Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

Nationwide England Team Sponsors Logo


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The Evolution of Football Sponsorship at Nationwide

The Evolution of Football Sponsorship at Nationwide

For years sponsorship has been big business. Brands clamour to associate themselves with clubs, sporting events, festivals and broadcast properties. For some brands it has been difficult to prove the benefit and impact that these sponsorships provide. However when sponsorships have been activated as a component part of an overall strategy their values, whilst not always robustly quantifiable, are often seen as intrinsic drivers of performance.

The reason for sponsorships can be varied. From wishing to get your logo/brand out to as wide an audience as possible, to being associated with something that your target audience are passionate about all the way through to providing the perception that your brand has stature, which might be difficult to evidence elsewhere.

Stage One – National

Nationwide Football League Badges

Nationwide Football League Badges

As a national brand, with the general customer perception of smaller and almost provincial provider, Nationwide needed a vehicle to back-up their national presence. Football was an obvious area, as it is the sport with the largest spectator and playing base. But rather than jump in with a top flight club that would have provided potential view of scale quickly, it was equally as likely to polarise views.

The option to sponsor the football league came up and this was seen as a perfect opportunity. After all, nearly every town and city in the country has a football club and their support is fanatical. Being title sponsors of the league and subsequently the conference provided the real ‘one of us’ feel to the sponsorship.

Nationwide did such a great job of its sponsorship, the tail of the deal lastesd a minimum of 8-12 months after Coca Cola assumed the role. By that time Nationwide was now being seen as a national player.

Stage Two – Scale

The next stage once Nationwide was recognised as a national player was to create the perception that we were a large-scale organisation to rival the Big 4 Banks (after all Nationwide was always largest or second largest mortgage lender in the UK).

Nationwide England Team Sponsors Logo

Nationwide England Team Sponsors Logo

The opportunity to sponsor England came about. Green Flag has been sponsors but did very little with their partnership. This was a deal that could be done and for us at Nationwide to make a big impact with a premium property. The England national team was going through quite a successful period (relatively speaking).

However, as with the dilemma of polarising views that came with sponsoring a top flight club, we could be in danger of alienating whole geographies within the UK. Many high level discussions were had and the decision to go ahead was on the basis we could be title sponsors or associate sponsors for the other home nations (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales).

Thankfully discussions with the other home nations went well and they were also secured as partners. It is a relatively well shared notion that Nationwide approached these sponsorships a little differently and with a bit more creativity than previous sponsors. Undertaking guerrilla marketing techniques before the World Cup in France and utilising player appearances in a better way than just wheeling players in to offices.

This stage was all about creating the perception of scale or size, which according to all our research and customer feedback it did.

Stage Three – Giving Something Back

Scale was achieved and the public seemed to perceive us as a genuine alternative to the Big 4 Banks. However as a brand Nationwide wanted to embody everything that a building society stood for. At the same time in the sponsorship team we wanted to make the sponsorship more valuable and connect it at a deeper level with our customers. Nationwide as a business had adopted “Proud to be Different” as both a strapline and mission statement. This was seen as a way of underpinning our difference and benefits of coming to a building society, without using confusing financial services words such as ‘mutual’, ‘members’ and ‘Building Society’.

The whole concept was to highlight how we are different through everything we do and in every way we interact with our audience. This was demonstrated through the radio ads featuring the Little Britain actors and the TV ads featuring Mark Benton, using humour for the first time in a major campaign for a financial services provider.

We decided to take this in to our sponsorship activity and rather than using it purely as an opportunity to gain exposure we wanted to turn the whole sponsorship on its head and give all the benefits back to the customers. The sponsorship activity was rebranded ‘Sponsored By You’ essentially as a Nationwide customer you were sponsoring the England team. Your name appeared in programme ads. Your name could appear on digi-boards, you could meet the players etc.

This turned sponsorship from a pure brand and awareness activity to a channel for loyalty and customer retention. This was aided by the move into UGC and Social Media before any of the current players were either here in the UK and definitely before any of them made it big.

Summary

The evolution of our strategy at Nationwide replicates how sponsorship when done well, has evolved. To make sponsorship effective, you need to take it beyond the badging and exposure of tradition and move it across many channels and give something to the target.

Whilst sponsorship can not claim credit for the shift in mindsets of the public it was certainly a substantial contributory channel.  Thankfully throughtout the evoultion the company were willing to take risks, push boundaries and offer a creative approach.  Crticial to gain standout in my opinion.

Bring your sponsorship to life and make it part of your targets conversation. That way you can move sponsorship beyond awareness driving, to much more of an engagement driving activity.

Most people know of my experience in digital marketing, however I have masses of experience in sponsorship and above the line. However, so I don’t disappoint, the follow-up to this post will be ‘How sponsorship properties can be brought to life online’. Some of this will be from personal experience at Nationwide, whilst others will be looking at best practice.

As always comments appreciated on here or via eMail.


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Internet Impact on Music

The trend of music being owned via the traditional model of labels dictating play has been under threat for some time.  This has been moved when Napster was first formed as an illegal file (music) share service, all the way through to the massive business of digital music on the likes of iTunes and to a lesser degree the legal Napster.

The model for established artists doesn’t end there, with internet radio stations shooting up and the likes of Spotify meaning more channels are now open for signed artists, even if it is less traditional.  Some of the traditional artists have suffered but others have grown their fan base as a result.

The likes of YouTube have presented both opportunities and threats to artists and now the commercial models are more established, YouTube provide a huge reach for music videos, bigger than any TV station.  YouTube still needs to work on protecting copyright if it is to become a channel of choice and one where only official videos are rated and viewed.

MySpace is also a well established channel for music.  However many users have moved away from the platform due to its overtly commercial nature.  One of the most well-known early cases of a UK act making it via the Internet has to be the rise of the Arctic Monkeys. They were one of the first to make it big due their profile on MySpace and the active promotion they took off that base.  Culminating in hit albums, tours and awards, including being recognised by the coveted Mercury Music Award.

All of this is a lovely background, but what does this mean for the industry at large?

There are two main shifts, one being the major labels are losing some of the control over their artists.  Due to the higher number of avenues open to artists, they can also utilise more routes to market.  A number of newer acts are actually starting to push their music via social channels rather than performing all over the pubs and clubs hoping to get noticed.

For me the acts that embrace the channels in their true way, stand a great chance of getting out there.  If the acts engage with their fans, followers or friends then they will get a massive following. Facebook the acts should share pics, videos and updates.  They should also respond to comments.  On Twitter the acts should Retweet (just not too much) they should also message their followers when asked a question, Professor Green does this well.  This will provide a massively loyal following.

On any channel, You Tube included, the acts should supply something unique, maybe snippets of forthcoming tracks or accoustic versions.  One of the acts that has done this successfully at present is Duchess, an up and coming girl band.

For the marketeers in this area there are great options. Targeting is very easy. With Facebook for instance you can target fans or potential fans on geo-demographic factors but more interestingly on what they like.  This is a great option in terms of picking people with interests in your genre or looking at people who like similar or rival acts.  Twitter is moving along these lines as well with the introduction of sponsored trends, tweets and profiles.

Sites such as LinkedIn allow people in the industry to connect to others, bringing managers, agents together with record industry people.  It also allows bands to secure contacts with corporates and gain input in to areas such as styling, image and coverage.


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Impact of Urban Culture on Sports Brands

Once upon a time, a long time ago – people lived nice comfortable middle class lives.  They listened to their lovely music which the whole family enjoyed.  However this changed in the late 70s early 80s when a new culture began to impact on lives.  Initially this was underground culture in the US.  However as it grew bigger in the US and grew from underground to niche it began to migrate to the UK, becoming huge in the 90s.

After reading that opening paragraph you might be wondering what the hell I am talking about.  Well let me explain.

At last the youth of this era had something they could relate to that wasn’t ageing long haired rockers, thrashing their guitars and screaming like banshees.  This was the emergence of urban culture.  The most noted rise at this point was actually in Hop Hop culture with b-boys, breakdancers and of course Hip Hop (Rap) music.  At the same time though was another strand including House.

The main impact happenned when Grandmaster Flash released the seminal piece of Whitelines, noted for its mesmoric tune and catchy chorus this track took to the airwaves.  Granted some radio DJs and music commentators took their time to link to the obvious link to drugs, and maybe that’s the reason for its success.  But this was the start.

The culture wasn’t limited to the music, along with the music came the dance.  Along with the dance came the clothing.  Along with the clothing came a new attitude.  An attitude of change and challenge.  This new urban culture was all about bucking the trend.  This was something adopted very early by youths in the UK, particularly and perhaps understandably by youths of an Afro-Carribean descent.  It gave them a powerful voice, that demanded to be listened to.  Of course it touched and impacted people from all different types of backgrounds.

The culture has evolved a lot through the years and has touched many areas, including film, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing was a chilling tell of life in New York at the time.  This sparked a whole genre of films which created new directors and became more challenging Boys In The Hood and New Jack City.  It also created a brand of humour through the likes of House Party and White Men Can’t Jump.

It wasn’t just Hollywood that was challenged.  Spike Lee appeared in a memorable ad for Nike which transformed the brand from very White Middle Class athletic wear to edgy fashion items.  This was carried on by Nike owning the basketball space with launching  Nike Air Jordan in 1984.  More recently areas such as street tournaments have taken off, which really focusses on bring sport to the real street level.

I caught up with Ortis Deley, presenter on Channel 5s Gadget Show and he summed it up really well for me  “I think the two have become synergistic.  I can’t imagine one without the other.  The eighties have a lot to answer for.”  The 80s for me was the real initial link, back to Public Enemy and Troop.

But why did urban culture adopt sportswear? And importantly what does it actually mean?

Why was sportswear adopted in urban culture?

There is no 100% certain answer to this.  When the adoption first happenned the figures ‘on the streets’ were generally young men.  They played sport both seriously and as a hobby.  As sportswear brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas took the lead from niche players such as Troop they developed the styles and fashion of their product.  Increasingly changing ranges meant youths wanted to gain bragging rights by owning the latest trainer.

Technology was increasing as well.  Cushioned platforms in the trainer (that were the preserve of the expensive running shoe) were being put in more trainers, most famously in Nike Air trainers and later with Reebok’s Pump trainers.  Purely and simply this made them the most comfortable footwear around.  Ideal for kicking about “on the street”.

Perhaps the biggest influence however was when Nike got Spike Lee the symbolic figure in urban culture endorsing their brand.  The advert and strong endorsement was seen as a massive step forward, adding the fact that the products appeared by name in the firs t massive hit from Spike Lee “Do the Right Thing” meant that the link was cemented.  All Nike had to do was claim the link between culture and its range and the job was done.

Nike (perhaps) more successfully than any of its rivals did more than that.  They adopted a massive link to possibly the “greatest athlete on earth” at the time Michael Jordan.  The man could do no wrong.  He won everything in his sport and due to his text book style to dunking he (and Nike) created a symbol.  This symbol and Jordan himself became the must have for any youth.

The film tie-ins continued with Nike again associated in one of the biggest ‘urban’ films of the 90s in White Men Can’t Jump’ the comedy that took the link further and actually made a movie about basketball, street culture and music. Making fun of the apparently ‘clutsy white men’ Woody Harrelson, pumping up his trainers, whilst the uber cool Wesley Snipes starred in is Nikes.

What does it actually mean?

Well sports brands that get the link become part of everyday life within street culture.  People often don’t say do you like my trainers, they say do you like my Nikes? Or my Reeboks?  The segement are willing to pay top money for the right product as a lot of the focus is on bragging rights and getting the latest and best.

If a brand can capture the audience, they can make them fiercely loyal.  I remember in my group of friends growing up, peers that would only buy Nike (even after Jordan had finished) – I myself bought a pair of the second generation Jordans when they were re-released.

The culture is very demading though.  Not only do the brands need to keep up its innovation to make the product better than its competitors it also needs to invest in its brands.  This investment needs to be in design and notably also in its endorsements.

Again, Nike is particularly good at this.  The influence of culture from the states has diminished slightly and the super-icons of the football world are now more prominent again.  Nike has the majority of key names in this field including the entire Brazil National Team and did a great job with the likes of Edgar Davids, Ronaldinho and currently Cristiano Ronaldo.  However, Adidas reacted in this space and have their own stable of stars including Lampard and Messi.

The connections have become so interlinked that in some people’s minds this the two have fused together.  I think this is best illustrated by the street tournaments that various brands have organised.  A great example is Usain Bolt racing through the streets courtesy of Puma.

The biggest positive to the whole relationship is that the brands have created genuine role models for people to aspire to.  The likes of Michael Jordan was a great positive example during a time when music was creating role models that parents didn’t want their children to aspire to. Nike has had a great reputation of this using the likes of Tiger Woods (although he managed to harm this), Kobe Bryant and now Puma with Usain Bolt

Whilst this is a lucrative market, because of its demanding nature it is as much about fashion as it is endorsement.

In short, if a brand can crack this area and maintain both its credibility and relevance it is on to a winner.  If it doesn’t it will have no place to play (where are Troop and Fila now?)


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Footballers on Twitter

So as anybody who is reading this that knows me will testify, I am a huge football fan.  I am also quite active on Twitter although post mainly random nonsense.  As a result I thought I would compile a list of the footballers (thats soccer players to anybody from the states reading this) that are also on Twitter.  Whilst the list may not be exhaustive I will update it as I find more.

Let me know any I should add to the list

Rio Ferdinand @rioferdy5

Robbie Savage @RobbieSavage8

Kaka @RealKaka 

Landon Donovan @landondonovan

Dion Dublin @DionDublinsDube

Diego Forlan @DiegoForlan7

Izzy Iriekpen @Izzyiriekpen

Ronaldinho @10Ronaldinho

Cristiano Ronaldo @Cristiano

Darren Bent @DB11TT

Anton Ferdinand @anton_ferdinand

Wayne Routledge @WayneRoutledge

Cesc Fabregas @cesc4official

Xabi Alonso @XabiAlonso

Maurice Edu @MauriceEdu

DaMarcus Beasley @DaMarcusBeasley

Juan Pablo Angel @JUANPABLOANGEL

Ryan Babel @RyanBabel

Edgar Davids @esdavids


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Celebrity Endorsements

With high-profile celebrity status, endorsements, sponsorship and advertising deals generally follow.  However sometimes the celebrity face becomes stronger than the brand itself.  If a brand is to select a celebrity to front their brand then they need to be 100% certain it they will resonate with the target audience and act as a suitable ambassador.

Sadly with some celebrities comes a fair share of controversy.  The likes of Tiger Woods and John Terry have brought shame upon themselves recently and haven’t reflected well on their brands.  The likes of Kerry Katona and David Beckham have also caused their brand associations to become strained over the years.  Some of these celebrities have done minor things which in the grand scheme of things aren’t huge, some of created furore bordering on national disgraces.

So why do brands continue to use celebrities? What are the risks? What are the benefits? And are there alternatives?

Why use celebrities?

Brands that produce or sell luxury goods often use celebrities.  They choose celebrities that they perceive share the same values as their products. Celebrities that offer the glamour, to portray their products as aspirational to the general public.  The perfume and cosmetic industries generally use glamorous or beautiful people to show how effective their products are.  These celebrities have generally been huge celebs from supermodels to hollywood stars.

Another key trick is to pick up on somebody that’s popular or hot at the moment.  Whilst I mentioned in the above post of perfume and cosmetics companies picking über glamour, brands like L’Oreal are experts at hand-picking people “of the moment”, classic examples include Cheryl Cole and at one point footballer David Ginola.  Garnier also pulled off the coup of grabbing a popular celebrity by enrolling Davina McCall.  There are other cases when companies get it wrong, remember Jason McAteer advertising shampoo? More bad decisions later in this post.

The potential

Get the celebrity right and your brand could be off to a flyer.  The endorsement is believable and customers want to be associated with the brand as much as the celebrity.  Get it wrong and the endorsement looks at best paid for and at worse ridiculous.  Of course it isn’t always down to the celebrity, sometimes it is as much the cheesy production of an ad that breaks down the credibility – Jamie Redknapp and Louise Redknapp holiday commercial anybody?  It can also be the innocent and bizzarrely naive actions that undermine the endorsement (David Beckham shaven his head whilst advertising Brylcreem).  Whatever the case brands need to have a plan in place to mitigate poor choices by either their agency or celebrity figurehead.

The potential is also great.  If you can get an up and coming act at the start of their rise you could benefit in two ways.  Ride the crest of their rise to fame and receive some quedos in terms of helping them achieve their goals.  If the tie-up works as it should in your strategy meetings then there is no reason why you can’t succeed.  Nike seem great at this. They consistently select sports stars that embody sporting excellence and in the main shy away from bad news stories.  They also execute their merchandising, promotion and Marketing strategies with clinical expertise.  Michael Jordan was perhaps the best example of this.  Jordan was an NBA superstar, Nike created an image for Jordan and in terms helped him reach World status, perhaps unrivalled by any NBA star either then or now.  They have also successfully used the Brazilian national football team to great effect.  Their ads show the squad performing awe-inspiring tricks whilst maintaining a genuine feel to what is being played out on TV.  However this particular tie has also caused controversy, with concerns over the depth of influence Nike has on the Brazilian national association.

Good tie-ins

So as mentioned previously good tie-ins are ones that match celebrities with the brand.  Maybe they share similar values or appeal to the same audience.  They match has to be believable and resonate with the audience.  Below are my suggestions of good tie-ins.

Nike and Micheal Jordan

For all the reasons highighted previousy, Jordan became bigger than an NBA star, bigger than the man himself.  Jordan became a ridiculously huge commercial engine.  The relationship was part of Nike’s desire to corner sporting excellence with their brand.  Jordan also gave Nike the urban edge, with Nike Air Jordan shoes the choice footwear for Hip Hop stars and fans.

L’Oreal and Cheryl Cole

Cheryl Cole has had her issues in her past, including allegations of racial assault.  However the Girls Aloud star has turned things around since becoming one of the key faces in the band and a judge on X-Factor.  Her showbiz marriage to controversial footballer Ashley Cole also made her a media darling.  With Ashleys alleged extra-marital activities she came from being and aggressor to a strong independent woman.  This mix of defined character and huge success was an instant pull for L’Oreal and despite Cole’s strong North East accent, she fitted the role perfectly.

Sainsburys and Jamie Oliver

Sainsburys have long battled the likes of Tesco to become a force in the highly competitive supermarket sector.  This has been helped in no small means by TV chef Jamie Oliver.  Jamie was always well liked as a TV personality, however he took a few risks that could have back fired.  Taking on the government and schools to improve school dinners propelled Jamie into the big time.  This good feeling towards Jamie has rubbed off on to Sainsburys.  The tie-in also works due to Jamie being famous for food, which is the staple component of Sainsburys.

Walkers and Gary Lineker

Walkers crisps have gone from another snack food company to the dominant player in UK crisps and snacks.  This incredible journey has gone almost hand-in-hand with taking local star and national hero Gary Lineker.  The ads and concepts have adapted over the years, but Lineker is a constant.  Even off the back of the ex-England stars marriage breakdown, Lineker has remained a popular figure.

Bad tie-ins

The tie-ins here are about as popular as a fart in a lift.  Some due to poor judgement in terms of celebrity, others due to actions after becoming associated to the brand.  Either way, just take a look and squirm or tell me how wrong I am.

Iceland and Kerry Katona

So when Iceland first pulled off the coup of landing Jungle queen Kerry their ad execs must have been rubbing their hands together.  They had one of the nations favourite and a normal down to earth girl made good.  Unfortunately, the public very quickly saw Kerry as a figure to loathe rather than love, not helped by her own misdemeanours.  Since then Katona has come out as having problems with various addictions, debt and failed relationships.  Iceland have since dropped Katona

Accenture and Tiger Woods

Accenture one of the world’s premier consulting firms paid a massive sum to use the image of undoubtedly the world’s best golfer, the Jordan of PGA and all round admired sports star, Tiger Woods.  Tiger has since been found to have a number of extra-marital affairs and has been treated for alleged sex addiction.  Tiger was all over the front pages for all the wrong reasons.  Tiger was promptly dropped by Accenture.

What is the alternative?

So as discussed the potential for a star to gain bad press through either misguided naivity or more worryingly through poor actions that damage their public equity as well as a brands.  So despite all the benefits should you do something else?

Well brands such as Halifax and B&Q have used their own staff to varying degrees of success.  This isnt always the best route as you aren’t guaranteed to find a personality big enough to make an impact or if you do, they could become primadonnas.  This provides equal issue of reliance on a face to lead your brand.

So how about using a character?  Advertising seems to go through cyclical phases where characters become the force and celebrities go into the background.  At the moment some of the most successful ad campaigns feature characters.  Immediate campaigns that spring to mind include Meerkat, Compare the Market, Opera singer, Go Compare and Churchill the nodding dog, Churchill Insurance.  Bizarrely, all of these are finance related.  These factors can be as problematic as celebrities.  With characters you are generally expected to tell a story and improve on one campaign to another.  The non-finance ad that springs to mind is Cillit Bang.  The ad campaign also pushed Barry Scott in to becoming a cult figure, especially within student communities.  However an outburst by the character on social media and the uncovering that Barry was indeed made up has meant to concept has backfired.

Another alternative, which may sound groundbreaking is concentrate on your company, your business and promote what is good or different about it.  Or pick a theme that can create a platform as opposed to a one-off.

Potential future tie-ins

So to sign off, I thought I would suggest a few light hearted tie-ins.

Dolmio and Joe Calzaghe – Dolmio’s animated Italians would be no match for World Champion boxer Calzaghe.  Would his Welsh accent generate credibility issues?

Red Bull and Robbie Williams – Robbie made a particularly highly charged performance on X Factor.  This could easily be the result of a Red Bull marathon.

Specsavers and Arsene Wenger – The Arsenal manager is well known for saying, “I didn’t see anything” – maybe Specsavers could set the Frenchman’s sight back to 20:20.

Kalms and Naomi Campbell – World renowned laid back super model Campbell would be the perfect ambassador for Kalms.  She could even undertake roadshows highlighting to the public how to avoid conflict.

Disney Channel and Amy Winehouse – A match made in heaven.  The world’s cleanest and happiest TV channel with, um, err, Amy Winehouse.


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Product Placement back on UK TV

Regulation U-Turn

Simon Cowell PhotoAs terrestrial commercial TV revenue streams continue to struggle in these difficult financial times, the government have agreed in principal to lift the ban on product placement on TV.  However this isn’t an even playing field as the ban is still likely to effect productions made for the BBC.

In theory the lifting of the ban could produce a decent level of secondary advertising income for programmes such as Coronation SCheryl Cole Photo from X Factortreet or Hollyoaks, however I would question the actual volume revenue unless we get into placements on the scale of those seen in 80s American blockbusters such as Superman.  I can picture X-Factor now, Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole drinking from very well branded Coca Cola glasses.  The introduction really needs to have some clear parameters.  The move is rumoured to be worth c. £100m to the commercial broadcasters, something that would be welcomed in these troubled times.  Contrary to some of the critics, I don’t see such a big issue as long as programme writers and producers can keep their editorial integrity in place.

The benefit of this U-turn does provide an improvement to the ambience of the sets in drama series.  Rather than some bizarre made-up lager in the Woolpack we will actually see genuine brands, making it more realistic.  Why should Eastenders be any different though?

If advertisers can get their products in the right placements and done in a non-intrusive way it could really support their brand.  Association with popular programmes or characters could help support their brand credentials.  However association with programmes such as reality shows could provide as many issues as benefits.  I would imagine that Big Brother would have made a significant amount of money from product placement.  Imagine the likesPhoto of Big Brother 10 Winner Sophie of Craig from the original series drinking a can of Carlsberg.  Or this years Big Brother winner Sophie tucking into Cadburys Dairy Milk.


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Football Sponsorship in the changing climate

Is the backdrop for sponsorship changing?

There is a lot of talk in both the marketing and sports arenas that the climate for sponsorship is changing.  Sponsorship in football isn’t new.  During the 1920s Lillywhites negotiated exclusive rights to publish FA fixture lists.  In the 30s the top players of the time such as Sir Stanley Matthews, were seen to endorse and advertise a range of products from cigarettes to mens cosmetics.  So David Beckham was beaten in his endorsements by some 70 years.david beckham england

In the 70s football was in the midst of a mini economic crisis, crowds were falling and players’ wages increasing.  The Football League decided to create some (short-lived) tournaments such as the Texaco Cup and the Watney Cup (won by Bristol Rovers).  However it was the Football League Cup that secured the first major sponsorship deal in 1982, the Milk Cup was formed.  Most of the major tournaments have since secured sponsorship deals, either associate or title sponsorship.

The combined factors of the economic downturn and the rise of online for more than just purely acquisitional methods of promoting your brand, has helped to create this perception.  Examples of the changing commercial climate in football were cited, when the likes of Setanta failed to make their rights to major football pay.  The collapse of Setanta in the UK despite rights to Premier League football and Scottish Premiership and several other high profile sporting occassions could be perceived as the end of the commercial euphoria that has changed the English game.

Never has the English game been under this kinf of pressure since ITV Digital collapse put a number of English clubs at risk.  The increase of clubs entering administration in the game at the lower levels also adds fuel to the fire.  The current decline of the pound against  the Euro (combined with 50% tax rate) is also resulting in some top players such as Ronaldo moving abroad or considering the move.

All doom and gloom?

However, there is still an influx of cash from (in the main) overseas backers, meaning football at all levels is still getting investment.  This isn’t just top flight any more, the likes of Southampton and Notts County are also being pushed.  The fact that Setanta had their rights replaced so promptly by the likes of ESPN also helped ease some of the concerns.

There are also some key sponsorship deals that have been signed recently including Chelsea‘s deal with Samsung.

A new approach

Obviously it isn’t always possible to rely on investment from overseas billionaires.  For every Chelsea and Abrahmovic there are 50 not so fortunate clubs.  So how do they survive?  Well frankly, some don’t, however others have discovered more creative approaches to their sponsorship.

Some of the clubs have benefited from giving away naming rights.  For example when Arsenal moved from their long-term Highbury home to their new stadium, Emirates Airways secured a reported 10 year muli-million pound deal to create the Emirates Stadium.   A number of traditional supporters think this is a step too far, however most accept that this is the current trend and the only way to stay competitive.  So stadiums have been sponsored, shirts don logos, individual players have become commodities, the only thing left is the club itself, steeped in tradition and part of the community.  Not for too long.  Whilst accepted overseas with the likes of Eindhoven being name PSV (Philips) and Salzburg (FC Red Bull Salzburg) bringing corporate life to the centre of their existence.  Now financially troubled Stirling Albion are looking to go the same route and offer naming rights on a five year deal.  Whilst it will undoubtedly annoy the real traditional football followers it is better to keep the club going.

Whilst other lower league clubs continue to grapple with the current climate not all are going down the extreme route of auctioning their identity.  Bristol Rovers took the creative route to gain revenue by raffling its shirt sponsorship.  The club claim to have come up with the idea as they feared their sponsorship revenue would decrease if they managed to secure one at all.  The raffle is estimated to have generated double the revenue that they would have expected for sponsorship in a growing economy.  It also created a lot of buzz around the community and generated some good PR.

Whatever happens to the economy overall, the British game will continue and will without a shadow of doubt continue to generate revenue, either from wealthy investors, major sponsorship tie-ups or the inventive methods shown by smaller clubs such as Stirling Albion and Bristol Rovers.

What about the sponsors?

Never has the need for sponsors to connect to the recipients of their sponsorships been so great.  With the growing consumpion of alternative media, people are now driving the news and owning the media agenda.  With the likes of Twitter or Facebook, users can endorse or undemine a sponsorship within mintues of its announcement or perhaps more importantly within minutes of being exposed to it.

Big Brother LogoAny organisation that sponsors any property, whether it is a football club, event or a broadcast property such as Big Brother, needs to have a reason to be associated.  When I was at Nationwide we developed a whole campaign that enveloped our sponsorship properties (primarily the England Football Team).  Our “Sponsored by You” campaign put all the perks of being a corporate sponsor back in the hands of our members and the average fan.  Members of Nationwide could win VIP tickets to see England, get a player to a local school or get signed merchandise.  It also encourage winners to post videos or photos of their experience.  This kind of approach allows the organisation a place within the recipients passion, and makes them feel welcomed. 

Sponsors need to move away from thinking about sponsorships as merely a means to get their name out to a mass audience.  They really need to make them work or face a waste of marketing spend that could have been utilised to a far greater degree elsewhere.