SPOTLIGHT ON: FOOTBALL SPONSORSHIP - Are advertisers still keen on football sponsorship deals? Alasdair Reid says the FA’s latest repackaging of the beautiful game might fail

Football sponsorship used to be a fairly easy concept to grasp. The local butcher stumped up a couple of quid for the match ball and, in return, his name was printed in the programme under the team line-ups.

Football sponsorship used to be a fairly easy concept to grasp. The

local butcher stumped up a couple of quid for the match ball and, in

return, his name was printed in the programme under the team

line-ups.



Easy. In even more recent memory, the sponsor’s business retained a

certain quaint charm. Remember the Milk Cup?



These days, we’re long used to thinking the unthinkable. Tournaments,

grounds, kit, teams, competitions, television coverage - everything is

in play.



Not everyone can be an official World Cup sponsor - the ultimate prize -

but there are plenty of other opportunities to explore. You can sponsor

’Team England’ (presumably as it prepares to participate in the Cup

World) or individual Wembley matches. Television coverage of the

European Champions League has a handful of official sponsors. And in the

other European competitions, sponsorship of the coverage of individual

games is up for grabs.



Then there’s the domestic game’s three main sponsorships - of the

silverware.



Thus, we have the Coca-Cola Cup, the Littlewoods FA Cup and the Carling

Premier League. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous kit sponsor. The beauty

of this option is that fans become walking billboards.



You could argue that the business has got out of hand. It can be very

confusing - for example, when Scottish Courage (Newcastle) play

Carlsberg-Tetley (Liverpool) under the auspices of Bass (the Premier

League). Surely the football sponsorship business reached saturation

point years ago?



Not according to the Football Association. Last week, it announced that

various properties - the ways you can ally yourself to Team England

through to sponsorship of the Charity Shield and the FA Vase - will be

repackaged and offered to ten advertisers.



Will there be a stampede? Well, perhaps not. Canon reacted to the news

by pulling out of its sponsorship of Team England to concentrate on its

World Cup activities.



Mark Palmer, head of communications strategy at BMP Optimum, argues that

a fundamental reappraisal of sports sponsorship is taking place.

’Sponsorship has traditionally come out of the corporate or public

relations budget and has been particularly suscep-tible to the whims of

company chairmen. To do it properly, you have to have ownership of the

event, have a good fit between event and product and make sure you

exploit it properly.



’Now I think we’re increasingly seeing it coming within the marketing

function. It will be increasingly examined for its value within the

strategic marketing plan. I think many companies will realise that

peripheral players won’t get a great deal out of some sponsorship

tie-ups.’



Which is perhaps ironic. This is, after all, a World Cup year and the

marketing business is eating, drinking and breathing football. Clients

are finding the thinnest of justifications for including football

imagery in their commercials.



Alex Fynn, ex-deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and now a football

industry consultant, argues that all of this perhaps disguises the fact

that the English game is in a relatively weak position.



It’s not the popularity of the product that matters, he argues - what

counts is quality. ’Scarcity value is important. The World Cup is

important because it comes round only every four years and it is a huge

tournament.



’The Premier League might be good entertainment but we have to face the

fact that as a league it is ranked sixth in Europe. The World Cup will

probably be a big disappointment from an England point of view. The

commercial success of the game at a national level has to be rooted in

success - I think football is currently pitching itself too high.’



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