‘We have to be a brand that does not just tells’: BT kicks off FA sponsorship strategy

The telecoms firm is introducing its 4-3-3 sponsorship strategy in a deal it hopes will leave a lasting legacy in football and beyond.

BT FA Sponsorship
BT is using its FA sponsorship to bring to life its ‘Beyond Limits’ positioning

BT has kicked off its sponsorship of the Home Nations football associations with a promise the deal will be more than a “badging exercise” and provide a real change in access to the game.

To do that, it is introducing a 4-3-3 strategy that it hopes will be as successful off the pitch as it has been for Liverpool FC (currently top of the Premier League with a lead of 22 points) on the pitch.

It forms part of its ‘Beyond Limits’ brand positioning that aims to showcase the active role BT can play in communities. And while its advertising has focused on telling people about the services and products it offers, the tie-up with the football associations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland provides an opportunity to show people the impact the company can have, according to its director of marketing communications Pete Jeavons.

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“The thing that really excites us is that it’s more than just putting a logo on a shirt. The role for BT and what’s really behind Beyond Limits is really important – playing a role of being a national enabler and creating opportunity and possibility across the country. This is the personification of that,” he said, speaking to Marketing Week at an event this morning (4 February) to launch the strategy.

“We saw the opportunity to use that partnership to bring that to life. We’ll continue with our advertising and telling people the role of BT, but we saw a real ‘do’ element of the strategy. Not just telling people what we’re doing, but really benefitting from the belief we’ve got in being a national enabler and the role we can play in that.”

The sponsorship strategy

The 4-3-3 strategy refers to the fact BT is sponsoring the four home nations in The FA, Scottish FA, Irish FA and FA of Wales; is focused on three communities in disability and para, grassroots and women’s football; and has three goals.

The first of those goals is about developing innovations and technology that can enable new ways to play the game. The particular focus will be on disability and para football, and finding ways to help more people access the sport. This could be through improvements to wheelchair technology or the development of new formats.

To do this, BT is working with tech innovation hub Plexal and Disability Rights UK to design and develop a new format of disability sport for those who can’t play with their bodies but could potentially play with their minds. The hope is this will result in a Home Nations tournament.

BT is also investing in the creation of new para documentaries and films for BT Sport, the first of which will be about blind football. Later this year, it will broadcast the Disability Cup for the first time.

This is more than just putting a logo on a shirt.

Pete Jeavons, BT

The second goal aims to better connect grassroots football clubs. Working with The FA it will launch a digital entry-level football course called FA Playmaker that will be free and equip anyone aged over 14 with the skills they need to take the first step to become a licenced coach.

The aim is to create 100,000 Playmakers by 2024, half of which should be women.

Elsewhere, more than 200 grassroots clubs will become part of the rollout of BT’s digital skills programme Skills for Tomorrow.

The final goal is focused on the women’s game and inspiring a new generation to get involved in the sport. That will be through the Playmakers programme, as well as offering broadcast opportunities through BT Sport.

Going beyond sponsorship

It is more than six months since BT initially announced its sponsorship of the English FA and three months since it got the other football associations signed up as well. However, Jeavons believes this time has been important in ensuring BT develops a strategy that can really have an impact.

That means broadening the conversation between the FAs and BT on how they can work together, as well as bringing in outside help, such as Disability Sport UK. The partnership is not just the preserve of BT’s sponsorship teams or the commercial teams at the FA.

“It has become more than a sponsorship; it has evolved into a much broader conversation both internally in BT and getting the different parts to link together, and across the FAs talking to much more than their commercial teams – talking to their diversity teams and grassroots teams,” he explained.

“It snowballed really. The the more we started thinking about the opportunity and the more people we spoke to, the more people got involved, and the more momentum it got, which resulted in this plan.”

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All sides in the deal hope it can have a long-lasting impact on Britain – whether through using football to get more people learning digital skills or finding new ways to open up the sport to people.

“Football plays a massive role across all four nations of the UK. The reason why we really liked it was the scale of it, but also the different aspects of it,” said Jeavons.

“What is really powerful about football is it encompasses communities, it’s about friendships, it’s about life skills, it’s about fitness, it’s about bringing diverse groups of people together. So it felt like a really good way of reaching people with important things like digital skills that they maybe wouldn’t be quite so receptive to if it was done in a corporate setting.”

While this is not an awareness play for BT, an area where Jeavons points out the brand has “no problems”, it does want more people to understand its brand purpose. And so the marketing team will be measuring positive perceptions of the brand.

“As long as we are making a positive impact on people’s lives and future through this, that’s our measure of success because naturally that will mean people think more positively about BT and understand what BT’s role could be across the nation,” he adds.