Event backers drive audience participation

Event sponsorship is as much about long-term audience engagement as it is about a brand raising its profile during a show or tournament.


Sponsorship has moved far beyond putting a badge on an event and hoping for the best. Brands are now seeking to carry on the conversation with consumers after the event and use content to address audiences that might otherwise be beyond their reach. This is a trend being exploited by both event organisers and sponsors.

Formula 1 motor racing – one of the most valuable sporting properties in the world – already attracts an audience of around 600 million people over the course of a season, according to the governing body’s Global Broadcast Report. But it wants to push this further and in 2009 launched F1 Rocks, a series of live music events and TV shows put on over selected race weekends.

The most recent F1 Rocks show, held in São Paulo last November, had 43 million TV viewers, independent from the race audience at the Brazilian circuit, according to Rob Montague, chairman of F1 Rocks organiser Enterprise Entertainment.

This greater reach is made possible by taking advantage of the motoring and music-related content from both the race track and the gig, says John Simidian, executive producer of F1 Rocks.

“Getting drivers and rock stars hanging out makes good TV. We have had [rapper] Pharrell Williams hanging out with Lewis Hamilton, Black Eyed Peas doing a pit-stop challenge and Beyonce hanging out in the paddock. Our remit is to bring the two worlds together,” says Simidian.

For sponsor brands, too, using content to engage consumers before, during and after an event is an increasingly popular approach as events become brands in themselves and rights-holders place more restrictions on the use of their assets.

Among the strictest of these rights-holders is the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Visa, one of the IOC’s worldwide partners, will launch its main Olympic marketing push next month, a full 18 months before the London Games start.

No commercial logos are allowed in the Games arenas themselves, so Visa is making the most of its sponsorship in advance by creating relationships with athletes and starting conversations with consumers. It will focus on turning British athletes into household names. As part of the strategy, the brand will organise competitions to meet and train with the athletes in the months before the Olympic flame finally reaches London.

Colin Grannell, head of partnership marketing at Visa Europe, explains why he thinks this is the right approach. He says/ “We have to make sure that the prizes and the propositions that we offer are compelling enough and they get to the right audience at the right time.”

Fashion brand Jaeger has made the most of its association with high-end events to get to the right audience. It works with hospitality provider Keith Prowse on sponsorship of Cartier International Polo, Henley Royal Regatta and the Wimbledon tennis championships.

The partnership allows it to create opportunities for spectators to engage with both brands at, and outside of, the main events.

According to Jaeger head of marketing Yvonne Kirk, the clothes maker was given access to Keith Prowse’s database of customers who had made bookings during the events. “This was a near-perfect match with our target demographics,” she explains.

These customers were then invited to a promotional drinks evening at Jaeger’s Regent Street store in London. Keith Prowse’s in-house magazine, Your Season, also featured sponsored content from Jaeger and was distributed at the store as well as at each of the main events.

Ted Walker, head of marketing at Keith Prowse, says this helps to engage with customers at a deeper level. He says: “A traditional sponsorship arrangement guarantees your brand will appear wherever you pay for it to be, but for all the benefits of sponsorship it is very much a one-way marketing route. A brand partnership throws up many more possibilities to be creative and work together for a common goal. The hardest part is identifying the right partner.”

The brand partnership approach is being used by car marque Jaguar, which has teamed up with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the England cricket team. Last March it set up the Jaguar Academy of Sport, which provides bursaries to talented sports people. Last year, funds were awarded to 35 youngsters in a variety of sports, and thanks to Jaguar’s partnership with the LTA, announced last month, the bursary winners will also get access to the National Tennis Centre as part of the programme of mentoring that accompanies the award. Academy ambassadors include high-profile sports people such as golfer Ian Poulter.

Patricia Muckle, marketing director of Jaguar UK, says: “It is easy to sponsor a well-established sports person but it is more genuine and important to support people at grassroots level.”

Eminem: Was headline act at F1 Rocks in São Paulo
Eminem: Was headline act at F1 Rocks in São Paulo

Brands recognise the business benefits of such philanthropic activities, argues Lucy Carver, director of The Bigger Picture, the brand encompassing broadcaster BSkyB’s corporate social responsibility department. Its activities include Living for Sport, an initiative aimed at using the influence of the Sky Sports brand to encourage positive learning attitudes in children, through contact with sports and TV stars, and collaboration on sporting activities.

“We do not do these things out of the kindness of our hearts, but we do believe that a positive contribution is just good business,” says Carver.

How the brand is perceived is the equivalent to return on investment, she adds. Ultimately, in any event partnership a noticeable improvement in measures such as consumer awareness, consideration or preference for the brand is the least a sponsor will aim for.

It may entail cost and effort, but there are advantages to taking an active involvement in the content of an event. Most notably, it suggests authenticity – dedication to a cause beyond that of promoting the brand.

According to Keith Evins, UK marketing director at JP Morgan Asset Management, the best way of working with a rights-holder is to establish the value of a sponsorship

property from scratch. The financial brand’s own example is its support of the Premiership Rugby Sevens series, which started in July 2010.It aims to distinguish this short form of the game from 15-a-side rugby in the same way that Twenty20 cricket has a separate identity, and a separate audience, from other forms of the game.

The sponsor is also spared the need to “eradicate the previous incumbent”, as Evins puts it. “The tournament that we are sponsoring did not exist. It is a new competition. That is obviously appealing because it is a property that we can build up, we can have fully associated with JP Morgan, and we can lead the direction that it develops,” he says.

A further benefit of working with a rights holder to shape the format is that it can be moulded to fit the sponsor’s target audience – a flexibility that Evins says is unlikely at a well-established event. For JP Morgan, this has meant creating an atmosphere at the sevens tournaments that attracts typical rugby supporters, but also their families – spectators spend several hours at the stadium with the freedom to eat and drink in between the short games.

Under Armour: Contributing to the sporting development of young athletes
Under Armour: Contributing to the sporting development of young athletes

Sports clothing brand Under Armour, which is well established in the US, is effectively working from scratch when it comes to UK sponsorship.

It has chosen to start a conversation with consumers by contributing to the development of young athletes at grassroots level. Following the model of American football’s NFL Combine, where prospective players are measured for their athletic abilities under the scrutiny of professional scouts, Under Armour has set up similar combines for youth sports in the UK.

The first of these, launched last summer, provides young rugby players with a set of sport-specific tests designed with the Welsh Rugby Union, with which the brand has an existing partnership. Young players’ scores on these tests are made available through websites where they can take further aptitude tests, as well as discussing their results in online forums.

Mike Gable, senior manager of performance training at Under Armour, says the combine event presents “an opportunity for us to get all the athletes in our products”.

But beyond this, the online portals allow the youngsters to extend their engagement further, while the data collected on talented sports people is a resource for the game itself.

As with many of these more innovative approaches to event sponsorship, putting in that extra effort also offers commercial rewards that are worth having.


brand view


Colin Grannell
Head of partnership marketing
Visa Europe

Next year is the 25th anniversary of Visa’s sponsorship of the IOC [International Olympic Committee], so London will be our 14th Olympic Games and our sixth Paralympics. We tend to renew our sponsorship in eight-year chunks, so we were the first to sponsor 2012 back in 2002, before we knew where it was going to be held. We have also recently renewed our sponsorship with the IOC until 2020.

About 204 nations will participate in the London Games. Visa is accepted in all of those places, so as a global sponsorship it fits into our brand image and fits into our business extremely well. The target demographic, of course, is everybody.

We are looking to include the Olympics in our through-the-line communications from now to the Games itself. The goal is to make the British team famous, to make some of the individuals much higher-profile and to take it into every household as much as we can. We will go above the line with that and we will also take it to the point of sale and work with retailers.

Most of the plan for the next 18 months has been agreed. Lots of the work is already in development. We develop our own look of the Games. We are a long way down the path of doing that. Once that has been completed, it will be the cornerstone of all the creative that will do in the next 18 months.

It is the first time for Visa in Europe that we have fully integrated our sponsorship in terms of the Olympic Games into everything that we are going to do from a communications point of view. We had a trial run with that with the FIFA World Cup in South Africa last year and we saw some great results in terms of the impact on our brand equity. We are expecting the impact on our brand to be even greater because of the Olympic Games. I think it is going to make a big difference in terms of driving preference for Visa.

topline trends

  • Sponsors and event organisers are targeting wider audiences using content that reaches beyond the physical confines of the event.
  • High-profile sponsored events have become established brands in themselves, closely guarding their assets and realising the marketing value of their own content.
  • An active involvement in causes like youth development is delivering positive results for sponsor brands in terms of consumer attitudes.
  • Sponsors are taking a central role in the organisation of events, as a means of shaping the format to appeal to their own target audiences.
  • Partners with shared interests and similar target demographics are looking for mutually beneficial ways of engaging consumers around event sponsorships.



Marketing Week (MW): What is F1 Rocks?
Rob Montague (RM):
F1 Rocks is an initiative by Formula 1 that uses live music to take the brand and experience to a new demographic and audience. The launch event for F1 Rocks was in 2009 at the Singapore Grand Prix, which was a three-night event. The artists ranged from Beyoncé to the Black Eyed Peas to No Doubt. The last one was F1 Rocks with LG in São Paolo.

MW: What are the plans for next season?
We will probably look to do around five events next season. I do not think we will ever be able to do one at every Formula 1 event, especially where there are 20 races in the calendar next year. I do not think that would be possible from a logistics point of view, but also from a headlining talent point of view. I do not think there are that many [acts that are big enough to be] headliners out there at the moment.


MW: What is the audience of the events?
John Simidian (JS):
We are a huge TV show, which is distributed by Formula 1, and there is also a live event. Each event is a different business model, based on ticket markets, talent and the location of the racetrack. RM: It gets distributed and promoted in three ways. One is to the Formula 1 broadcasters. There are also news items to the news agencies and non-F1 broadcasters. We reached 43 million viewers from our F1 Rocks TV show from the Brazilian Grand Prix.

MW: How does the live content feed the TV shows?
For F1 Rocks in São Paolo we produced two TV shows – a three- to five-minute highlights package that gets delivered in its first instance to all of the F1 broadcasters, and a long-form 30-minute domestic show for the Brazil market. The highlights show is made up of editorial features with the F1 drivers and the recording artists that are performing at the event. The 30-minute long form piece has more entertainment features, including collaborations between F1 drivers and the music stars.

MW: How do you adapt the events for each market?
We always partner with experts in the markets to tell us what would sell in the territory. We have a remit [to cater for] our global broadcasters, so we always want someone that works worldwide. There are a couple of agendas that we have to address, but on the whole, internationally known, bright, vibrant, ticket-selling artists work for us.

The only band that we have not approached because we think they would say no is Radiohead – from the environmental side [as the band are known for their green views]. We have found that when dealing with US artists, agents and management they sometimes do not know what F1 is. However, every artist that comes to the Grand Prix weekend sees how huge it is and fully embraces it.