Sponsors struggle to ride Commonwealth Games wave to glory

Sponsors have struggled to bask themselves in the wave of positivity that engulfed the nation during the Commonwealth Games through their activation efforts, according to the latest brand tracking data. However, Glasgow 2014 backers Virgin Media and Ford argue the event is set to spur engagement and loyalty to their brands throughout Scotland and beyond. 

Ford says it is too early to provide any quantitative metrics from its Glasgow 2014 activty.

After eleven days and more than 1300 medals the sun set yesterday (3 August) on what Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper hailed as “the standout Games in the history of the movement”. Despite the withdrawals of a succession of big names in the build-up and an Opening ceremony that drew a mixed response from fans, events were well attended and sponsors are said to be “pleased” with the viewing figures, according to sources.

And although the international audience remains small, the digital ubiquity now means Commonwealth Games’ activations can strike a louder chord with people beyond the host city. The majority of the some 667,000 online mentions throughout the event were UK based according to social media monitors Brandwatch, with Glasgow and London securing the biggest share with 18 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

But brands were unable to fully exploit the buzz beyond Glasgow for their own ends. Virgin Media earned the most positive chat in the period scoring 19 per cent yet it also sparked the most negative (13 per cent), indicating its sponsorship provokes the most emotive sentiment of the games, claimed the researchers. The brand opted for more localised activity across Glasgow rather than a far-reaching media campaign in order to drive staff and customer advocacy alongside lift consideration among those non-customers visiting the event.


Luke Southern, Virgin Media programme director for Glasgow 2014, says: “All the data to date from our end suggests that we’ve been the most associated with the Games from brand awareness and adding value to the whole experience.

“Scotland is an important market to Virgin Media. We have a lot of staff, particularly in Glasgow and from a mobile, cable and TV perspective we saw an opportunity to grow the brand on the back of the event. We focused most of our advertising effort around Glasgow and then a regional campaign in Scotland because we knew it would  allow us to talk directly to our large Scottish customer base and have a bigger impact.”

Ford posted 9 per cent of positive mentions, the second highest of the six Glasgow 2014 partners. However, 90 per cent was neutral, said researchers. The only sponsor with no negative chat is BP but sentiment towards the brand was 93 per cent neutral, revealing that people are just speaking about them in passing rather than with any kind of emotion towards the brand.

Mark Ovenden, managing director of Ford of Britain, told Marketing Week: “There has been a lot of enthusiasm for [the Games]. It is too early to quantify or provide any quantitative metrics, that is always hard with sponsorship but the level of enthusiasm that all of us feel from friends and family and people watching it, it has been a real good success and its great to see the home nations having tremendous success.

“If you look at the softer side and the way we have picked up the young athletes this is to really show and confirm Ford as part of the fabric of British society. To show that we are involved in events like this and really its right we should be doing it and a great way to showcase our range of products, there are hundreds of athletes being driven around in our cars.”


The most mentioned partner of the Games was Unicef, according to Brandwatch, with a 69 per cent share of the chat. The non-sponsor, which struck a deal with organisers to help raise funds for children in every county of the Commonwealth, set up a digital control center in Glasgow to accelerate real-time donating and recruit influential tweets. SSE ranked in second place in the share of chat stakes, albeit with a significantly lower proportion to Unicef, just 14 per cent.

Sponsorship experts say the findings reaffirm the notion that the Commonwealth Games is more of a local activation platform, adding there is still value to be squeezed from its scope in terms of creating short-term value and employee engagement opportunities. For firms like Heineken who have agreed “provider” deals with organisers, they were banned from talking about their involvement with the Games without permission and faced strict rules on how to describe their relationship with the organising committee company.

James Hough, managing director of MediaCom Sport, which worked with Dell on its Glasgow 2014 strategy, echoed the sentiment, adding the event is better suited to those brands seeking value-in-kind returns.

“It’s not surprising that SSE and Virgin Media saw the biggest uplifts in positive sentiment because they’re the ones that had the most media exposure”, adds Hough. “With the Commonwealth Games most of the money is soaked up securing the actual sponsorship and then brands try and activate in the best possible way.

“While its not at the global level of the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games are a fraction of the cost for sponsors and through a mix of upcoming young talent and a strong showing from the home nations have been able to replicate some of the buzz we had around London 2012. Most sponsors tend to sign value-in-kind deals for the Commonwealth Games and If you look back to previous tournaments you can see it’s because that’s where the most value tends to come from.”