Brands and clubs can take inspiration from the past and present to create a future that excites fans and delivers proper business results.
Once upon a time, sponsorship was quite a straight-forward pursuit. In 1919, Somerton Park, home to Newport County was almost sold for housing. Local steelwork boss W.R, Lysaght purchased the ground and leased it back to the club.
County kept their home and the fans, many of whom worked for Lysaght, were naturally grateful for the support. Lysaghts was a company grounded in employee relations and this gesture did plenty to demonstrate the company’s values to the people of Newport.
As Lysaght’s generosity demonstrates, sponsorship was once the purest of all marketing.
Fast forward 100 years and this purity has become somewhat clouded. The number of sponsors, the complexity of messaging, the demands of providing instant ROI can create an environment that makes it feel like brands always ‘on the take.’ That they’re only after a fan’s money.
So what’s the answer? Well, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution but, in my opinion, there are three simple things that we can do to to create a better experience for brands, rights holders and fans alike.
Firstly, give fans a reason to care if you want their cash. In isolation, becoming a club’s fifth official bookmaker is unlikely to really get the tongues on the terraces wagging. Give them a reason to engage with your product above and beyond a ‘free bet’.
An interesting approach has been adopted by PSG recently with their crypto-currency partner Socios. The partnership uses blockchain to give fans the opportunity to vote on such matters as the club’s new jersey and where they should tour in pre-season. If they can communicate this to fans in a way that makes the product easy to understand then they could be on to a winner.
Secondly. as a sponsor, it’s important that you find your role. Becoming an official partner is all very well but it can seem somewhat meaningless unless you’re demonstrate clearly what your actual involvement is. When you get it right, it’s hugely powerful.
Take, for example, Wimbledon. AELTC’s policy of only working with sponsors who provide a clear service to The Championships means that the onus is placed on the role the sponsor plays rather than simply a logo on a perimeter board. Players are seen drinking Robinsons squash, striking Slazenger balls and being ferried to centre court in luxury courtesy of Jaguar. In many ways, Wimbledon’s sponsorship model is that of the old-school arrangement outlined in paragraph one. Albeit with much more lucrative results, for rights-holder and brands alike.
Something else that Wimbledon has done well is embrace the social age. The traditional, reserved image of Wimbledon might lead you to think that social media is not the most natural bedfellow of the world’s oldest tennis tournament. However, AELTC has succeeded in creating contemporary, social content that opens the sport up to potential new audiences without alienating the core following.
Wimbledon and Paris Saint-Germain are, of course, sporting giants. At Underdog Sports Marketing, we’re all about helping brands and clubs punch above their weight. Clever use of social is something that can be employed by rights holders of any size, often by taking advantage of assets that are under one’s very nose.
Look at first-class cricket. While the glitz and glamour of it’s sexier cousin T20 might command the big bucks; in the last few seasons, first-class cricket has used digital to provide match coverage to its fans. The games were already being filmed for coaching purposes and now all but a few County Championship sides stream their fixtures. Giving fans coverage that TV simply won’t in this day and age. The views may not be monstrously large but across the course of a season, there is certainly an engaged community of supporters that should interest the right brands.
Give fans a reason to care.
Explain how you help the club beyond just a logo on a perimeter board.
Embrace the social revolution.
Times may have changed since Lysaght’s day but I believe there is something to be gained by returning to some of the simplicity of messaging, while the platforms we use get more complex. By doing this we can create a new world of sponsorship that excites fans and delivers proper business results.