The secret to unlocking sports partnerships is supplying more than bread and fish
The secret to unlocking sports partnerships is supplying more than bread and fish
A view from Jim Dowling

The secret to unlocking sports partnerships is supplying more than bread and fish

As Lidl is appointed official supermarket of the England football team, Jim Dowling MD at Havas Sports & Entertainment Cake, asks if anyone should care who is feeding the players fish fruit, water and vegetables?

Whatever Tesco was feeding the England lions, it completely failed to make them roar

Right, I’ll be Sue Barker, you can be "Tuffers" or "Daws."

For one point, can you tell me who the previous official supermarket supplier of the England football team was? And for a bonus point, which supermarket recently ended a four-year deal to sponsor British Athletics and was the official sponsor of the London 2012 Paralympic Games?

"Yes, Daws" * fawn * *flutter eyelashes disturbingly * "a point for Sainsbury’s back in London 2012, but no, the official supporter of the England football team was in fact – Tesco!"

"Aaahhh!" Daws leans back and grimaces at Gail Emms.

"On to the next round and it’s time for ‘what happened next?’"

What happened next for Sainsbury’s on signing a deal? They pulled off a PR coup during London 2012 by becoming the first sponsor to back only the Paralympic Games. Sainsbury’s then successfully built on its sponsorship with owned media in the form of the first Anniversary Games in the Olympic park during 2013. It is an area in which they had form – raising awareness amongst households over a concerted length of time with their Active Kids voucher programme for schools.

What of Tesco? For them, it all went a bit Fabio Capello. The 2010 World Cup proved to be disastrous for England, much like 2006 and 2014. England fans will remember the moribund performances set to the sound of the vuvuzela. Whatever Tesco was feeding the England lions, it completely failed to make them roar.

Tesco signed a contract, supplied the loaves and fish, and crossed their fingers. England bombed. No-one sought out Tesco over the others, to drown their sorrows in the official lager of the Three Lions on special

The difference between the two is clear – and it does not relate purely to the action on the pitch, track or field. Sainsbury’s with Channel 4, rode the crest of the Olympic wave but utterly transformed Paralympic sport in this country. They bent their backs and took the sport to new audiences via meaningful activation. Tesco signed a contract, supplied the loaves and fish, and crossed their fingers. England bombed. No-one sought out Tesco over the others, to drown their sorrows in the official lager of the Three Lions on special.

Lidl is well-placed. Its partnerships with the football associations in England, Wales and Scotland come off the back of a European-wide initiative of signing sports sponsorship deals. It has completed deals with the Italian Football League and the French Handball Association in recent times. The Financial Times points out that it is part of a concerted drive to attract "a new set of customers from higher income brackets," as well as naturally attract higher market share.

Lidl’s covers ‘support’ for grassroots football including the provision of 1.5 million sessions of professional coaching for children in England, Wales and Scotland. This word ‘support’ is the crux of a successful sponsorship activation strategy. The appearance of a Lidl logos on branding boards and polo shirt collars will not be enough to drive the business return that the supermarket will be looking for.

Meaningful activation and a clear role in improving the experience of football for the audiences you need to attract delivers business return

Meaningful activation and a clear role in improving the experience of football for the audiences you need to attract delivers business return. Barclays #spiritofthegame programme, as part of its Barclays Premier League sponsorship has played a significant role in overturning perceptions and consideration towards the bank. Football has been one of the highways out of a challenging public image for the banking industry. Using the rights afforded by the sponsorship, the bank was able to align itself with a narrative of community improvement, using its platform to shine a spotlight on the real heroes inside the game. Its content has attracted huge numbers of organic views, wrapped in positive comment and sentiment.

Lidl has a platform to build its narrative and establish meaningful connections with this family audience. It is off to a head start – customers are voting with their heads and their wallets and heading into stores. Now they have the opportunity to capture their hearts too – and establish themselves with those new audiences, by meeting the parents of young footballers through those grass roots schemes, and demonstrating their commitment. They already do it in the store through access to better value groceries. Meeting families at the weekend and offering them better football facilities and coaching is a pleasant way to continue the conversation, and capture that heart.

Lidl is riding high on the crest of the consumer wave, opening more new stores a year and investing heavily in its UK operation. Add in the purchasing power and direction of the business expansion with the acquisition of Kochzauber, there’s a lot of love at local and international level for the brand. Now is the time to win the hearts and minds of its audience for the long-term with meaningful activity aligned to a national football team that is currently showing real promise of its own.