Tokyo 2020 vision: Which sports are looking best for partnerships?
The Rio 2016 Olympics wasn’t only a record-breaker for the GB team itself (their best medal haul in 108 years, putting them second in the medals table) but also for the BBC’s television and digital audiences (over 45 million tuning in, reaching 68.3m UK devices).
This level of success and the appetite to watch it (although the eight hour time difference may harm live viewing figures) bode well for the next iteration in Tokyo 2020, particularly for brands thinking of partnering with any of the Olympic sports in the run-up to and beyond the games.
With so many to potentially choose from, caytoo analysed 30 sports across nine criteria including the Rio medal tally, the current level of UK Sport funding, participation levels among the public, social followings and the number of GB events pre-Tokyo in which to potentially activate sponsorship.
Show me the medals
Of course, any brand wants to be associated with success so the sports with the greatest number of medals are likely to be among the most attractive. Using a simple scoring system of three points for a gold medal to one for a bronze, cycling is the clear winner (with 6 golds, 4 silvers and 2 bronzes at Rio) with more than twice as many ‘points’ as the nearest challengers – rowing, swimming and gymnastics (all tied).
Cycling also leads the way in terms of the average number of medals per athlete. Of the 26 cycling athletes who went to Rio, 20 came home with a medal – a ‘conversion’ rate of 77%.
Conversion is an important metric because it speaks most closely to the idea of return on investment (ROI). Common logic would say that the sports with the most participants are the most likely to deliver medals but size often comes with a related price tag which may well beyond the means of most brands.
For example, Sky was reportedly paying around £2.5 million annually to sponsor British Cycling before HSBC took over in 2017. For UK athletics, which had the most participants (80) at Rio, Nike is currently paying around £1.5 million a year to be the kit sponsor and as long as a decade ago, Aviva was paying around £10 million annually for title sponsorship.
However, athletics’ Rio conversion rate was 18%, putting it in the bottom half on this metric. In contrast, the sport with the second highest conversion rate – taekwondo – only had four athletes at Rio but three came home with a medal (75%). The cost of sponsoring a sport like taekwondo will be much much lower than for the bigger sports but with a much higher conversion, it potentially means more can be returned per pound spent.
To reflect the growth of and interest in women’s sport, the criteria also included the tally of female medals. Hockey, courtesy of the women’s gold medal team, won the day here – ahead of rowing and cycling.
Despite it only showing as one gold on the medal table, hockey brought home more gold medalists than any other sport, courtesy of all 16 squad members receiving one. As Sally Munday, the CEO of England Hockey astutely pointed out, “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.” In other words, a sponsor has more assets to deploy out of a team gold than an individual one.
Show me the money
Whilst past performance is one indicator of potential success, the level of funding from UK Sport is a key factor in future success particularly due to the policy of funds allocated purely on the likelihood of medal chances. This somewhat controversial policy has been slightly softened by the recent “Aspiration Fund” that saw the likes of skateboarding, surfing and softball receive investment to help with their Tokyo 2020 ambitions.
Rowing is Britain’s most highly funded Olympic sport (£30.5 million) followed by cycling (£29.6m) and athletics (£26.9m). As well as scoring by the total amount of current funding, we cross-referenced this against both the number of athletes and the medal performance at Rio to get a better picture of potential success.
Taekwondo scores highest on funding per athlete at nearly £2.5 million, followed by sailing (£1.7m) and canoeing (£1.6m). Judo tops the funding per medal ‘point’ at a whopping £7.4m (its total Tokyo funding vs. a bronze at Rio), ahead of Hockey’s £5.7m (based on a single ‘team’ gold) and shooting’s £3.5m.
Show me the audience
The final area of analysis, which is crucial for any potential sponsor, looked at potential public interest in the sports including participation levels, social followings and the number of events pre-Tokyo in which GB competes.
Cycling tops both participation (with 6.2 million fortnightly participants, according to Sport England’s Active Lives Survey) and followers of the sport’s official social accounts (471k). In participation terms it’s followed by swimming (4.5m) and climbing (2.6m), and socially by gymnastics (379k) and taekwondo (372k).
In terms of a brand looking to activate across sporting events pre-Tokyo, sailing offers the most opportunities (at 19), ahead of canoeing (17) and judo and shooting (both 11).
The finish line
As a result of the nine criteria we’ve used, cycling comes out top of the 30 sports on sponsorship attractiveness (scoring 88% of the maximum points available), with rowing taking silver (81%) and sailing bronze (78%).
Of course, it’s likely that a different set of criteria would elicit different results but the ones we’ve selected can all be easily benchmarked via comparable datasets. For example, our analysis didn’t include elements such as the potential cost of entry and the opportunity to hit highly targeted audiences, which both work against the smaller sports such as skateboarding, surfing and softball. Their ‘niche’ status means they are difficult to measure using traditional markers and, being first time Olympic sports, they don’t score points in any of the medals criteria even though they may have a good chance of success in Tokyo.
However, their obvious footprint among dedicated communities – and ‘X’ factor stories such as 10-year old skateboarder Sky Brown aiming to be GB’s youngest-ever Olympian – can make them a more attractive option for brands looking to impact the grass-roots level relatively cost-effectively by backing a sport or its the athletes along the road to Tokyo and beyond.
Prior to co-founding caytoo, Alex was an Analyst and VP of Global Communications at Nielsen and founded the successful PR/communications consultancy, Meteor.
For a more detailed breakdown of how all 30 sports scored or to learn how caytoo’s actionable sports marketing insights can help your business fill out the form at the bottom of this page or contact Jeremy on 020 3176 8131 or email@example.com