Sport: The Perfect Match

There's more to sports sponsorship than picking the marketing director's favourite team.

Even in its wildest dreams, B&Q couldn't have imagined a PR coup quite as dramatic as the exploits of Ellen - sorry Dame Ellen - MacArthur, the record- breaking yachtswoman it sponsored in February last year.

"Team Ellen" generated an estimated £14.3 million in media value for the DIY brand, on the back of a £1 million investment. So it is surprising that adland was so taken aback by the news, in October, that Heineken was to ditch TV and shift its £7 million ad budget into sport sponsorship.

The reality is that the Dutch beer brand's move is in sync with a broader industry trend.

The value of the global sports sponsorship market in 2005 was around £14 billion, according to the International Events Group, up from £11 billion in 2002 - an increase of 25 per cent over the past three years.

IEG reckons the global sponsorship market (not just sport) will record further growth of 10.8 per cent to £19.3 billion in 2006, with the greatest increase coming from Europe (13 per cent).

There are two reasons for sponsorship's growing cachet. First, the sponsor's proximity to its chosen sport makes it hard to ignore. And second, the right association can transform perceptions about a brand by imbuing it with that sport's values.

In reality, however, a sponsorship is unlikely to have the desired impact if a support budget isn't set aside to bring it to life: today's fans distrust sponsors that "badge" sports. Marketers now talk less about sponsorship.

Instead, it's all about "partnership", "connectivity" and "experience".

Take Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the Football League. By rebranding Division One as the Coca-Cola Championship, it has fused its name directly on to the property. It also runs promotions that inspire involvement. One example is a competition that gives a fan the chance to win a player for their team.

Red Bull, the energy drink brand, decided to go one further and control its sponsorship activity. This it has done by creating its own series of activities in extreme sports and by buying two Formula One teams. This ensures it only works with partners it has an affinity with - rather than risking clashes imposed on it by rights holders.

But you don't have to go to extremes to make sponsorship cut through - as long as you're creative. T-Mobile is making light of its sponsorship of the Premiership strugglers West Bromwich Albion by turning the battle against relegation into a campaign to drum up extra support.

But, above all, authenticity is key. Carling's support for soccer fans saw it lay on coaches for fans during the fuel protests and run Carling Cup Final ticket promotions for Wigan and Manchester United fans this year. The brand also backs both Scottish Old Firm teams - which has helped it drive distribution in Scotland to historic highs. As a result, research shows that most football fans think the Premiership is still sponsored by Carling - a deal that ended five years ago when Barclaycard took over the mantle.

SPORTS SPONSORSHIP: PICK OF THE DEALS

EMIRATES AND ARSENAL

The most audacious football sponsorship ever? Emirates' £100 million tie-up with the Gunners gives it shirt sponsorship and naming rights to the club's new stadium (for eight years and 15 years respectively, starting next season). "Naming rights are relatively underexploited in the UK," Oliver Butler, the communications manager for the consultancy Sport & Markt, says. "But Emirates has got itself a good deal by linking stadium to shirts, avoiding the risk of conflict. Emirates has secured a high-profile London location and a club that - Thierry Henry permitting - will have high visibility on the European stage."

JOHN SMITH'S AND THE GRAND NATIONAL

The reason Scottish Courage chose the Grand National for John Smith's was to increase distribution and market share for the brand, create a vehicle for promotional activity and provide a high-quality hospitality event. The results were immediate. In the month of the race, the "no nonsense" brand grew volume sales by 26 per cent, overtaking Guinness. "It did the difficult job of imposing ownership on an event that had had the same sponsor for more than a decade (Martell)," Nigel Currie, the director of the brand consultancy Brandrapport, says. "The National is a people's event that was crying out for a sponsor like John Smith's."

O2 AND RUGBY UNION

Forget that England's egg-chasers couldn't beat the Romanian under-12 girls XV at the moment. O2's sponsorship of Rugby Union is impressive because of its link from grass roots through to glory, Jeremy Clark, MEC: Sponsorship's managing director, says. "O2 has evolved its relationship with the sport very skilfully, from the England team right through to events such as Scrum in the Park (an on-the-ground rugby festival in Regent's Park)." SITP targets families through coaching sessions, play zones, competitions and appearances by players. It gives O2 ownership of a franchise in a sport that is increasingly cluttered with rivals.

VISA AND THE OLYMPICS

Visa plus the Olympics could make for a very dull duo indeed. But the creation of Team Visa has given the partnership a genuine sense of purpose. In essence, Team Visa is a group of charismatic athlete ambassadors who are employed by Visa to spearhead grass-roots sports activities in their home countries. "It was a great way of taking the equity of a global event and applying it locally across a range of activities," Sally Hancock, the chief executive of the strategic sponsorship consultancy Redmandarin, says. "It gave a vast global partnership a human face," she adds.

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