SPORTS MARKETING: The Forgotten Sports

Sports with a niche following could provide a credible and fitting editorial environment for a brand. And at a fraction of the cost of sponsorship deals or ads around bigger events.

Think sports marketing, think football? A third of all sports sponsorship deals struck in 2002 involved the beautiful game, largely because it's hard to argue with viewing figures of 20 million when England play.

Most of the remainder of clients' money was earmarked for rugby, golf, cricket and athletics events with these four sports, plus football, attracting 73 per cent of UK sports marketing spend, according to Carat.

Statistics such as these illustrate how hard it can be for lesser-known sports to get a look-in, yet some think advertisers are missing a trick by always opting for the big five.

The subject is one which frustrates Dominic Burns, the director of commercial strategy and marketing at the pan-European sports channel Eurosport.

Despite the fact that the Tour de France draws twice the audience numbers of, say, the Euro 2004 qualifying matches, marketers are much quicker to back the football than snap up the 50 spots and 380 sponsorship opportunities around the cycling event.

"The Tour de France is a jewel that is unrecognised by advertisers," Burns states. "It gets a young, up-market, largely male audience, translates well and is consumed voraciously as there are a huge amount of tactics, skills and statistics involved in the event."

"Obviously football does attract the big spenders with the big bucks," he adds. "But if you're not in that category there are plenty of bargains to be had."

Price is an obvious incentive behind supporting "forgotten" sports, especially in these penny-pinching times, as Burns explains: "It costs tens of millions of pounds to put your name on a Formula One car. For that you could own a motorsport event such as MotoGP."

Another major attraction is audience, not the size but the quality. The North American Sports Network, which hit screens in December last year, broadcasts National Hockey League, College Football, College Basketball and Major League Baseball.

It is one of the latest channels to launch chasing an unashamedly small audience (somewhere below the 100,000 mark) among the half a million Americans and Canadians living in the UK.

"NASN doesn't compete on sheer numbers," Roger Hall, the channel's chief executive, says. "If you want to reach a large group of people who are roughly similar in age, then we're not the channel for you. Advertisers want the large numbers of ex-pat Americans and Canadians and through us they can dramatically reduce their wastage to find them."

Hall adds: "For around £100,000 a client could sponsor NASN's entire baseball season; that's 300 live games for six months which wouldn't last three weeks on terrestrial TV." But, as Hall insists, it's all about who is watching: "We're not selling cheap media; we're selling a defined audience."

The newspaper USA Today is one advertiser attracted to NASN's viewers for obvious reasons. It sponsored March Madness!, 60 hours of live basketball that broadcast on NASN for three weeks.

Aidan Day, the managing director of Octagon Marketing UK, says there's nothing new about big brands using niche sports, adding: "It's happening even more now that, with the advent of multiple channels, it's become harder to guarantee huge audiences."

One growth niche area that particularly appeals to advertisers is "adventure sports", such as white water rafting, mountain biking or kayaking.

Instead of attracting cash-strapped 16- to 24-year-old fans of extreme sports, viewers of adventure sports are typically aged 25 to 35, single, with the disposable income to spend on luxury goods.

Octagon in the US organises an adventure sport event called Gorge Games which airs on NBC, and the UK office is talking to potential sponsors about staging a European version in Switzerland.

"Pound for pound, a sponsorship of a niche sport can deliver just as much as a mainstream one and you know that viewers are really passionate about that sport," Day says.

"Now that times are hard for marketers, these sports are becoming more attractive. For £300,000 you could be the title sponsor of a niche event so there is a huge opportunity at a low investment, whereas with football we're talking seven- or eight-figure sums."

A quick straw poll of media buyers reveals there are "forgotten" sports which might not always make the headlines but still deliver quality audiences at a fair price. David Reilly of Carat's sports division cites snooker as an example of a sport which delivers an older audience, two or three million at a time. According to Reilly around 30 per cent of viewers of snooker championships are over 65 -perfect for flogging medical insurance or Saga holidays to.

Initiative Media's director of sponsorship, Richard Davies, points to World Rallying and horse-racing as two more "forgotten" sports.

"Horse-racing attracts a diverse range of people from owners and riders so marketers could tailor messages to talk to both the guy who smokes roll-ups and the Cristal Champagne drinker who's into the glitz and glamour of racing," Davies says. "Racing has an astonishing potential that has yet to be exploited."

Davies' view is supported by recent figures from Channel 4 which show viewing numbers for The Morning Line and At The Races have reached 600,000 over the past few weeks, almost a 25 per cent increase year on year.

For buyers it all hinges on the client's objectives. "For example, to build a strong relationship we might create our own event like the Flora London Marathon or Nike Run London," Reilly says. However, most buyers are agreed that for famous brands, big is better.

Ford, the client of Archie Sinclair, a managing partner of MindShare's sponsorship arm, BroadMind, is a classic example. The car manufacturer has been ploughing its advertising and sponsorship budget into the UEFA Champions League since 1993.

"Niche sports are good for collaring opinion formers or winning over an audience that has been elusive," Sinclair explains. "But it's the mass sports that gain the audiences and my clients want to be in front of large audiences."


NAME OF SPORT TV EVENT DATE Channel Viewing Demo Men

figures graphic ratings

Horse-racing Grand National 6 April

2002 BBC 1 4,109,000 Men 18.2

Snooker Embassy World 6 May

Championship 2002 BBC 2 2,458,000 Men 10.9

Darts Embassy World 12 Jan

Final 2003 BBC 2 1,450,000 Men 6.4

Rally driving World Rally - 24 Jan

Monte Carlo 2003 Ch 4 772,000 Men 3.4

Cycling Tour de France 23 July

2000 Ch 4 238,000 Men 1.1

Source: BroadMind.