Why brands tell their story through sport sponsorship
“Sport has the power to inspire in a way that little else can.
It speaks to people in a language they understand.”
Nelson Mandela’s famous quote – delivered ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa – brilliantly sums up the power of sport. Although he was talking about this impact from a more lofty, societal point of view, it also translates perfectly to the world of sport sponsorship and how brands can use it as a vehicle to inspire potential customers.
Don’t take my word for it
People care passionately about sport, so by aligning with it marketers can harness some of that passion for the benefit of their own brand. As the World Advertising Research Centre states, “Sports sponsorship offers a unique opportunity for brands to reach highly-engaged audiences,” while best-selling author Peter Fisk observed, “There is rarely a better way to add passion and performance to your brand attributes, than to connect with sports.”
Kantar data states that 74% of consumers feel more loyalty to a brand that’s involved with sport and, similarly, The Playbook suggests that 63% are more likely to buy from a brand that aligns itself to something they’re passionate about.
The valuable role that sport plays in genuinely connecting with people is neatly surmised by fashion brand Belstaff’s chief executive, Gavin Haig, who said, “You’ve got to have shared values; that’s the beginning of an authentic relationship.”
Sport is also the ultimate medium when it comes to telling true or real-life stories on a mass scale. As Nissan Europe’s vp of marketing, Jean Pierre Diernaz, stated, “Sport is now the only potential discipline where you can engage very high numbers of people.” In turn, the chairman of telecoms firm Timico chose sport sponsorship as a vehicle for his company because it “enables you to engage with a broader audience and other potential influencers in the decision-making process.”
These two facts around passion and story-telling mean brands can, and should be, using sport as a vehicle to tell their own story (and certainly, irrespective of whether or not the decision-maker is personally a sports fan).
Sport has always delivered a much more powerful and emotional connection to audiences than other vehicles. This ability has become more in demand as people are faced with a deluge of advertising messages across an ever-increasingly fragmented media landscape.
One of the world’s leading gambling brands PartyCasino stated, “Sports offer brands an unrivalled platform to break through into public consciousness in a way they might not otherwise.” Even B2B firms acknowledge this state, as illustrated by Huw Llewellyn-Waters of executive search firm MBS Group, who said, “Sports offer an almost unmatched stage to communicate with consumers.”
Aberdeen Standard Investments, for example, goes big on sports sponsorship because, “It is a great vehicle, a powerful marketing tool, a brand-building tool.” Robin Spring, the firm’s sponsorship communications manager, goes on to explain why: “We can drive excitement among customers around the brand using sport. It allows us to reach new geographies and target audiences in hard to reach places. It enables us to talk about new products as well as drive interest to our website etc.”
Nissan’s Diernaz adds that sport sponsorship, “Gives you souped-up content and a way to engage with people that are passionate and are going to react to what you say with a high level of engagement.”
The social angle
Social media, of course, is a regular part of any marketing campaign and goes literally hand-in-hand with sport sponsorship.
For example, as this considerable infographic from Martech shows, 61% of sports viewers follow sports accounts and 80% of sports fan interact with social media whilst watching a a game. In addition, Kantar research revealed that 35% of social networking fans are more likely to have a positive opinion of brands that associate with sports they follow.
A rights holder – be it an organisation, club or the athletes in their domain – essentially act as an extended digital asset for a brand, enabling it to spread its message socially way beyond that of it’s own channels.
The internal dimension
So far, I’ve focused purely on the external, customer-facing power of sport sponsorship. However, it’s vital not to forget the added bonus it increasingly delivers when it comes to employee engagement.
As King’s College London stated, “Sports sponsorship can have profound effects on an organisation’s workforce,” whilst James Adonis, the author of Employee Engagement says this, “Companies don’t just invest in sports to make themselves look good. It makes employees feel good.”
The head of cycling partnerships at HSBC UK said in the first year of any partnership the only KPI he measures against is the impact on staff. This trend is rising to such a degree we covered it in “Is employee engagement the new frontier for sport sponsorship?”
The merit of sports as a vehicle for any brand to tell and amplify their brand message is clear and is only going to become bigger, particularly in targeting new audiences. As Misha Sher, MediaCom’s head of sport said, “Brands are now aligning with sports that can help them target the next generation of consumers.”
For example, the growth of women’s sport (59% of the UK population are interested in at least one women’s sport) is providing a whole new avenue in this sector for brands to jump into and, in these relatively early days, at a fraction of the cost of the men’s game.
The real proof is in the pudding, or data, of course. Spend on sport sponsorship in the UK grew just over 9% last year to around €2.9bn (source: Nielsen). In contrast, total ad spend grew 6.3% but, excluding online search and social media, the amount companies spent on advertising in the UK has actually fallen in four of the last five years (source: WARC).
Part of the growth in sports spend can be down to the fact that “barriers to entry have never been lower,” according to Glenn Lovett, the global MD of Nielsen Sports. He goes on to say, “More markets around the world than ever before are receptive to the power of sports. It’s never been easier to reach millions, even billions, of fans.”
But it’s really that sport is all about excitement, passion, inspiration, aspiration, ambition and community. It creates that emotional link that, crucially, has the potential to generate a long-lasting affinity with a brand, not least because being a professional sports person is children’s most popular job aspiration.
All these make for an incredibly exciting story – one that more brands are waking up to in terms of how they can use it as a vehicle to tell their own story and stand out amidst the clutter and competition.
We’re happy to offer a free consultation on how sport sponsorship could solve your business challenges, so feel free to call me on 020 3176 8135 or drop me a line.
Jeremy is a co-founder and CEO of caytoo. He was formerly CEO of Gorkana Group and Cision EMEA and has a wealth of experience in building, growing and leading successful businesses.