Wonga will reinstate the name of the Newcastle's stadium
Wonga will reinstate the name of the Newcastle's stadium
A view from Jamie Robertson

Think BR: Lend me your equity

Wonga has to show how its sponsorship of Newcastle United will benefit both the football club and the region, writes Jamie Robertson, director, Ipsos ASI.

We have enjoyed a tremendous summer of sport, not just for the organisers, athletes and spectators, but also for the sponsors.

The summer culminated in the magnificent crescendo of the Olympics and Paralympics, but it is now back to the regular sporting calendar and associated mix of triumph, disaster and the occasional tabloid frenzy.

From the research that we have conducted for a sponsor of the Olympics we have seen that many of those associated with the games have enjoyed considerable success, with a variety of brand measures improving over the course of the year in the run up to, and during the games.

We have seen that new sponsors can quickly build association, and with appropriate investment and imaginative activation, can reap the rewards. This is of course not groundbreaking news; we have seen this before in other work we have conducted around other major sporting events.

We have also seen that there are greater benefits to building quality association, that is an understanding of what your role is as a sponsor and what you bring to the events, the athletes and the fans, over and above mere association or by simply badging a property.

This brings me back to the regular calendar of sport and those looking to benefit from the most high profile and often controversial sponsorship property we have (cycling currently excepted); football and the Barclays Premier League.

Recently it was announced that Wonga.com would be the new principal sponsor of Newcastle United Football Club. This would not only entitle it to plaster its brand across the famous black and white jersey but also take the naming rights to the Sports Direct Arena, Newcastle's catchily titled 50,000+ capacity stadium.

This news was met with great consternation by many fans, commentators and politicians alike. Some are painting Wonga.com as a glorified loan shark preying on vulnerable members of society and charging sky-high interest on payday loans, while others were more worried by the prospect of NUFC playing at the Wonga Arena.

Interestingly there was no such chagrin that I can remember around Wonga’s sponsorship of Blackpool FC, until very recently a premiership club themselves, or Hearts FC in Scotland, who outside of the Old Firm one of the best known SPL clubs.

Perhaps to appease the fans, Wonga has announced that they will restore the name of the Stadium to St James’ Park despite having the opportunity to use their own branding in the name. 

As we saw during the Olympics, new sponsors can achieve association very quickly, and quality of association can provide increased benefits to sponsors.

Certainly the publicity the deal has received over the last week has accelerated Wonga’s association with Newcastle, but the bad press will undoubtedly dent brand equity so it is now down to Wonga to establish their role as sponsor, repair the damage and get a return on their significant sponsorship investment.

What hasn’t been so widely reported has been the commitment by Wonga to invest in some of Newcastle’s most important initiatives, including pumping significant funds into its youth academy, transforming it into one of the leading centres in the country. 

Wonga is also committing to the Newcastle United Foundation Enterprise Scheme, which helps 15-16 year-olds find employment by developing skills and experience through practical and educational courses. Wonga’s investment here will help more young people in the North-East find work and enjoy fulfilling careers.

The challenge for Wonga therefore is to use these examples of the benefits they are bringing to the football club and the region in their activation of the sponsorship, build the quality of their association and subsequently hope that the result of the overall sponsorship is mutually beneficial to both NUFC and their brand and business.

Jamie Robertson, director, Ipsos ASI