International sponsors should look to the arts and sports of the future
to make the most of broadcasting opportunites.
Everybody seems to love football. Euro 96 proved that the appeal of the
‘beautiful game’ covered just about every demographic of interest to
advertisers. As viewers thrilled to those penalties, the theory is that
they will also have hankered for a Snickers bar, a Coke, a Big Mac or
another product made by one of the event’s 12 official sponsors.
But as UEFA recovers from its celebrity hangover, clients may be
wondering if that’s it for them. With the World Cup two years off and a
four-year wait until the millennium party of the Sydney Olympics, pan-
European and international sponsors might wonder how they can continue
to get exposure.
Estimates for expenditure on sponsorship are noticeable by their
absence. There is a problem of definition - is an ad booked into the
broadcast break of an event sponsorship or advertising? But with the
total package for Euro 96’s sponsors likely to be worth around pounds
100 million, there are clearly substantial sums of money available. So
can sponsorship become a new regional media?
‘You can think of global events - the Olympics for example - or European
ones. You may find niche events, such as Evian’s sponsorship of rock
climbing. But it’s hard when you sit down with the concept, without
considering the implementation barriers, to establish what’s really
there,’ Ian Shirley, chief executive of the Roar Group, says.
He foresees two difficulties facing event organisers developing
opportunities within a medium - the differences in audience appeal from
country to country for most sports other than football, and the absence
of coverage for other events, such as the arts. ‘A European merchant
bank might sponsor open-air opera, but it isn’t televised and won’t be
until digital TV arrives,’ he adds.
Ian Spero, the managing director of Spero Communications, agrees that
the emphasis to date has been on sports events. ‘They have come to the
fore because they are a ‘big bang’ activity. The problem is, it has now
reached the point where either you are buying into an event that doesn’t
differentiate you from your competitors, because they will go and
sponsor another big event, or you are buying into an event to keep your
competitors out. That is not using it proactively.’
This does not mean sponsorship has to be abandoned. Its benefit to
advertisers of being a domain where they have complete control is too
attractive. What clients should consider are other areas, from the arts
to newly popular sports. ‘In the cultural realm you can be very
creative, because there are no rules, but even in the sports world, you
can say damn the rules - you can change the way it works through
partnership,’ Spero says. His company put together the world’s largest
golf tournament, the Teachers Scramble, and has just set up the rugby
union sponsorship deal between the NEC and Harlequins.
While it might seem that there are limited major sponsorship
opportunities in Europe, Richard Davies, a director of Ford’s agency,
the Network Europe, says: ‘Ford gets a million sponsorship offers that
are off-target and off-strategy. It tries to focus on core opportunities
that revolve around football and motorsport.’
He says the main reason why other events have not evolved into an
alternative regional media option is due to the policies of those
selling them. Their focus has been on underwriting the event and selling
against the sport, team or personality, not presenting a thought-through
communications package that permits product communication.
‘With the UEFA Champions’ League, Ford gets the right to be the event
sponsor with signage around the pitches. The season runs from September
to May each year, giving a long period of exposure. There is also
broadcast sponsorship - idents and break bumpers. Most importantly, as
part of the deal, there is a significant package of commercial airtime
spots appearing in broadcasts in all European markets. The UEFA agents
and the network are able to ensure broadcasters come up with an
attractive package of event and airtime rights. The combination of
rights, audience and value for money complements our overall strategy.
It is a no-brainer,’ Davies says.
From the Euro 96 debrief, it is clear that clients remain nervous about
what they get for their money. The threat of ambush marketing and an
apparent confusion in viewers’ minds between event and broadcast
sponsors - revealed by ITV Network Centre research - don’t help.
This may account for the growing appeal of broadcaster-initiated events.
MTV, in association with C&A, is taking its ‘Turn on Europe’ bus across
the Continent, asking young people for their views. The deal includes
competitions, in-store promotions and a link to the MTV audience.
‘Every advertiser wants that rub-off effect of being a cool brand,’ says
Boris Katz, the senior vice-president, advertising sales, MTV Europe.
‘The way we give clients the opportunity to tap into us is not just by
taking their logo, being creative with it and throwing it on air. From
the beginning, we say we will work as partners. We say, ‘Let’s promote
concerts together, run competitions, use point of sale.’’
And while sponsors often buy ad spots in event coverage to protect their
ground sponsorship from competitor activity, broadcasters are also
realising the potential to leverage sponsorship money out of events.
Mars sponsored the SEMA clock in Eurosport’s Euro 96 coverage as the
result of such a backwards-worked deal.
SEMA had sold its match fact services to ITV and others, before
approaching Eurosport. The channel balked at the cost, but then
approached Mars, the ground sponsor. ‘We created something that wouldn’t
have existed if we were not flexible,’ Tom Toumazis, the managing
director of Eurosport UK, says.
This degree of opportunism still tends to characterise the way
sponsorship is sold and even how it is exploited. One UK division of a
global company that sponsored the Olympics had not worked out tactical
promotional support three months before Atlanta begun. And until there
is real strategic vision among both sponsors and organisers, events as a
media option risk remaining little more than a beautiful game