Media: Double Standards - 'Sexy' football still able to excite large audiences

Recession-proof and more popular than ever, football continues to act as a magnet for brands. We speak to two men whose companies stand to benefit from the sport's appeal.

ADAM BULLOCK - MANAGING DIRECTOR, UTV PITCH

- Why do brands still want to be associated with football?

Contrary to reports, football is still enjoying record growth in audiences through multiple channels and outlets. TalkSPORT's audience is at an all-time high and Sport magazine is enjoying its most successful period since launch. ITV derives its peak audiences from live football and digital platforms continue to grow, with Sky also enjoying record audiences. A new independent research project, Sportsconnecters, states that people will maintain or increase their investment in their team, even through these challenging times. Football engages like nothing else with a fierce passion and loyalty. It's also quite sexy.

- How much do you worry that with the financial issues and debt levels faced by some Premier League clubs combined with the recession affecting attendances at games, football's popularity has passed its peak and the only way is downhill?

I believe there is a more obvious hierarchy in football now. Because of the exposure media affords the game, domestic league titles take precedence over the domestic cup competitions. While the Premier League, Championship and Leagues 1 and 2 continue to grow, the traditional cup competitions - the FA Cup and League Cup - have suffered. The Premier League and the Champions League are in the rudest of health. The financial mismanagement of some clubs has been well publicised, but this is not a problem exclusive to football.

I believe football is entertainment. Football clubs offer a community service. You can't choose or change who you support and that blind loyalty goes a long way to retaining the game's popularity.

- What impact will the World Cup have on your revenues?

TalkSPORT and Sport are perfectly positioned to benefit as the official broadcasters of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. It will allow us to build on our model of good quality commercial content and activation. We're in the final throes of delivering our event-based sponsorship model of five premium-category exclusive cross-platform partners. This, coupled with a halo effect in the year on display advertising, should see both brands yielding good results.

- How well set-up are media agencies to target male audiences through specific sports offers such as yours?

Different agencies approach things in different ways.

We have good relationships with the majority of the networks and UTV Pitch is set up to be simple and easy to deal with. We work hard on our client relationships and, in our opinion, if the idea is strong enough, the rest will fall into place.

- What's the most innovative campaign you've run with an advertiser?

We have been enjoying Bowtime (Strongbow), our rebranded drivetime show. Next month, it is partnering the talkSPORT Hall of Fame dinner, a star-studded event that recognises all that is great in sport. Mars has also been showing the way, daring us to "believe" or encouraging us to "play with balls!"

- What has been your greatest experience in a football ground?

4.31pm on Saturday 30 April 2005, The Reebok Stadium. Frank Lampard rounds Jussi Jaaskelainen for the second time as Chelsea beat Bolton to secure our first league title in 50 years - it doesn't get any better than that. The Olympic Stadium in Berlin for the 2006 World Cup final ran it close. Headbutts, penalties, sendings-off - it had it all.

ANTONY MARCOU - MANAGING DIRECTOR, SPORTS REVOLUTION (the largest owner of media rights in UK football stadia)

- Why do brands still want to be associated with football?

Quite simply, there is no other sport with the reach of football. The English Premier League is broadcast in more than 200 markets worldwide. A recent Arsenal v Manchester United fixture was said to have been the first billion-viewer game. A 30-second spot or a roadside six-sheet just doesn't elicit the same level of passion. Conventional media is often taken for granted whereas football really matters to people. The recent debate over the "19th game" was debated by parliaments across the world. I can't see that happening with a roadside six-sheet.

- How much do you worry that with the financial issues and debt levels faced by some Premier League clubs combined with the recession affecting attendances at games, football's popularity has passed its peak and the only way is downhill?

Football is as popular as ever and defies all economic imperatives. Commercial revenues and attendees have continued to rise, albeit against a backdrop of rising debt. The credit crunch saw financial services clients withdraw from other sports. Yet Barclays increased its investment to retain title sponsorship of the Premier League. I do have two concerns. First, audiences are becoming older and more upmarket. While this is attractive to brands, it begs the question of where the next generation is going to come from. At £50 a ticket, children are being priced out. Second, and more worryingly, Michel Platini's lobbying of the European Commission could result in clubs being forced to run within restricted levels of debt. How long before the game's big benefactors take their ball and play elsewhere?

- What impact will the World Cup have on your revenues?

Revenues are clearly going to be considerably up as brands look to benefit. If England win, the feelgood factor will take us right through to the Olympics in 2012. The media sports rights business is already benefiting from this, but it is worth noting that the wider male media community will benefit as brands showcase their association with the World Cup.

- How well set-up are media agencies to target male audiences through specific sports offers such as yours?

Many sport sponsorships are guilty of treating it in isolation of the wider brand strategy. It's often not properly planned and integrated. Agency planners can get confused between sports as a platform and sports as a media channel. If a brand is targeting men, using media around sporting arenas does not mean you are aligning the brand to sports. It is simply an effective way of reaching a captive audience. The football stadia where we have rights deliver a monthly audience of around three million, mostly men. This is why a lot of other male media use us. Clients are realising that sport media needs to be more scientific.

- What's the most innovative campaign you've run with an advertiser?

An in-stadia campaign to help launch the Nintendo Wii is a good example. Fans in the grounds were invited to text in for the chance to play the Wii on the pitch at half-time, while being broadcast on the big screens and concourse TV network. Not only was the response overwhelming but the competition was picked up by TV and radio journalists.

- What has been your greatest experience in a football ground?

FA Cup semi-final at Wembley 1991. The Gazza free-kick in front of the Arsenal fans, denying them the double. It still gives me goose bumps now.

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