The internet and social media mean the sporting event itself is now just the tip of the overall fan experience, and traditional sponsorship models are simply no longer delivering, says Sporting Mouth’s John Owrid.
We recently learned that Adidas aren’t that enamoured with the way Manchester United are currently playing football. While it hasn’t stopped them selling record numbers of United shirts, the associative values of the team’s performance apparently aren’t in line with the sponsor’s stripes.
Although it’s a story that probably gained more prominence due to a slow news week, it foreshadows something that has been brewing for quite a while, that all is not entirely rosy in the world of sports sponsorship.
Ever since the FIFA scandal broke and football’s leading brand sponsors discovered that their financial support had been unconsciously funding corruption within the game’s governing body, there have been some uncomfortable questions to answer about the value of sponsorship. Whether FIFA (and potentially UEFA’s) own tainted brands have adverse knock-on effects for the brands that sponsor their tournaments is way too early to tell. But at the very least, the brands that continue to support tournaments, such as the World Cup and the European Championships, must be especially keen to see how their loyalty is refunded.
That said, the bigger concern for brands isn’t about whether to continue to pay the tax levied by FIFA and UEFA for their involvement in key tournaments, but how to deal with the fact the traditional sponsorship model is increasingly inapplicable to the task in hand.
Very crudely, sponsorship works by providing brands with special access to something that contains positive associative values for their customers. It’s like a backstage pass that they can share with the people that matter to them. And the most successful brands use this pass very well, creating experiences for fans that are rare and unique. But does taking fans closer to the action equate to helping brands get closer to the fans?
The problem with major tournaments, such as the forthcoming Euros, is that the event itself is so pervasive that access doesn’t seem such a big deal any more. While many of next summer’s official sponsors will be competing with one another to provide the most authentic fan experiences at the tournament, the majority of fans won’t be attending the games. Instead, they’ll be consuming the Euros as a variety of social experiences in their own virtual stadia, using their own technology to propel their involvement in the action.
Instead of getting even more pitch side with their marketing focus, brands might want to explore the case for sponsoring the social connection between fans as an alternative. By reversing the polarity of the traditional sponsorship model to sponsor fan behaviour, instead of event-based phenomena, brands can cut out the middleman (in this case UEFA) and connect with fans direct.
If there’s a better way to capitalise on a huge sporting bubble, with double the shelf life of Christmas, without paying for the privilege of being Santa’s little helper, then it probably isn’t legal.
John Owrid is chairman of Sporting Mouth, which is soon to launch social gaming app Europundit for Euro 2016.