Pitch-side: Interview with England Hockey CEO Sally Munday
caytoo: What does England Hockey do?
Sally: It’s the national governing body for hockey in England, so we’re responsible for everything to do with sport from grassroots to the international team.
caytoo: What’s the main purpose of your role?
Sally: To lead our organisation and translate the strategic plan into operation.
caytoo: What does England Hockey and the World Cup offer sponsors?
Sally: In terms of the World Cup specifically, it’s the biggest women’s sport event in England this year; over 100,000 live fans and a global broadcast exposure to an audience estimated to be one billion.
Regarding England hockey generally, it’s the opportunity to be associated with a true dual-gender sport that’s grown exponentially in the last six years since London 2012, such as an 80% increase in young people joining our clubs in the last few years. It’s a team sport that is both an Olympic and Commonwealth game and a sport that has integrity and strong values at its heart.
“for brands, it’s the association with a true dual-gender sport that’s grown exponentially in the last six years”
We’ve also got a new worldwide FIH Pro League starting next year for international men’s and women’s teams that’s never been done before. People are getting very excited about what that’s going to look like both live and on TV.
caytoo: What’s your fanbase/audience?
Sally: The largest part of our live audience are families looking for a great day out. We’ve done an awful lot of research into who buys our tickets and our growth of ticket sales is massive over the last 6-8 years and it’s the family audience.
That’s the biggest growth area because we’ve gone out and asked the consumer what it is they’re looking for and are now delivering what it is they want. That is, they don’t just want to turn up and watch a hockey match. They want their kids to have the opportunity to pick up a stick, have a go and they want to be able to buy really good quality food and drink. They want kids to be able to get an autograph at the end of the game and have interaction with the players. They want a really friendly environment where they can come and really enjoy sport at its best, both what’s happening on the pitch but also the activity that surrounds it – all the fan engagement activity that we do.
“families is the biggest growth area because we’ve gone out and asked the consumer what it is they’re looking for”
caytoo: What brands are, and have been, involved in either England Hockey or the World Cup?
Sally: We’ve got some fantastic brands involved with us. Vitality is the title sponsor for the Hockey Women’s World Cup, which is a brilliant partnership for us. Our more longer term partner, since 2010, is Investec who sponsor our women’s team, who have renewed to go through to the Tokyo Olympic Games. Then we have a whole range of other really good partners from Adidas to Toshiba to Harrogate Water and Opro gum shields, among many others.
caytoo: Are there any brands/sectors that are particularly well suited?
Sally: We’ve found that the financial services, banks and organisational services are quite often attracted to hockey.
However, to be honest, what we find is the brands that want to work with us are actually brands that have a shared ambition of what we’re trying to do with the sport. It tends to be brands that are really trying to grow and position themselves in a way that engages big numbers or particularly share our values.
“For us, the relationship and the activation of the partnership is as important, if not more, than money.”
For us, the relationship and the activation of the partnership is as important, if not more important, than money. So we’ve got a whole mixture. The electronics manufacturer Toshiba have recently come on board, they’re a great partner for us. They’re a partner for the World Cup and have also taken our men’s shirt sponsor on. We’ve not worked with a company like them before, but again they share our ambition. We’ve got Jaffa, the orange company, Merchant Gourmet who do healthy food and snacks. It tends to be organisations who share our ambition, share our values and want association to something that’s relevant to their brand.
caytoo: Are there any other reasons why certain brands got involved? What were their key objectives?
Sally: Vitality is a really good example. When you when you think of them you think of being healthy, being active and they’ve been really clever with some of the things they’ve wanted to do in activating the World Cup. For example, when you get to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where the event is held, you have to walk up through it to get to the hockey venue. They already do the Vitality Mile so they’re branding the whole walk the Vitality Mile, with a load of activations. They’re building in something that is important to them into the very fabric of our event due to the fact that people are going to have to walk through Olympic Park to get to our event. So it just fits really nicely alongside what they do with their Vitality Mile.
caytoo: Are there any examples of how hockey delivers a return on investment (ROI) for sponsors?
Sally: Investec are a good example as they partnered with us because they wanted to reach female decision-makers about finance. They have consistently said the ROI for them is absolutely unquestionable. The fact that they renewed with us in 2016 for another five-year commitment through to Tokyo and beyond says it all really. Brands don’t renew unless they are really getting an ROI.
“Investec really enjoy working with us because they have a lot of fun with the activation stuff with the players”
When it comes to activation for example, one of the things Investec really enjoy and have a lot of fun with is working directly with our players. They’re a company that I would describe as working incredibly hard but also playing hard. They enjoy what they do and the way they work which fits really nicely with the way that we operate and our athletes operate. Our athletes work incredibly hard but they do it because they enjoy it and they love being part of a team and being part of what they’re doing on the international stage.
caytoo: Can you give an example of an Investec activation with the players?
Sally: They’ve done so many different things but one really brilliant campaign was where they put players on taxis and billboards all around central London to help us with raising the profile of women’s sport. They’re doing a really interesting set of videos, similar to what they did in the lead up to Rio. It was called “Our Journey” and tracked the players through their journey to the Olympic Games and what it takes to be an Olympic athlete. They do stuff that’s interesting and they do it to a really high quality and in a way that demonstrates to our players that they care about them and, as a result, the players then really want to engage with them.
“Players don’t just engage because they are our sponsor, they engage because they really like the company and enjoy working with them”
Players don’t just engage because they are our sponsor, they engage because they really like the company, they really like the brand and they really enjoy working with them.
caytoo: What are the main challenges you face in attracting sponsorship?
Sally: The biggest challenge, historically, has been the fact that we aren’t a sport that has been consistently in the public eye and that makes it difficult because, historically, brands have been looking for mass eyeballs.
I think the sponsorship landscape is changing and our landscape is changing in the fact that this new FIH Hockey Pro League is going to be televised live for five and a half months of the year, every year. This gives us consistent exposure which will raise the profile, not only of the sport, but of the individual players so that more of them will become household names.
“Interestingly, our challenge is actually getting sponsors for the men’s side, which has been harder than the women’s”
It also helps when we’ve come off the back of an Olympic gold medal. It’s interesting to put into context the amount of coverage that the peak 18.3 million audience for England’s first match in the football World Cup received. It’s the highest number of people that watched anything this year. You think, ‘wow that’s an awful lot of people’ but going back to the Olympic Games when we won gold, almost 10 million people watched that. So, women’s sport is on the rise.
Interestingly, our challenge is actually getting sponsors for the men’s side of the game. This has been harder in the last few years than the women’s side – probably due to the fact that the women have had more success. It’s been a challenge but it’s such a brilliant opportunity moving forward for a sport like ours. We’re finding now that some of the conversations when we get in the door are actually a lot easier but it’s just getting in the door. When we get there, people are excited about what we’re doing.
caytoo: What makes a good brand partner or sponsor in terms of the process?
Sally: Absolutely that the partnership is built on shared values. We don’t want to work with a partner that doesn’t share some of the core things that underpin hockey. We believe in teamwork, pride, respect. We go about our business in a way that demonstrates our ambition, our integrity, our focus and inspiration and we want partners that align with those values. Our experience is that when we find partners that do align, the relationship just flies because we’re on the same page. Of course, we’ll both have different ideas about how to make the most out of it but if your values are shared then everything becomes pretty straightforward.
“if your values are shared then everything becomes pretty straightforward”
caytoo: What other sports do you admire for their sponsorship partnerships?
Sally: I really liked what Netball did with Vitality, particularly how Vitality activated that sponsorship. They didn’t only sponsor the senior women’s program but also the league. They also built in what they are trying to do in terms of their whole attitude and approach to lifestyle and healthy living into what netball was doing.
That’s one of the reasons why we were attracted to them for the World Cup because we knew they would take a similar approach – such as the Vitality Mile I mentioned – so it’s no surprise that Vitality ended up partnering with us. They’re doing exactly what we hoped they would do and it’s brilliant that Vitality are now flexing their muscles across a number of other sports.
caytoo: Are there any key lessons from your experience for other rights holders?
Sally: Value the activation as much as you value the money.
That is, what they might do creatively within the activation to help further both themselves but also our sport and athletes. Investec are a brilliant example of this with the videos campaign they did around the female athletes in the lead up to Rio. Hundreds of thousands of people watched those videos and that was brilliant for them in terms of the eyeballs on their brand but brilliant for us because one of our ambitions was to grow the visibility of our sport.
“In a conversation with the sponsor, if we think that what they want isn’t something we can effectively deliver, we won’t work with them”
So, when I talked about shared values, it’s also about shared outcomes – what it is you’re trying to achieve. In a conversation with the sponsor, if we think that what they want isn’t something we can effectively deliver for them, we won’t work with them because you’re starting on a hiding to nothing. Our most successful partnerships have been where the values and the outcomes are on the same page.
caytoo: How will sports sponsorship and partnerships between rights holders and brands change in the future?
Sally: My sense is that it will become less about advertising, as in eyeballs, and more about influencers. Brands will be looking for associations with organisations who can influence a market more directly in the way that they talk to them. So, data is going to become increasingly important but also social media followings.
“Sponsorship will become less about advertising, as in eyeballs, and more about influencers”
One of the brilliant things about partnering with a team sport like hockey, is that we’ve got players who have 100,000 followers on social media. But you haven’t got just one player, it’s not like sponsoring an individual sport or an individual person – you’ve actually got a massive squad of players. This is one of the interesting things coming back from the Rio Olympic Games. Hockey brought home more gold medalists than any other sport, yet we’re only one medal in the medal table. Those 16 gold medallists are out influencing in schools, clubs, communities and in the business world sharing their story, sharing what it took to get on the podium.
So, one of the benefits moving forward for team sports is simply the pure number of people we’ve got – which is a lot of influencers. If the sports marketing landscape moves more towards influencers, which I suspect it will, it’s likely that sports such as ours may well do OK.