Just five sectors account for half of team’s main sponsors
Let’s start with some “numberwanging” to set the scene…
The analysis involved 12 English divisions; the top four in men’s football, the top two in men’s rugby, the three formats in which men play cricket and the top women’s division in each of the three sports. The 163 clubs were split 136 male and 27 female. A total of 154 title sponsors were identified, representing 33 sectors.
Now that’s settled, what did we find and what does it mean?
A few sectors still dominate
Although 33 sectors were represented, just five accounted for nearly half of the sponsors involved. The top 10 accounting for 70%.
Gambling leads the way – driven solely by football – accounting for 18.3% of the main sponsors at top English clubs. Financial services (9.4%) follow next, with the top five completed by professional services (7.8%), automotive (6.7%) and travel & transport (6.1%).
This high concentration shows the highly competitive and cluttered nature of sponsorship within certain sectors and, at the same time, shows the huge opportunity awaiting sports if it can do a better job of appealing to brands in sectors beyond the usual suspects.
Airline brand Emirates and betting firm 32Red are the most prevalent sponsors (five each) followed by another betting brand SportPesa (three).
Football fishing in a smaller pool
Football’s worrying reliance on gambling is shown by the fact the sector accounts for 32.4% of club’s main sponsors, compared to zero in both cricket and rugby.
It’s worrying in the sense to have so many eggs in a basket that is increasingly susceptible to negative attention from both a legislative and moral direction. Many groups – from MPs to the NHS – have called for a ban on betting companies sponsoring clubs and, in 2017, the Football Association ended all sponsorships with betting companies amid increasing criticism.
Thirty-three football clubs fall into this group (five clubs in the Championship alone have the same sponsor, 32Red) and while Premiership clubs may not struggle to fill this gap, the same can’t necessarily be said of those lower down the ladder.
Lessons can be learnt from Luton Town in League One (the third tier of men’s professional football) who took a more forward-thinking position. The club refused ‘more than £500,000’ to sign a gambling sponsor. Chief executive Gary Sweet said, “We don’t want to promote excessive gambling behaviour through our support base and our players”. The club has gone with a property firm, Indigo Residential.
In contrast, rugby and cricket have far less of a reliance on a single sector. For example, the three most dominant sectors account for 50% of sponsors in football, 36% in rugby and 33% in cricket.
Rugby is led by financial services (15.2%) and alcohol (12.1%), while in cricket it’s equally split across alcohol, professional services and travel & transport (all 11.1%).
However, both rugby and cricket aren’t immune to legislative and moral questions when it comes to sponsors. Both are, surprisingly, much more reliant on the alcohol sector (12.1% and 11.1%, respectively) for funding than football (1%). Indeed, concerns have started to surface that cricket’s relationship with alcohol could be putting families off attending – despite being cited as a key growth target.
Gambling bets on men, automotive drives women
Again entirely due to football, gambling (19.9%) is the most prevalent sector among the men’s teams followed by financial services (9.6%) and professional services (8.3%). In contrast, automotive (16.7%) and travel & transport (12.5%) lead the way when it comes to the women.
Indeed, automotive and travel & transport (along with gambling) see the greatest difference when comparing male and female sponsors. In automotive’s case – driven by car dealerships – this may seem seem surprising when considering traditional preconceptions about who drives car purchasing.
This is a similar ‘counter-intuitive’ situation we saw when analysing golf sponsors in that the electronics sector more heavily targeted the women’s game, while luxury goods did the same with men. However, the reality in many countries is that women now tend to drive car-purchasing decisions and female sport provides an increasingly attractive option to cut-through.
The end game
In general, sports sponsorship remains clustered around a few key sectors. This could partly be down to the ‘black book’ syndrome in that deals are still primarily being done based on historical relationships between the people selling and buying or the CEO has a personal fondness for a sport or team.
Whilst the former certainly oils the machine in already well-ploughed fields, the flip side is that it limits the industry’s ability to entice new entrants. This is because rights holders don’t have the contacts there and/or they’ve not had to do much selling based on anything else such as data or ROI (obviously harder).
However, the latter is crucial to any brand looking to enter a new area for the first time as they’ll require far more than trust to justify a new direction, particularly as there are many other competing industries and marketing tactics they can employ beyond sports sponsorship.
Boozy hospitality, gut-feel and ‘chairman’s whim’ will become increasingly outdated in a data-driven world, particularly as Millennials start to replace Generation X and the Baby Boomers as decision-makers.
So, there’s clearly a large opportunity awaiting sports if they can get out of this comfort zone and short-to-medium term thinking to appeal to sectors beyond the usual suspects. For example, when it comes to the main sponsors of English sports teams, where are the challenger banks, the pure online players, the entertainment and consumer electronics brands?
For that matter, where are the health and fitness brands – besides being second or third tier value-in-kind partners? (Wigan Athletic being the sole exception). It is sport, after all.
Although it won’t be easy to begin with, an inherent added benefit for rights holders of widening the pool of potential suitors obviously creates more competition which naturally leads to more lucrative deals.
You could go down the innovative route taken by League Two football club Notts County. They’ve just finished a second season of having a different main shirt sponsor every month – incorporating energy, entertainment, charity and music brands.
Surely sport has the potential to branch out from the over-reliance on gambling and alcohol, something it will be forced to do when it needs to start attracting a new generation of audiences.
The full version of the Team Sport’s Main Sponsors Landscape is available via one of three packages which you can subscribe to by filling in this form or contacting Anya via firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 3176 8131.