BT wants to shake off its ‘ornamental’ status with FA sponsorship

BT has signed a £50m five-year deal with the Football Association as it looks to have “real relevance” with consumers and talk more broadly about its business.

BT hopes its new sponsorship deal with the Football Association (FA) will encourage people to “think differently about the company” by proving to consumers it has a role to play in their lives rather than being seen as an “ornamental brand”.

The telecomms giant has signed a five-year deal to be lead sponsor of the (FA), which is believed to be worth £10m a year. The FA had been searching for a lead sponsor since its seven-year partnership deal with Vauxhall expired following the World Cup in 2018.

Speaking to Marketing Week, marketing and communications director for BT and EE, Pete Jeavons, says the partnership will allow the brand to play an active role in communications across the country.

“[The partnership] is a ‘doing’ action, rather than just a ‘saying’ action from a communications point of view,” he explains.

“[We’re] trying to get people thinking differently about the brand. The common objective throughout all of this is for BT to be seen playing a role and having some real relevance rather than being a more ornamental brand.”

The deal has been signed just in time for the FIFA Women’s World Cup and Nations League finals and will see BT become lead partner of all 28 England football teams from grass roots to the elite, as well as its disability, development and futsal squads.

As part of the deal, the Lions and Lionesses squads will wear sponsorship logos for the first time on their training kits this week, while the agreement will also see EE renew its sponsorship of Wembley Stadium as lead connectivity partner.

The common objective throughout all of this is for BT to be seen playing a role and having some real relevance rather than being a more ornamental brand.

Pete Jeavons, BT and EE

After considering what BT needed to do as a brand to maintain relevance, as well as its number one position in the market, the team determined that the partnership sat well with the brand’s strategy, according to Jeavons.

“This felt like the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle in order to really allow people to see and experience what BT can do. BT is a national icon and people have grown up with it, whether it be the phone boxes around them or the phone in the hallway, but we need people to know BT does so much more than that,” he says.

He touches on the fact BT works closely with the emergency services, security forces and the NHS as a part of the business that not a lot of consumers are aware of it. And that’s something the company wants to change.

“The brand deserves for people to have a better understanding about it. Hopefully that means they will feel much more positively about it, and that it’s more relevant to them,” Jeavons says.

For instance, he admits that until now BT has never really had the chance to showcase its brand to people “first-hand”.

“BT has always been a communications-led company which is great but this is adding another layer so people can see the positive impact BT can have on a huge amount of people,” he says.

The FA already has 22 commercial partners including Nike, Coca-Cola and Lucozade. This year, the governing body also welcomed Boots and Barclays to its growing portfolio, before BT joined to fill a gap.

The Lions and Lionesses training kits will now feature the BT logo.

Jevons says the decision to invest in sponsorship was prompted by the success of EE’s long-standing partnership with Wembley stadium, which has proven that, from an activation point of view, it’s been able to sit alongside other traditional media choices the team make.

“The opportunity we see here is that investing money into activation of partnerships like this is as effective (in terms of driving brand association, awareness, and perception) for us as spending money on media from a traditional campaign perspective,” he adds.

“We’re working within the budgets we have but it’s about looking at the mix of where we choose to invest through all areas of communications beyond the more traditional broadcast advertising BT has done before.”

BT’s chief executive for the consumer division, Marc Allera, has spoken about wanting to make the company “a national champion” which will be highlighted through the partnership.

When asked what it means to be a “national champion”, Jeavons describes it as operating with integrity and acknowledging it has a huge responsibly to use its platform for good.

“We must think about how we as a brand can help communities,” he says. “It’s about us being a responsible international organisation in a world where all too many brands don’t step up and take responsibility. We want to give back to the community and country.”

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