Winning sponsors can do without sport
Very slowly, it seems that a little light is becoming visible at the end of the very dark ‘sport-free’ tunnel in which we have found ourselves for quite some time. Football league competitions are starting up again, but not in the same form that we were used to. It is even possible that we will see Formula 1 cars in action on a real road surface, rather than in a virtual race. The optimistic forecast is that large-scale events will start up again this summer, either with or without spectators. But we still have a long way to go before things are ‘back to normal’.
The compulsory time-out for sport makes it all the more obvious what is often missing in the collaboration between sponsors and rights holders. There is too much faith in media (and other) exposure. Deals are still far too often closed on the basis of the exposure that the sponsorship generates. How big is the logo on the shirt, how long is the sponsor’s slogan shown on the pitch-side advertising hoardings and what is the size of the audience for the adverts during the break in transmission of the game?
Within sponsorships that are entirely based on media exposure, it may seem that it is impossible to reach and come into contact with fans during this period. The foundations on which the sponsorship was built – achieving exposure – have crumbled. The fact that, at the moment, we have to do without sport makes it clear how important it is for brands to make a difference for fans. To continue telling a relevant and plausible story, one that helps to create a bond with a community. That is what sponsoring is all about.
That does not mean that it is easy for sponsors to come up with a meaningful message. But sponsors who have worked on building up a relevant and meaningful relationship with fans will, even at this time (or perhaps now, more than ever) be in a position to reap the rewards of this. They don’t need the event or the league competition to activate this: their relationship with the fans goes further than that.
A good example of this is formed by the UEFA Champions League sponsors, companies with whom, under normal circumstances, we would analyse and evaluate the season after the final of the Champions League. As that match is suspended until further notice, evaluation of the season will have to wait. However, sponsors are well aware that this period in particular is as least as important to the relationship that they have built up over the years with the fans. And so this year they are choosing to conduct an extra worldwide impact measurement. So that we can help them understand the impact of this period, and can advise them how they can remain visible and relevant at this time.
Of course, we would like nothing more than to get on with measuring the impact of large-scale events and competitive sport as soon as possible. Sport will be back with us at some point, no matter what happens, but we need to be patient. Until that point, we will help sponsors to get the greatest possible value out of their sponsorship, even in this period. Not in terms of exposure, but by being visible to fans in the right place and with the right story.