Sports sponsorship has always been a logical place to do a bit of marketing – whether its your favourite cricket team or childhood football club, most of us tune in on a regular basis.
As sport has become increasingly easy to access through a variety of online channels, so to has the space on teams’ shirts, cars, bats, hats and rackets been taken up by brands engaging with sports sponsorship.
While the likes of Manchester United, a team which Chevrolet is paying around £50m per annum over seven years to sponsor, might be out of reach for your everyday SME, there are a number of ways to get involved in a smaller way.
On the subject of football, Opus Energy took the decision to sponsor local team Northampton Town FC for two seasons starting in 2015. Lynn Morrison, head of business engagement at the company, said the management team has always seen sports sponsorship as a chance to invest in the local community and support activities that employees love to do in their free time.
While traditional sponsorships are used to drive new business leads through presence, she added, sports sponsorship was a way to increase brand awareness in the local area. “We looked at a lot of single day or weekend events in the area, but wanted a longer term sponsorship with a wide reach within the community,” she explained.
“We chose to sponsor the back of the players’ shirts, which allowed us to get a high level of coverage on the field, as well as in press photos and news coverage. We’re also mentioned on the club website and have signage on the field itself.”
But what about the cost, how can it be balanced over the course of the sports sponsorship arrangement? Opus Energy did not start with a specific budget in mind, but rather approached the Northampton Town FC and other opportunities to see what levels were available.
In assessing all the options on the table, the business concluded that the back of the shirt placing met its criteria and the cost was then balanced against recruitment/retention costs.
Engagement was also an issue for Tim Radford, executive chairman of business internet, hosting and communications provider Timico. In 2015, he and the business signed a deal to become the sponsors of the Cheltenham Gold Cup horse racing event for four years.
“Sports sponsorship enables you to engage with a broader audience than your usual target decision maker, reaching business owners and other potential influencers in the decision making process,” he told us. “It also allows you to engage with this audience in a different context, generally outside of the typical working week.”
Cheltenham plays host to over 70,000 visitors on Gold Cup day, with more than 1.5m tuning in to watch live on TV. As sponsor of the day’s feature race, Timico takes “centre stage” on the Friday and is able to showcase its brand in prominent positions around the racecourse, parade ring and public enclosures.
Unlike most other marketing activity Timico is involved with, be it attending trade shows or pay-per-click advertising, the business doesn’t use the same approach to calculating return on investment when it comes to sports sponsorship.
“There are ways of engaging with your specific target audience in this environment, but for a B2B brand embarking on sponsorship of a high profile sporting event, this is not your overriding objective,” he explained.
“What you are looking to achieve is the very positive association your brand has with your chosen sporting event, helping to introduce you brand to new and wider audiences.
There’s also the opportunity to amplify sports sponsorship, bringing together staff, customers and the local community. At Opus Energy, the business has found a number of ways to amplify the sponsorship both internally and externally. For its employees, the company has had players in for visits, free and discount game tickets and mascot kits. Externally, it has used social media channels to engage and converse with the team and supporters, highlighting support for local initiatives – as Northampton is the company’s home.
While sponsorship deals for global teams such as Chelsea and Manchester City might be out of reach for most businesses, North East of England-based Sunderland Football Club were the perfect (and affordable) choice for online bingo company Tombola.
The club has a personal attachment for CEO Phil Cronin, who is a boyhood fan, but was also a great way of securing lucrative TV exposure through shows such as BBC’s Match of the Day.
“From a business perspective, we chose to pursue this sponsorship to counteract the female bias of our Emmerdale sponsorship, which we were running at the same time,” he added.
“We did conduct an analysis to see if the sponsorship resulted in more players signing up local to Sunderland, which helped us to gauge its success. We believe that both the sponsorship of Sunderland FC and Emmerdale were equally important for establishing the Tombola brand as Britain’s biggest bingo site.”
For any business owner considering sports sponsorship, advice from Timico’s Radford is simple – choose something you’re passionate about and is close to the heart of members of your team. “Yes, it’s important that it’s a dynamic sport with definite longevity and of course a broad appeal to maximise the reach of your brand, but make sure that the aspirations of your chosen sport match those of your business and that you invest the time and resource needed to make the most of the platform it provides you to promote and develop your brand.”
Opus Energy’s Morrison believes it is crucial to have a goal in mind, rather than a specific budget. “Work with the team or athletes to understand which sponsorship opportunities they have, and the benefits of each, and then determine which combination is best for your budget and ROI,” she advised.
So, whether you’re looking to see the name of your business splashed across your favourite team as it scores the winning goal on Match of the Day, or simply drive awareness as punters sip champagne at the races, sports sponsorship might be more accessible than previously thought.