Lagging behind the media

Sports sponsorship is still measured largely in terms of fans’ TV consumption. However, new media and other traditional platforms, such as press and radio, play an important role for sports followers

The Rugby World Cup is arguably the hottest sporting property in the UK this year. It encompasses all the home nations, England are defending champions and it falls between Football World Cup and Olympic years. So it’s understandable that new data from BMRB’s TGI Sport shows the tournament’s total following in the UK is likely to equal the total reach of Coronation Street or Eastenders, and considerably exceed them in the case of men viewers.

Unfortunately, the way in which the sports sponsorship business values properties such as the Rugby World Cup fails to recognise the full strength of opportunities for sponsoring and advertising brands. This is because of the application of “media value” estimates, which equate sports sponsorship and advertising opportunities to their equivalent in television spot advertising.

“Media value” fails to capture two key things. First, it is based only on TV, with a notional discount applied to other media. This only pays lip-service to the complexity of sports fans’ media usage. Most other media do not have their own measurement of Rugby World Cup audiences on which to base planning and trading: industry currencies like the Newspaper Readership Survey and Rajar don’t measure specific content in the same way that BARB can.

Media neutrality is arguably even more important in sponsorship than it is in media planning. Sponsorship attaches itself to content, and rugby fans consume that content through many different contact points, both measured and otherwise. These could include TV coverage, newspaper features, radio phone-ins, magazines, matchday programmes, event signage, tickets or experiential marketing. Some kind of estimate of audience size is needed for each of these media, and perhaps the “media value” discounts just reflect the tendency of un-audited media to use the largest possible calculation of audience size in their negotiations.

The TGI Sport survey shows us that Rugby’s Six Nations, for instance, has a total audience of over 19 million people, of which over 16 million (or 84%) watch it on TV. Two-thirds of followers used TV only, while the other third also used press, radio or the internet to indulge their interest. Despite the availability of Six Nations rugby on free-to-air TV, these three media can deliver 5.1 million, 1.2 million and 800,000 Six Nations followers respectively. In fact, there are several sports properties, with limited or subscription-only TV coverage, where the largest exposure comes from press.

Planning and buying based on a notional TV-equivalent value for sports properties is bad for marketers, who want to understand how to communicate effectively through all sport touch points, and bad for sport itself, as smaller, less TV-reliant properties are denied the opportunity to realise the best value from their assets.

The second weakness of “media value” is that sponsorship holds the opportunity to communicate in an entirely different way to spot ads. The existence of the fan to property relationship, and the brand’s “permission” to join, dictate how well the property’s values reflect on sponsors. A good fit holds so much more than a cleverly designed 30-second ad. The target audience’s level of engagement with the sport is key to how sponsorship messages will be processed.

Analysis of the TGI Sport database tells us that only 28% of Six Nations followers are passionate rugby fans: those who they say they are “very interested” in the game. These fans represent the key communications audience for sponsorship: they are more interested and engaged with the game, so more likely to appreciate and understand a sponsorship that fits well, or contributes to their enjoyment.

However that leaves 43% who are only quite interested, and 29% who are somewhat indifferent. It’s the nature of big international sporting events to have a large number of casual followers, but this means the total audience has a lower average level of engagement than a property like county cricket, where 39% of fans are “passionate”.

Again, the problem with a TV-centric view is that the easiest way for a casual-interest follower to consume international rugby is through the TV. TV has a lower concentration of passionate fans than some other media, notably the internet, but also radio: 33% of Six Nations TV viewers are passionate about rugby, compared to 38% of those who listened to it on the radio and 44% of those who looked it up online. Setting aside the creative and reach-based bargaining strengths of TV, this should mean other media could have more, not less, valuable target audiences for sponsors and advertisers.

The insatiable desire of fans to consume their sports is driving media fragmentation and innovation faster in sport than in any other sector. The sponsorship business is trying to keep up with this through intelligent planning, which reaches the target audience more and more effectively.

But this evolution needs better than a valuation system based on television alone. 

James Smythe, head of BMRB’s Sport research unit, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

Ian%20MilnerThe industry needs to stop viewing, buying and measuring sponsorship as it does the 30-second spot. Sponsorship is about to use the opportunity to build a long-term brand property. One that is media-neutral to elicit maximum consumer engagement. Once you view it in the longer term the metrics and return on investment models must adapt.

The world has moved on, sponsorship has moved on – unfortunately measurement understanding, like the agencies that use it, is stuck in the last century. Agencies and brands that default to the “media value” models are like an ageing prop-forward who puffs about the good old amateur days as he props up the bar. It’s time for these boys to be kicked into touch.
Ian Milner, joint managing partner, Iris





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