Clients still need to be persuaded sponsorship works

With the cold weather hurtling in from the North, a large plate of pie and chips was the dish of choice this week. And how well McCain, the Northern purveyor of frozen potato, capitalised on this, writes Ian Darby.

Fortunately, its sponsorship of Scarborough Town FC's stadium (McCain is based in the North Yorkshire seaside town) received great media coverage over the weekend and early part of the week due to massive interest in Scarborough's FA Cup tie with Chelsea.

Supporters' banners featuring the fantastic "theatre of chips" line (a pun on Old Trafford's status as the "theatre of dreams") scored well in national press coverage. But it was McCain's official advertising (its "chin upski" billboards around the pitch in honour of Chelsea's Russian owner) that really got the message across.

And The Sun grabbed its share of the glory by sponsoring the shirts of the valiant losing team (Scarborough not Chelsea).

So perhaps more consumer brands should consider sponsoring small football stadia. Many probably are if a report from MEC:Sponsorship can be believed. It shows the UK sports sponsorship market is worth £440m and may grow 30% over the next 10 years. Increased efforts by the sports sponsorship industry to quantify effectiveness are clearly a driver of this growth.

However, as the report's author, MEC's Jeremy Craig, points out, sports sponsorship deals are dominated by football and rugby union. This Olympic year will be a vital one for the industry as it "will inspire consumer interest and investment in some of the sports not currently on the commercial radar".

But as sports sponsorship continues its inexorable growth, the picture for UK broadcast sponsorship has been murkier of late. Last year seemed a tricky one, with even major sponsorships such as ITV's Rugby World Cup package and 'I'm a Celebrity...' taken up late in the day with relatively little competition.

However, this year's deal to support 'I'm a Celebrity...', signed by First Choice, seems indicative of a renewed interest in large broadcast sponsorships, presumably as clients are once again finding room in their budgets for these one-off deals.

Apparently, the deal attracted great interest from sponsors and the travel operator had to fight off competition from a number of other bidders. A far cry from last year's deal with the V Energy drink that created the impression of being far more last minute.

While the sponsorship market seems in perkier form than a cockroach on Jordan's chest, tipped to grow globally by 7% in 2004, it still has issues to face. Many advertisers remain to be convinced that it can form part of long-term, brand-building activity and this problem must be addressed if it is to perform more consistently.

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