/ the Paralympics must develop an identity that makes it as marketable as the main event. The Olympic Rings are recognised by 78 per cent of the world’s population, but the Paralympic logo is virtually unknown. Does this render it unmarketable? No. A BBC Grandstand online debate has called for increased media attention for disabled sport, and the response to the BBC’s Athens coverage was very positive.

The brand management team must also focus on values. As Claire Cashmore, a member of GB’s Athens Paralympic swimming team, says: “Cohesion and team spirit within Paralympic teams far exceed that in Olympic teams.” The Paralympics encompass humanity and diversity – key components of the Olympic ideal.

A striving spirit enables Paralympians to overcome their disabilities to reach peak performance, outshining able-bodied athletes who only have each other to contend with. The Paralympics is a more sincere reflection of the Olympic oath; harnessing these values will help reinforce the complete Olympic vision.

Paralympians demonstrate incredible personal achievement, yet there is much more to tell. Phenomenal advances in Paralympic technology are driving competitive performance to ever-higher levels of excellence.

This unique and exciting aspect of the Paralympics has the potential to take it to new audiences. The Paralympic story needs to be packaged more attractively and, with such strong values embedded within the organisation and its people, a revitalised Paralympics might just save the Olympic Games – hit by bribery and corruption scandals – from losing sight of its own heritage and ideals.

Like any world class business, effective brand management will help reap rewards for every stakeholder. This will also help the games overcome the stigma of disability by creating a more inclusive society, which has a greater understanding of, and interest in, the issues and barriers faced by its athletes. In turn, this will lead to improved support and sponsorship for Britain’s budding Paralympians, which will encourage young, disabled athletes to anticipate a brighter future.

A fully integrated, non-differentiated Olympic and Paralympic event would be the ultimate achievement. But this can only happen once awareness and favourability of the Paralympics are powerful enough to ensure that its values can with- stand and even influence its mighty sister event.

A strong Paralympic brand can add more than incidental value to the Olympic movement. It can rejuvenate it as it demonstrates the true power of collaboration that transcends limits to achieve at the highest level. After all, it is a shining example of unstoppable human spirit. Who knows? There may even be a time when the Paralympics is staged before the Olympic event.

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