Is festival sponsorship losing its sheen?

The pinnacle of the summer music season, Glastonbury Festival, kicks off this week. But while the notoriously anti-corporate event still attracts attendees in their tens of thousands, a combination of poor weather, lack of diversity and new music sponsorship strategy approaches mean other music festivals are beginning to lose their sheen among brands.


In recent years brands have been quick to jump into the moshpit at the majority of the hundreds of festivals that now run in the UK each year, eager to capture the attention of a young target audience with disposable income. London festival Wireless has gone through three sponsors (O2, Barclaycard and Yahoo) alone in five years, while alcohol brands such as Carling, Smirnoff, Tennent’s and Budweiser are almost permanent festival fixtures.

There are signs, however, that the lustre of festivals is beginning to fade amongst both brands and revellers. This month’s Isle of Wight festival failed to sell out – with weekend passes even being offered by secondary ticketing websites for half their price a week before the event – and in recent months once popular festivals including GuilFest, Hop Farm and Playground shut up shop completely due to poor ticket sales and a lack of sponsor support.

Increased competition from sports rights holders

Andy Kenny, managing director of sports and entertainment marketing agency BrandRapport, says festival sponsorship has “lost its sheen”, given increased competition from sports rights holders and governing bodies for brands’ investment and scheduling.

He adds: “Festivals are limited to summer months and are then vulnerable to being adversely affected by the weather. This is where sport has always had an advantage with its long competitions or league programmes. Sponsors like continuity and consistency which encourages them to commit greater resources to develop more detailed and advanced support activity programmes – it is much less cost effective to do this for sponsorships of festivals.” 

In recent years music sponsorship has often taken one of two paths, either through a global brand ambassador – such as Pepsi’s tie up with Beyonce and BlackBerry hiring Alicia Keys as its global creative director – or through technology – Coca-Cola and Spotify’s “global strategic partnership”, for example.

Reema Babakhan, deputy head of communications at sponsorship agency Synergy, says it is difficult for brands to take existing sponsorships over to festival experiences.

“Festivals are enjoyed predominantly offline and are still niche – they also have their own culture so these sponsor ideas don’t always translate over,” she adds.

[Insert brand name here]stock – host it yourself

Brands can achieve cut-through by launching their own festivals, Babakhan advises, citing Innocent’s Fruitstock as a good example – although the festival was cancelled last year due to poor ticket sales and competition for people’s time during the Olympics. Own-branded festivals clearly have their own challenges: Sainsbury’s Jubilee Family festival last year was blasted by families on its Facebook page as a “royal rip off”, while Morrisons’ MFest was rained off just a day before festivities were due to kick off.

Morrisons had planned to hold an MFest in 2013, but performed a u-turn on this strategy, choosing instead to invest its budget in sponsoring ITV1’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Britain’s Got Talent to demonstrate its “points of difference” to families.

Despite the squeeze on some festivals due to low ticket sales, non differentiating propositions and the tribulations of the British weather, head of Fuse Sport and Entertainment Philip Holliday believes the festival sponsorship market is still “buoyant”.


He says: “A range of festivals are still broadening their offering – [by being] more up-market, older audiences, more niche, offering VIP camping options [and so on].

“From a brand point of view sponsorship has moved on from pure branding and experiential activity on site. Ticketing, content, CRM and social activation now play a big part and have increased the depth of relationship and the benefit all the way down the purchase funnel.”

Festival sponsorship still offers a way for brands to inject themselves into the heart of their consumers’ passion points. Marketers looking to get involved should consider whether the festivals they plan to sponsor really fit with their brand’s ethos and that their activations are also in-keeping with their chosen festival’s vibe, or else the plans they aimed to be the talk of the weekend could turn out to be a damp muddy squib.



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