A view from Tyson Henly

Euro 2016, sponsorship game-changer

UEFA Euro 2016, the biggest European championships ever, marks a new era in football sponsorship.

This year for the first time, 24 nations are competing in the Euros (up from 16 in previous years). This means the tournament will take place for a full month, packing in 51 matches (previously there were 31). All this leads to larger TV audiences – probably averaging higher than the Super Bowl for each match.

Despite the negative effects of fan violence, that exposure will deliver a media-related value in excess of €200m for the competition’s 10 global sponsors.

However, brands are facing an increasingly crowded and complex football landscape, with new competitions, formats and sponsorship models being introduced that threaten to dilute or bury their messages.

Regional sponsors

For a start, Fifa plans to introduce regional sponsors to the World Cup for the first time from 2018, potentially increasing the number of brands involved in the competition from 20 to more than 30. Then there’s the new club-led International Champions Cup concept, which harnesses the power of pre-season friendlies across three continents, and other competitions on the horizon such as UEFA’s planned Nations League.

The Euro qualifiers have also now established themselves as a new property for sponsors and the UEFA Champions League is reviewing its format for the 2018-21 cycle. Even the Euros are moving to a multi-city concept from 2020, with matches held in 13 cities across Europe, rather than just one country hosting the tournament.

On top of this, key rights holders (Fifa, Uefa, the individual football clubs) are increasingly looking at what sponsors can bring to the party beyond pure revenue. As part of its recent deal with UEFA, Pepsi agreed to bring its global ambassador Alicia Keys to perform at the opening ceremony of the Champions League. Then there’s Fifa’s recent partnership with China’s Wanda group – a strategic deal that sees Fifa benefitting not only from rights fees but also Wanda’s ability to open up the vast Chinese market.

Big change ahead

Bubbling away in the background to all of this is a debate about how rights-holders will respond to new methods of delivering on-demand content – the so-called "over the top" debate, which might see the rights to tournaments being cut up, with different matches made available to different media platforms.

All this, plus the appearance of new sponsors from emerging markets – such as Chinese company Hisense, which recently signed on as a Euro sponsor – means that brands have to work harder than ever to use their sponsorship to achieve the impact they desire. Whether it’s evaluating the potential worth of a sponsorship or activating an existing sponsorship to bring it to life in a way that resonates authentically with football fans, brands have to choose an agency with dedicated sports expertise in order to cut through the noise.  

Tyson Henly is head of football at WPP's sports marketing business PRISM