2012: The year in sport sponsorship

2012 saw sport sponsorship in the spotlight with the London 2012 Olympic Games, the UEFA European Championships and the Lance Armstrong doping-scandal. Marketing Week looks back on some of the key talking points from the last twelve months.

The Olympic Games


While the Olympic Games have long been a testing ground for new marketing strategies and tools, the London Games were particularly effective in rewriting techniques used to connect brands and consumers. The event’s influence over how marketers build their brands is only beginning to be felt thanks to the accelerating penetration of social media and data driven sponsorship activations.

Sponsors were given an unparalleled opportunity to talk to a global audience through innovate campaigns such as Cadbury’s Spots vs Stripes or engaging viral content like Adidas’ video of Team GB singing Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. Brands were able to capitalise on the real time nature of the event to talk to their audience in new ways.

2012 also saw what many described as the most successful and high-profile Paralympic Games ever, which developed into a brand very much in its own right, driven by the success of the British athletes. It creates an interesting tension for both events in the future, with some brands looking to emulate the success of Sainsbury’s in only backing the Paralympic Games.

The changing role of sponsorship for brands

The advent of new technology saw marketers begin to understand that sponsorship is a tool for which brand exposure is an outcome rather than it being the reason to sign a multi-million deal. The shift was in part led by an influx of people not from traditional marketing backgrounds leading the sponsorship strategies for the Games as the deals were done for different objectives. Lloyd’s London 2012 partnership director Sally Hancock was previously chief executive at sponsorship consultancy Redmandarin, while Coca-Cola promoted regional sales director for London Daryl Jelinek to lead its Olympic activity

Arsenal FA Cup 2003

If you look at the reasons why Olympic sponsors such as BMW or GE got involved with the event, very few of them spoke about brand exposure being the most important thing. Cisco used the event to showcase its network infrastructure, while EDF Energy used its sponsorship to attract younger talent to the business.

The growing importance of data insight to sponsorship strategies

Brands are becoming savvier about how they activate sponsorships. This was reflected most recently in the role customer data played in Emirates decision to sign a £150m sponsorship extension with Arsenal Football club in November.

Rights holders are also being shaken up and are looking at what skills they need internally to deliver big brand partnerships. The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which claims it is the fastest growing sport in the world, appointed former Manchester City chief executive Gary Cook to take the brand global in September.

The role of marketing disciplines such as digital communications, data insight and campaign planning have started to play a more prominent part in the commercial strategies of sports brands. The shift is seen in Premier League clubs putting data capture at the centre of their pre-season tour strategies as well as Harlequins rugby club turning to social media to boost short-term revenues and foster long-term relationships with its supporters.


Sponsors on the run

Sponsorship strategies may have come a long way this year, but the bungled way Nike, AB Inbev and Radioshack reacted to the Lance Armstrong doping allegations in October shows what can happen when brands are slow to react to outside pressures.

The idea of what is mainstream sponsorship is starting to breakdown because technology is making areas that have traditionally been seen as niche reach mass audiences. Sponsorship has always operated on a tier structure with football, cricket and rugby being the most attractive to major brands. The industry has become more fluid now and brands such as Red Bull in its sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner are landmark examples of brands going beyond traditional channels and creating their own events.

See all our 2012 round-ups here