Sporting chance for packaged goods marketers

Sports organisations are increasingly looking to marketers with classic packaged goods experience in an effort to raise the bar on the industry’s professional image.

Figures released by specialist sports consultancy The Sports Recruitment Company reveal the number of candidates entering the sporting arena from the outside jumped from 8% in the second quarter of 2005 to 25% in the same period this year. A growing number of marketing professionals are crossing over from the packaged goods sector to fill the gaps.

Chris King, managing director of The Sports Recruitment Company, says this shift reflects the growing demand for highly qualified, professional marketing candidates. In the past, sports companies have tended to favour internal candidates over more experienced outside expertise – but this attitude is shifting.

King says sports clubs and sponsorship agencies are increasingly looking to attract individuals with the rigour and discipline that comes from training with a dominant packaged-goods player such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever or Coca-Cola, coupled with the entrepreneurial flair that is encouraged in a sporting environment.

“There is demand for people who have empathy with the product but the skill base is becoming increasingly important,” says King.

Shaun Whatling, director of sponsorship consultancy Redmandarin, applauds the trend. He argues that it is an important step towards breaking down the barriers between rights holders and sponsors.

“Rights holders in particular need to broaden their skill-sets,” says Whatling. “Traditionally, they have come from within the industry and from a sporting background.” Marketers within these organisations often lack the commercial experience needed to understand the dynamics of both the brands and the industry they are working with, he adds.

A key role in sponsorship deals

The appointment of more packaged goods marketers is also being driven by the need to compete in an increasingly commercial environment. “Brands are thinking of ways to use the platform sport creates to gain greater exposure,” says King, adding that marketers have a key role to play in the sponsorship process.

Whatling agrees that the movement is largely due to demand for more sophisticated marketing campaigns as the relationship between rights holders and their commercial partners evolves. Furthermore, as deal values continue to reach record highs, sponsors are demanding results, which is driving a shift towards greater transparency throughout the sector.

At present, around â¬7.5bn (&£5.1bn) is spent on sponsorship each year across Europe, with sports deals accounting for 80% of that figure. Growth across the sector looks set to continue, with the European Sponsorship Association last year predicting that deals will roughly double to account for about 15% of total European marketing spend by 2010.

The politics of sport

Ben Pincus, director of sponsorship agency The Works, says there has already been major growth in the industry over the past 12 months, fuelled by recent rights offerings relating to the 2006 World Cup, the International Olympic Committee and the UEFA Champions League. But he warns: “There is growing pressure for marketing strategies to be evaluated more rigorously.”

The political agenda behind sport is also having an impact on the transition. Earlier this year, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced &£600m worth of support for Britain’s elite athletes, and King points out that Sport England has thrown its support behind grass-roots marketing initiatives aimed at raising public awareness of the health benefits associated with sport.

As the UK gears up to play host to high-profile events such as next year’s Tour de France and the 2012 Olympic Games, attracting the top marketing talent will no doubt remain high on clubs and sports agencies’ agendas.

Noelle Waugh

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