Team support

An increasing number of companies are recognising the value of linking their brands to top sporting events. And as James Luckhurst reports, the association can benefit both parties by injecting funds into the event and raising brand awareness

Wimbledon, Ascot, Lord’s, the Guard’s Club – venues synonymous with sport in high summer. Not even the biggest multinationals with enormous budgets can guarantee sunshine, but at least the corporate logos on the umbrellas maintains that brand awareness which is most organisations’ reason for putting money into event sponsorship.

Despite not being able to control the weather, the big companies have the perfect opportunity at high profile events to get into the limelight.

But before you accept a free ticket to Lords or the Centre Court, would you willingly pay money and go to the event anyway… or is it the pull of the sponsor’s hospitality that’s more attractive than the actual event?

It’s obviously important to make the distinction between companies which go for a serious overall sponsorship package (such as Sandals Resorts with the present West Indies cricket tour or The Famous Grouse Scotch Whisky with the Rugby World Cup and the Scottish team’s individual involvement in it) and those who simply take advantage of facilities on offer to further their own corporate hospitality ambitions.

Seats for sporting events bring in a lot more revenue for the organisations selling them if there is an accompanying deal involving hospitality.

You only need to see the hospitality village at Wimble don to appreciate the many forms “sponsorship” can take, and although it would be un fair to suggest that few are there for the quality of the tennis, it does leave you mindful of the thousands of tennis fans queuing in the streets to get a reasonable seat.

However, it’s important to keep a sense of proportion. There are two very important points about Wimbledon which it’s easy to overlook: first that less than ten per cent of Centre Court ticket sales are to the corporate sector, and secondly that the estimated 30m surplus made annually by Wimbledon is ploughed back into the game through the Lawn Tennis Association. A battle through the crowds also reveals stringent controls on the corporate tents: they’re kept inside a strict area at one end of the club.

Sponsorship can take many forms. High on the list of sporting favourites so far this summer has been the Rugby Union World Cup in South Africa, and the Test Match and One-Day cricket series between England and the West Indies.

A chance sighting of a photograph of the West Indian cri cket team celebrating a great

victory gave Sandals Resorts chairman Gordon Butch Stewart the idea of an involvement with sponsorship.

“It was a picture of Caribbean happiness and glee which we felt was very well matched to our own ethos in the all-inclusive holiday market,” he says.

“Our sponsorship of the West Indian team tour of the UK signifies not only our continuing commitment to the game of cricket, but also to the pursuit of excellence and professionalism with which the West Indies team has become associated throughout the world.”

Sandals recognised that cricket was a key factor uniting people in the Caribbean – it’s the only area where the islands do join together – and saw sponsorship as an ideal way of bringing goodwill to the different islands. Half of the 400,000 sponsorship fee goes directly into development of cricket at a local level throughout the Caribbean.

“We became involved with sponsorship of an inter-island limited overs competition last winter,” says Sandals’ director of industry relations David Roper. “This led to us casually asking the West Indies Cricket Board of Control who was sponsoring the 1995 tour of the UK.

“We found a full proposal at our headquarters within 24 hours, and were able to agree to the terms and conditions more or less as they were. This ensured a quick decision, so the whole process of building a communications strategy involving public relations, advertising and brand awareness has been very rapid.

“As a travel and tourism organisation, we felt one of the first tasks was to engage the services of a sports PR company, and we have combined a number of sports-based promotions and competitions with the sort of travel trade and press liaison we already run.

“The sort of exposure we have gained does come at a price, but it has given us the chance to build a full awareness among key audiences of what Sandals is about, and if we can go further than that, so much the better,” adds Roper.

But this summer is certainly not all about cricket, as the Rugby Union World Cup in South Africa has proved. And, naturally, sponsorship opportunities have been plentiful.

The Famous Grouse sponsorship of the event, according to manufacturers Matthew Gloag & Son’s managing director Andrew Kettles, demonstrates the brand’s continuing commitment to rugby at the highest level.

“Sponsorship is an important tool within the marketing mix and is increasingly used to build and consolidate brands. Quite apart from the unique hospitality opportunities offered by certain sponsorships, an entire marketing programme can be built around a sponsorship to include all the key elements,” he says.

Kettles believes The Famous Grouse’s involvement in the World Cup is a natural and long-term association, which backs up the brand’s rapidly growing overseas markets. “We sponsored the Rugby World Cup in 1991 and the subsequent Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1993.

“We see the event as delivering the right target market to raise the international status of The Famous Grouse, as well as providing support for the brand in the growing markets of Australia, France, South Africa, New Zealand, Canada and Japan.”

Once again, sponsorship at this level requires a large financial commitment, and Kettles sees the returns for his investment both in strengthening the brand and in the development of an integrated marketing programme with the sponsorship as its focus.

“We want to broaden the appeal of the product, strengthening our relationship with our core consumers and introducing new people to the brand. In terms of value delivered in directly communicating to our target audiences around the world, the Rugby World Cup is incomparable.”

Rugby is seen as a dynamic, fast and exciting sport with a strong tradition and heritage. It has a broad and loyal following both among participants and spectators. Key to the success of The Famous Grouse sponsorship is the profile overlap of the rugby fraternity, rugby supporters and existing and would-be brand consumers.

“This overlap has been proven through extensive research undertaken prior to signing up the rugby sponsorship packages,” says Kettles.

The key requirement, according to John Perera, managing director of Alan Pascoe Associates, is that sponsorship must integrate fully into the communications mix and achieve hard results.

“Gone are the days when a sponsor bought an event, stuck a logo onto bibs and boards, and got a nice warm feeling from seeing the company name on television,” he says.

“Sponsorship, like all other disciplines, has to fulfil marketing objectives. Increased awareness is good but sponsorship has to shift attitudes and change behaviour of the target audience and ultimately have an impact on the bottom line.”

The key challenge facing sport and business alike is that all-important question of balance. Sponsorship, carefully managed, serves the dual role of boosting funds for the sporting events and providing the vehicle for increased brand awareness that companies want.

What they get beyond that depends on how carefully they pick their event and how cleverly they manage their association with it.

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