Sponsorship can be as nail-biting as the game

As I write, the opening match of the Fifa 2010 World Cup is 45 days away. Most of you will have had any brand plans associating you with this magical event in place long ago.

But even if that’s the case, you should beware. There’s a long way to go before you should start assuming you can sit and watch the brand love and increased sales figures roll in.

There is danger inherent in associating, either officially or unofficially, with events such as the World Cup and properties such as football. On the face of it, the tournament is a wonderful property for Fifa to monetise through various levels of corporate partnership and an obvious central focus for your summer brand plans.

But in many ways the sheer excitement, passion and joy that you are hoping your brand can tap into in June and July is no more Fifa’s to sellthan it is yours to buy.

Without wishing to sound glib, it belongs to the fans. It can be felt on sofas in every front room, in the pubs and, of course, for those lucky enough, in the stadia. If your brand is seen, used or consumed by anybody in any of these spaces you stand a good chance of being part of somebody’s World Cup experience. But the association with that experience must be earned and only comes if you prove you can add value for the fans, your target customers.

Manchester United Supporters Trust (Must), agitating for a change of club ownership and for the Glazer family to be gone, is challenging the club’s sponsors to decide between the Glazers and the fans.

“In many ways the sheer excitement, passion and joy that you are hoping your brand can tap into in June and July is no more FIFA’s to sell than it is yours to buy”

A version of the story, published on MarketingWeek.co.uk earlier this week has so far garnered only readers’ comments accusing Must of “naivety beyond comprehension”. Maybe, maybe not. What is true is that the United fans’ protests have hit the headlines almost as often as the football this season. The number of gold and green scarves at various matches has left nobody in any doubt as to how many Old Trafford regulars would prefer change (the colour code harks back to Newton Heath, the club founded in 1878 that later became Manchester United, and has become a symbol of angry protest).

As a potential sponsor, hoping to buy into the passion and loyalty of Manchester United supporters, would you strike a deal with a club that was so under fire from your target customer? You may decide that the problem is one felt locally and that you would still benefit from brand awareness on a global scale by associating with a club such as United. But in a world of 24 hour news and social media communications, are you prepared to take that risk?

This, the Marketing Week World Cup special, is full of lessons and case studies that could be an essential tool for you as you leverage the best out of your World Cup marketing strategies this summer. Have a great tournament.

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