Low recognition rates for official World Cup sponsors show that simply throwing money at football doesn’t always work. Brands must understand the fans before entering into a relationship with them
A series of recent surveys show that the majority of FIFA World Cup sponsors have failed to gain consumer recognition in the build up to kick-off, despite reports that the event is set to make record profits of about &£750m boosted by media rights and sponsorship deals.
Adidas, Budweiser, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have managed to register acceptable unprompted awareness levels – but whether or not these findings send shockwaves through sponsors’ boardrooms and cause marketing directors, their sports marketing managers and agencies to reassess their game plans is a matter of conjecture.
As many observers have stated, it is critical for sponsors to earn the respect of their target market – to show them they care about the event just as much as the fans. This is true for all brands wanting to engage customers via sponsorship, be it global, national, regional or local in scope.
Yet showing consumers you care and then effectively engaging them can only be achieved when corporations adhere to two basic fundamentals. The first is to identify and understand why target consumers have a passion for that sport – the key emotional connections. The second is ensuring that this understanding of their passion guides sponsorship strategy.
Why fans are fans
In the recent past, marketers have embraced the power of passion-based marketing as an effective engagement tool. There is now a greater need for a more strategic approach to the development of sponsorship activation. That has led to Octagon developing passion drivers research; a methodology that quantifies “why fans are fans” and enables marketers to activate their sponsorship programmes based on in-depth insight into their motivations and passion for their sport.
Whether it’s the FIFA World Cup, Olympic Games, the FA Cup, Formula 1 or cricket, brand marketers know there is a large audience eager for sport. But how many sponsorships truly affect consumers in ways that justify the investment?
Far too often when companies plan and implement their sponsorship strategies, the target consumer is the secondary consideration – at best. When companies do think about the people they are attempting to influence, it tends to be a very generic perspective based on industry standards, truisms and generalisations.
Sports sponsorship is an excellent vehicle for reaching consumers. However, for decades targeting and audience identification have relied solely on demographic data supplemented by television ratings, plus attendance and participation figures. Demographics and consumption data tell us the “who,” “what,” “where” and “when” about fans. This information is vital in sponsorship but doesn’t actually explain why people are drawn to the sports they follow. Demographics and viewing figures do not reveal the passion people have for sport or provide insights on how marketers can activate sponsorship in meaningful ways for fans.
Brands and emotions
Knowing “why fans are fans” is important for sponsors because consumers control the marketing they receive. Consumers have the power to decide how, when and where they engage with brands, and they want to be engaged in relevant and meaningful ways. Knowing why fans feel the way they do about sport enables marketers to develop strategies that connect their brands to this emotional relationship in ways that truly influence consumers. Knowing the “why” also reveals that distinct fan types, with differences beyond pure demographics, exist within the fan base of any particular sport, and it shows that these fan types follow sport for very different reasons.
Octagon’s Passion Drivers study, conducted in seven countries, encompasses more than 20,000 fans of those nations’ most popular sports, â¢including football, which was examined in the UK, Australia, China, France, South Africa and the US.
The research findings identified 12 passion drivers. To varying degrees and in different combinations, these factors contribute to and explain why fans follow certain sports. Team devotion, active appreciation, gloating, personal indulgence, player excitement, love of the game, a sense of belonging, socialising and nostalgia are among the main motivating factors for football fans across the globe.
In mature football markets such as the UK, team devotion is the overriding factor indexing at 1.31 compared with the second-most influential motivator, talk and socialising, which scores 0.68. While the importance of team devotion may not be surprising, the research identifies distinct fan typologies whose passion for the sport varies, and their differences must be understood by marketers to effectively leverage sponsorship.
For example, in the UK there are four distinct typologies. While team devotion is the dominant factor across all fan types, there are important distinctions that suggest different ways for football sponsors to effectively engage consumers.
One fan type “team loyalists”, representing over 25% of UK football fans, can be personified by “Mr. Selfish”. He is your typical middle-aged, married football fanatic whose team devotion transcends obsession and indexes at 1.54. Winning is everything, and he loves nothing more than revelling in the agony of rivals when their teams lose. At 0.94, gloating for this fan indexes much higher than the national average of 0.57. In fact, gloating in the UK as a motivating factor plays a more important role than in any other country surveyed (it scored 0.45 in the US and in China earned a negative score of -0.01).
In the UK, over 32% of football fans are classified “traditional supporters”. Watching matches on television and nostalgia are among the top three motivating factors as compared to all consuming and gloating that drives “Mr. Selfish”. Nearly 28% of UK fans are “keen supporters” with football’s opportunities to talk and socialise and the all-consuming nature of the event driving their passion. The remaining 14% are younger, lower-income “footie extremists” who share the same passion for football as “Mr. Selfish”.
A love of the game
In developing football markets such as China, fans are driven by a pure love of the game. This factor indexes at 0.36 compared with 0.03 for UK football fans. Chinese fans highly value the skills and talents of the star players (0.28) to nearly the same degree as their UK counterparts. However, Chinese fans, with team devotion indexing at 0.29, aren’t born into supporting a club and remaining fans of that club for life. Instead, Chinese football fans follow the game out of an appreciation of the skills of the top clubs, leagues and players around the world.
In far less football-dominant markets such as the US, the niche status of the sport prompts like-minded fans to see football (or soccer as it’s known) almost as their “first love”. Football as an all consuming factor indexes at 0.87 for US fans, compared with 0.62 in the UK. The sport holds a very special place in the US fans’ hearts that is driven by a pure exuberant participation and social connection to the sport. In the US, a higher percentage of fans are driven by an active appreciation for the sport. Active appreciation in the US indexes the highest among all football fans surveyed at 0.80 compared with -0.25 in the UK.
These insights only scratch the surface. When combined with demographic information, the profiles of distinct fan types allow marketers to create highly targeted sponsorships. These are the kinds of programmes that consumers will choose to engage in and which allow the marketer to cut through the clutter.
The team comes first
For instance, these insights can help explain why Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the Football League Championship has been such a success. Coke has tapped into the fact that for fans like “Mr. Selfish”, their relationship is not with football per se; it lives and dies with his team. So, by Coke presenting its iconic logo in the home teams’ colours and by developing sweepstakes that offer to win a player for your team, Coke, in a way that is both compelling and relevant, is able to differentiate its leveraging from other sponsors.
Likewise, Nike, with its global football platform, has cut through the clutter and engaged football fans in different countries for different reasons. Nike’s TV ad featuring Wayne Rooney in training rather than on the soccer field is relevant and differentiating as it focuses on the enthusiasm of the player in an unusual setting. The Octagon research sug-gests this global platform has the potential to be successful in different countries, but for very different reasons. In the UK, it resonates with Manchester United and England fans who are primarily driven by their club and/or national team devotion. In China, it is relevant as fans’ passion is based on the skill and technique of star players. Whereas, in the US, it resonates because of the youthful exuberance that participation-driven soccer fans in the US have for their “first love”.
Through the fans eyes
When marketers know the “why,” sponsorship can be created from the fans’ perspectives. A more disciplined approach to sponsorship replaces the development of strategic messages and programmes using gut instinct and what sports marketers believe about the “typical” fan. In truth, there are many “typical” groups of fans, whose passion for sport must be understood and embraced by marketers if they want to maximise their sponsorship and differentiate themselves from other companies competing for fans’ attention in the same sports space.
The quantified insight into “why fans are fans” enables marketers to create stronger, more enduring connections with consumers. This is certain to generate, among many measurements of marketing effectiveness, higher levels of unprompted awareness of a brand’s association with sport that was found deficient in recent surveys.
The sponsorship pitch gets better
FIFA’s decision to reduce the number of official Football World Cup sponsors from 15 to six after this month’s event in Germany was inevitable. The number of companies and brands desperate to take advantage of the huge media interest surrounding the event is so high that it is hard for consumers to distinguish between them all. There has also been concern among major sponsors that they need more in terms of unique and exclusive benefits.
The “less is more” approach naturally has cost implications, but probably only for the next World Cup in 2010. Currently, main sponsors pay on average between &£25m and &£40m for each four-year period. These figures will double when the number of partners is reduced to six, with each package costing an average &£75m.
The success of the UEFA Champions League marketing model has undoubtedly influenced FIFA’s decision. Champions League sponsors receive outstanding exposure and a very high degree of exclusivity and protection – although their number is to increase next year from four to six. It is this exclusivity and protection that is being sought after by sponsors.
A key benefit for FIFA will be a reduction in administration and the requirement to keep 15 partners equally satisfied. It will also head off any future controversy over sponsors from product categories such as fast food and alcohol.
The trend towards reducing the number of sponsors will continue. Those with long-term agreements secured will know that to secure such an exclusive position in the future will cost considerably more than the current &£75m fee, such will be the significance of the added benefits that sponsors will receive.
The World Cup sits at the top of the pyramid of major sporting tournaments; events that will have an increasing influence on how leading brands market themselves. As traditional television advertising struggles to hit the audience levels that were commonplace in the 1980s and 1990s, so live sport has emerged as the key driving force behind marketing. Advertising executions often have to fit in with a sponsorship programme or a major media event, strengthening the link between sponsor and event where one exists – and implying it where one doesn’t.
New technology, the proliferation of the media and changing viewing habits have significantly increased the importance and appeal of live events, and this is where sport comes into its own.
Sport alone has the ability to deliver the majority of live coverage that we see on our screens. Sky in particular has developed its programming around live sport. Football, cricket, rugby and golf have, naturally, been prevalent, but other sports such as snooker and darts have been adapted and developed as live propositions.
Of course new media, and in particular mobile technology, will play a greater role in how we receive and view our entertainment. But technological innovations and developments within television will enable it to offer even more in terms of opportunities for marketers, making it an increasingly attractive proposition for them. The battle of the brands around the World Cup has never been so intense and there is another element that will have a significant bearing for the UK market: the ratings war between BBC and ITV. ITV will be desperate to reverse the trend of recent major football tournaments when coverage has been shared between the two channels.
During the 2002 World Cup, the BBC and ITV shared three “big-draw” matches. The England vs Denmark second-round game gave the BBC a 12.3 million audience, with ITV attracting just 3.1 million. Similarly for the England vs Brazil quarter-final, the BBC had 12.4 million viewers compared with 3.5 million for ITV. The final between Brazil and Germany gave the BBC 10.1 million viewers compared with 2.3 million for ITV.
This will be something that ITV – and its advertisers – will be desperate to change. On the other hand, official sponsors will be keen to see the BBC’s ratings’ dominance continue as it will enable them to achieve greater exclusivity and stand-out.
Can sponsors make us swap bitter for Bud?
My five-year-old nephew, resplendent in his Wayne Rooney t-shirt, can barely contain his excitement. My 65-year-old father – who usually shows no interest in football – is suddenly an authority on broken metatarsals. The World Cup grabs young and old like no other event, and don’t marketers just know it. Questions, though, remain. Come July 10, will my nephew demand
lunch at McDonald’s? Will my dad order a Budweiser at his local, or ask for a pint of the usual?
Sponsorship success at the World Cup comes down to connecting with fans. To do that sponsors must provide access to things usually beyond fans’ reach – the chance to win tickets, meet a star player or touch the trophy. It is about creating lasting memories that will remain in people’s hearts and minds as vividly as Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina during France ’98.
Fans are an intelligent bunch, not easily bought. Their loyalty and respect must be earned and the power of grassroots communication in helping to achieve this is important. “Giving something back” to fans is absolutely critical in bringing them on board and creating lasting value from any investment – an investment, lest we forget, that will double by 2010.
Simply pasting the World Cup logo onto everything you do is a sure way to guarantee falling hopelessly short of the mark. It is an insult to the hundreds of millions of fans that eat, sleep and (if you subscribe to Coca-Cola’s viewpoint) drink the beautiful game. But more than that, it could mean that my nephew asks his mum for a Burger King on July 10. And that news won’t excite the World Cup marketers at all.
Taking a different approach to measuring effective sponsorship
In a summer dominated by brands clambering to associate themselves with the FIFA World Cup, officially or otherwise, it’s easy to forget there are other big sporting events happening this year. The Ryder Cup, England’s Ashes return in Australia, and Tiger Woods’ three week visit to the UK in September are just a couple of examples.
HSBC is a worldwide sponsor of golf, but that’s not to say football is not an effective sponsorship platform. It can be. But with so many brands using it as just a tool for driving brand awareness, standing out from the crowd in football has become increasingly difficult. Recent research has suggested as much. More than one study has claimed that up to half the UK’s population cannot correctly identify a single 2006 FIFA World Cup official partner.
However, while it’s widely acknowledged that the impact of event sponsorship can now be measured, there is a danger that just using awareness-based criteria obscures a number of other important functions and objectives that sponsorship can achieve for a brand.
At HSBC, we try to take a multi-faceted approach. For us, it’s not all about driving brand awareness. As a brand which already has 1,400 high street branches in the UK, we need sponsorship to fulfill objectives beyond increasing awareness.
We measure our sponsorships against up to six different criteria. These include: the brand’s resonance with the sport, the generation of awareness in specific regions, the use of the sponsorship as a platform for business, tie-ins with our global CSR activity, engagement of staff, and even geo-political relationships.
We believe our worldwide golf portfolio is delivering against each of these measures and has helped lift the bank to 29th in Interbrand’s annual brand league table.
I completely subscribe to FIFA’s “less is more” decision to drop the number of official World Cup partners from 15 to six in 2010, thus helping to give the official sponsors even more opportunity to stand out.
However, elevating yourself above the clutter is more about taking a different, more creative approach to sponsorship regardless of the number of other brands associated with any one event.
Sponsorship is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Sponsorship simply does not work in isolation. Nor should it be solely measured against creating brand awareness.