Media Forum: Are the Euro 2004 breaks too cluttered?

Are television sponsors and advertisers likely to get good value from the Euro 2004 tournament? Uefa has signed eight event sponsors for the Euro 2004 tournament: Canon, Carlsberg, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, JVC, Mastercard, McDonald's and T-Mobile. All eight of these advertisers were given the option of becoming broadcast sponsors as well - Uefa has structured the sale of television rights in such a way that all broadcasters must buy into the centrally negotiated broadcast sponsorship agreement too.

Only four of the eight - Carlsberg, Coke, JVC and McDonald's - took up their options and their break bumpers will be "rotated" in a fashion that will be familiar to those who've been watching coverage of the Champions' League (another multi-sponsored tournament) on ITV and Sky.

It's a complicated business. And a cluttered one, obviously. On the other hand, rivals of the various sponsors will be doing their utmost both on and off air to hijack these cosy relationships; and that's before we even consider the fact that the world and his personal assistant will be reckoning on getting in a bit of football-related marketing over the next three weeks.

Are advertisers (especially advertisers in the obvious male-oriented categories) wasting huge amounts of money merely to cancel each other out and is it possible to extract any value whatsoever from the tournament?

Nick Theakstone, the managing director of Group M Trading, agrees that the numbers make daunting reading. He states: "We reckon it's going to be a great month in terms of revenue at ITV - up 15 or 16 per cent. We think the motor sector will be up by 55 per cent; retail will be up by 30 per cent; finance 20 per cent and, perhaps inevitably, alcohol by 85 per cent. There will be 15 beer brands on. So it will be incredibly cluttered. And although ABC1 male impacts will be up, total impacts won't be up as much as revenue so there will be (overall) inflation."

He adds: "In terms of value, it's a huge event and, because of that alone, there is value in having your message there. The better England do, the better that value will be. But it will be difficult for advertisers to make a mark."

Andy Bolden, the advertising director of GlaxoSmithKline, agrees with that particular point, but he can see why many advertisers think it worth the risk - in fact, he predicts that advertisers will put an increasing value on the way big events become such powerful focal points. He explains: "As you look across the calendar for the next five years and try to spot where the audience spikes are going to be, the likelihood is that they'll be driven by appointment-to-view television. Principally, that means it's going to be driven by events rather than more traditional loyalties to, say, certain types of drama."

However, he agrees that clutter will be an issue and adds that he will watch with interest the various attempts to achieve significant cut-through.

Ben Wells, an account director at the sports sponsorship specialist Redmandarin, reckons sponsors don't always take advantage of their seemingly strong position. Sometimes they don't reinforce their position through spot airtime, packaging and special promotions.

And he adds: "Sometimes it's even a hindrance being an official sponsor - because you can be seen as stuffy as a company and because there are certain things that the tournament organiser won't allow you to do because it might reflect badly on them."

In other words, you can't counter a guerrilla marketing ambush with an ambush of your own. Still, if done even competently, broadcast sponsorship is a decent bet, Wells says.

"Given the circumstances in which viewing of the games takes place, people tend to use ad breaks to go to the toilet or put the kettle on or, if they're in a pub, to go to the bar. The sponsorship people who top and tail the breaks will tend to get the highest awareness."

But Gary Digby, the sales director of ITV, isn't sure you can make that assumption. He agrees, though, that the market in general is very buoyant: "As always the proof of the pudding is in the eating - and until the audience figures come in, it's not really possible to make judgments about value. The demand is such that revenue is up by between 17 and 20 per cent. Inflation may be countered by increased audiences but we'll have to see. Advertisers seem to have bought into the concept that Euro 2004 offers an audience that they won't be able to get elsewhere. In previous years, we might have overhyped it, this time we have been more realistic."

- "The advertisers that make a mark will be the ones that are nimble on their feet - the ones that have an innovative strategy and clever creative work. It has to be a cross-media strategy too - if you just chuck a lot of money at the telly it could get lost." - Nick Theakstone managing director, Group M Trading

- "Over the years, we've been witnessing the increasing cleverness of event and broadcast sponsors in making the most of their position and, on the other hand, the determination of their rivals to hijack them. That's going to be fascinating again this time around." - Andy Bolden advertising director, GlaxoSmithKline

- "Sometimes, a company will take up a sponsorship for negative reasons - merely to stop a rival getting in there. Once it has achieved this blocking measure it will have no idea how to use the opportunity it has bought. That's perhaps why you get so much mediocre work." - Ben Wells account director, Redmandarin

- "Where clutter is concerned, it always comes down to how good your creative is and, as for the sponsors getting bigger audiences before and after breaks, the way we sell airtime means you only pay for what you get." - Gary Digby sales director, ITV.

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