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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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.