Sir Martin Sorrell generally links WPP’s strong years to those with a major global sporting event: an Olympic Games or a World Cup. And, this week, the British Retail Consortium said that two (relatively small) sporting events – the Winter Olympic Games and the RBS Six Nations Championship – had significantly driven sales of snacks, beer and ready-meals.
Today, sport has a pivotal role in the British economy and in the fortunes of the advertising and media business. The reason comes down to that much-overused buzzword of late: content. Everyone, from brands to media owners, has become obsessed with leveraging their "content" – unfortunately, without much understanding of how good, and how powerful, that content really is. Under scrutiny, very little content offers outstanding engagement on a global scale. There are entertainment franchises such as Big Brother, certain movies (particularly from Disney) and the odd piece of viral such as "that selfie" at the Oscars. But sport is different. Rupert Murdoch has always known this.
Despite all this money and passion going into sporting content, few have succeeded at scale in this space
In just under 100 days’ time, the football World Cup will be broadcast to more than 200 countries. Almost one billion people will tune in to watch the final. Little wonder, then, that brands will generate more than $2 billion in sponsorship revenue for Fifa alone.
Despite all this money and passion going into sporting content, and the myriad brands now participating, surprisingly few creative consultancies have succeeded at scale in this space. The notable exceptions are IMG – which has a very different model from most agencies and has gone quiet of late – and, on a national level, the British group Chime with its sports marketing focus.
So, if you wondered why Bartle Bogle Hegarty launched BBH Sport this week, you have your answer. The new agency’s chairman, Ben Fennell, and the business development partner, Lawrence Dallaglio, argue that no agency has yet applied great creativity and brand-centric strategy to sport. They may well be right. What Fennell and Dallaglio collectively lack in cranial follicles, they more than make up for in drive, charisma and brand experience, particularly when one adds in the other founding partners: Ewan Paterson (creative) and Kevin Brown (media).
The new enterprise will be crucial to the success of a post-Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty incarnation of BBH. It will also be an intriguing test case of whether professional, creative marketing can be applied to the unique – and, still too often, murky and tactical – world of sports content.