We can probably all agree that creating great content is one of the simplest and most valuable gifts that rights holders or sponsors can offer to fans. When executed brilliantly then the usual buzzwords are rightly rolled out, whether that is celebrating deep fan engagement, increasing awareness or influencing brand favourability. However, this weekend’s sudden retirement of Graeme Swann has started me thinking about some of the potential perils of ‘behind-the-scenes’ exclusive content, and whether it is worth the associated risks.
So why did Swanny’s shock farewell trigger this appraisal? Cast your mind back to the 2010/11 tour ‘Down Under’, and the England team, the ECB and Graeme Swann himself were all justly praised for creating ‘Swanny’s Ashes Diaries’. Providing the perfect blend of humorous, regular and intrinsically shareable content, the behind-the-scenes videos brought fans closer than ever to the players. I for one will certainly never forget the sprinkler…
With England easily beating the Aussies, this series of videos seemed wholly appropriate, and we all enjoyed witnessing the obvious camaraderie within the group. Roll on three years however, and the current Ashes landscape is obviously looking like a very different beast.
This year Yorkshire Tea has stepped in to sponsor ‘Swanny’s Ashes Diaries’ with the very understandable aim of piggybacking on the success of the original series. The ECB had cleverly and proactively created another saleable asset, and it is easy to see why Yorkshire Tea, a ‘cheeky’ brand who have been focusing on social engagement through their cricket sponsorship, wanted to get on board. However, after the drubbing at the ‘Gabbatoir’, the much anticipated episode 1 was a more sombre affair then anyone had planned. Swanny was left to do his best to keep the tone light whilst also showing how seriously the team had taken the defeat. The sad early departure of Jonathan Trott only added to the muddled style of the video, which I think resulted in a confused part sketch-show/part apology/part tribute.
As if things couldn’t have gotten any worse, Swanny then had to apologise for some regrettable social media comments last week. Understandably there has not been another episode, and obviously now Graeme himself won’t be around for the remaining 4th and 5th Tests.
These diaries only go to reinforce the importance of the ‘virtuous circle’ of a sponsorship property, that success on the pitch goes hand in hand with success off it, and vice versa. This also highlights the risks that brands can face if they are creating lots of content around a team that is performing poorly.
The O2′s Inside Line series is another long running series of videos which demonstrates a sponsor (O2) and rights holder (the RFU) working together to provide fans with entertaining rugby content. Both parties should be applauded for their commitment to this – but England’s performances in the 2011 Rugby World Cup both on and off the pitch meant that some of the Inside Line content didn’t seem entirely appropriate.
It is no surprise then that the more recent Inside Line episodes have not given the players quite the same freedom to film their own thoughts – with (in my opinion) a ‘safer’ but arguably less entertaining product the result.
So what has Swanny taught us? For me, rights holders and sponsors need to, and will, continue to celebrate the characters in the game and show fans their more human side. They will continue to try to provide content that fans want to watch and then talk about and share with their mates. However, I think brand managers, rights holders and sponsorship consultants alike will all be keeping an ever closer eye on the potential pitfalls. Be that on-pitch thrashings, shock retirements or disciplinary measures, the resulting tone will become a major consideration before any future content can be signed off.
By Matt Kiernan on December 23rd, 2013