Keeping sport sponsorship in the spotlight

LONDON - Grabbing the interest of sports fans and the media is the easy bit; retaining it is harder.

Keeping sport sponsorship in the spotlight

Marquee sporting events such as Wimbledon, the Grand National and the IAAF's athletics World Championships thrust their respective sports into the media spotlight. Yet, soon after the medals have been handed out and the fans disappeared through the turnstiles, the media lose interest, and sponsors can struggle to benefit from their association.

Alert to this issue, sports governing bodies are working hard to maintain public and media interest for longer, making their events a more attractive proposition to sponsors.

For instance, The Ashes Test series commands the attention of the national media, with cricketing heroes forged over the course of a summer and their pictures appearing beyond the sports pages. However, in between the quadrennial showdown on domestic soil, other Test matches can struggle to capture the public imagination.

This is why the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) is supporting the idea of a Test cricket World Champion-ship. It is also looking hard at its three domestic competitions - The LV= County Championship, its Twenty20 competition, P20, and a Sunday league - to see whether they have the potential to draw greater interest throughout the summer.

'You have two ways of creating a narrative, and without one it's hard for fans to engage,' says Will Collinson, head of marketing at the ECB. 'The first is contextual relevance - the outcome of the game in relation to the competition as a whole. The second is a sense of occasion. Twenty20 started out with no contextual relevance but had a sense of occasion. Now it has both.'

Anyone for tennis?

Tennis Grand Slam tournaments will always provide focal points on the sporting calendar, but only happen four times a year, so the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), under the guidance of chief marketing officer Phil Anderton, has simplified its World Tour in an attempt to gain more consistent, year-round coverage.

Barclays, one of the biggest spenders on sports sponsorship, has agreed a five-year title sponsorship of the series, worth £20m. Under the new format, players accrue points from ranking tournaments to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals, the winner of which is crowned champion.

'I think the ATP has done a great job with the World Tour, and the athletics Diamond League is extremely strong - pitting the best against the best,' says Steve Martin, chief executive of sponsorship agency M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment.

The Diamond League is being launched next year by the IAAF in an effort to 'enhance the appeal of athletics worldwide by going outside Europe for the first time' and bring coherency to the season. Athletes will accumulate points at 14 meetings in the competition to be crowned champion in their field. It replaces the less than impressive Gold League, and is intended to have greater appeal to sponsors.

At the unveiling of the Diamond League, Gary Pepler, brand and communications director at sponsor Aviva UK, said: 'Aviva is global, so being part of the first truly global series of the world's leading athletics meetings makes perfect sense to us.'

Separately, organisers of the world's leading marathons - London, Boston, Chicago, New York and Berlin - have launched the World Marathon Majors, which rewards athletes with points according to their performance over the whole year.

Elsewhere, horse racing, which has struggled to attract sponsorship even to classic events such as The Derby, is binding together some individual meetings in an attempt to create sustained public and media interest. The Sovereign Series, which launches next year, should prove an easier sell to sponsors looking at a wider association with the sport.

Meanwhile, the obscure European Tour Order of Merit is now known as The Race to Dubai, culminating in the Dubai World Championships in November. Again, the format is simple and is designed to keep horse racing in the media spotlight for longer.

Sport needs showpiece events that grab the attention, but the development of series and competitions that engage the public and media for longer rewards organisers, competitors and associated brands alike.


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