Author archive for ‘Tim Crow’

The Next Big Evolution In Rugby World Cup Sponsorship

Committed To Japan

Japanese brands have history with the Rugby World Cup. Attracted by a big Japanese TV deal, in 1987 they accounted for almost all of the handful of sponsors of the first tournament. I suspect we will see something similar when we get to RWC 2019. Except there will be more Japanese sponsors – a lot more.

Well before Japan’s electrifying performances in the current RWC, Japan 2019 was always going to be a safe sponsorship bet for World Rugby.

First, there’s the size and strength of the Japanese economy – the world’s third largest, much bigger than any of the Tier 1 rugby countries.

Next, as I wrote at the time, back in 2013 when Tokyo won the right to stage the 2020 Olympics it had the unintended consequence of making Rugby World Cup sponsorship more strategically attractive, especially to Olympic sponsors and to their rivals.

Then there’s the way that Corporate Japan has got behind Tokyo 2020. Tokyo was clearly a big factor in Panasonic and Toyota agreeing huge new global sponsorships with the IOC. And Tokyo is on course to achieve the most successful domestic sponsorship sales programme in Olympic history.

And all this was before Japan’s three breakthrough RWC 2015 wins, which have created unquestionably the marketing factoid of this Rugby World Cup.

The total cumulative TV audience in Japan for the whole of RWC 2011 was just under 25 million. Whereas the live TV audience in Japan just for the Japan v Samoa RWC 2015 match was 25 million.

Zilch to 25 million. Zilch to 20 per cent of the Japanese population. Zilch to a world record national viewing audience for rugby.

I think that’s what they call growth.

Japan fans

No surprise then that Brett Gosper, World Rugby’s CEO, said last week that for RWC 2019 World Rugby “will make some adjustments to allow more local brands to take part [as sponsors]…ones that sit well with our global partners.”

Whether this means an increase in some or all of the four current tiers of RWC sponsorship remains to be seen.

But I suspect the question is not how many Japanese brands will be sponsors of Japan 2019, but whether there’ll be any space left for anyone else.

By on October 28th, 2015

Tags: IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup 2015, Rugby World Cup Sponsorship, Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Consultants, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Television audiences, Tokyo 2020

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The Six Biggest Marketing Talking-Points Of The 2015 Rugby World Cup

Rugby-World-Cup-Trophy-017 (1)

1. Home Runs Matter. Whichever team lifts the Rugby World Cup trophy at Twickenham as night falls on October 31, the 2015 tournament is already guaranteed to be a commercial success. But, as with any world sporting event, it will be the host nation’s performance rather than the balance sheet that most determines the tournament’s zeitgeist. An England run to the final stages will, as it did during the 1991 and 2003 tournaments, electrify the country — especially if the other home nations also do well. And some of the tournament’s biggest stakeholders have a lot riding on an England run…

itv rugby world cup

2. ITV’s ABC1 Problem. ITV’s share of upmarket viewers has fallen 7% this year, so the Rugby World Cup — to which ITV has held exclusive UK rights since 1991 — is now crucial to the broadcaster turning that tide and winning back the prized ABC1 demographic. And with ITV now also having rights to the RBS 6 Nations from next year — including all of England’s home games — the broadcaster will be praying for a great tournament and, above all, a major England performance.

3. A Second Shot At Legacy. Under-prepared for England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup win, the RFU missed a huge opportunity to leverage the potential legacy benefits, especially at grassroots level. RWC 2015 is very different: priming the legacy was hard-wired into the RFU’s World Cup plan from the outset. Only time will tell how successful it is in recruiting a new generation of players and fans, but a great tournament and, above all, a strong England showing will be vital.

4. Big Eventers, Big Opportunity. In every participating country, the World Cup always grows rugby’s audience significantly beyond its normal base: in the UK, for example, it’s likely that as many as 10 million fans who don’t normally follow rugby — a group dubbed ‘Big Eventers’ — will connect with the tournament. For consumer brands running campaigns anywhere in the world during the RWC, engaging Big Eventers successfully will be a primary objective.

USA v New Zealand rugby union

Over 60,000 fans watched the USA Eagles take on New Zealand at Soldier Field in Chicago last November, a sign of rugby’s growing popularity in the US.

5. New World Order. Worldwide, rugby union is on a roll. Participation is booming, especially in new markets, where it is being turbo-charged by rugby sevens, which makes its debut at next year’s Rio Olympics. But this creates a problem, albeit a world-class problem, for World Rugby: how to ensure that the seven and fifteen-a-side formats complement rather than cannibalise each other. World Rugby’s Chairman Bernard Lapasset had some interesting things to say about this back in June, as did CEO Brett Gosper at our Rugby World Cup panel event in London last year.

6. So Just How Big Is Rugby? With all this talk of rugby’s growth, two features of this Rugby World Cup compared to New Zealand four years ago will conspire to reveal how big interest in rugby worldwide now really is: a more convenient time-zone for EMEA and the Americas (the US in particular is regularly cited as being rugby’s fastest-growing market); and the (inevitably) much-increased adoption of social media four years on. It will be fascinating, for example, to compare Twitter reaction to the RWC Opening Ceremony to the 2011 equivalent, which I wrote about at the time, and over the six weeks to see how far interest stretches beyond the 12% of the global population who have a team in the tournament.

Only time will tell.

By on September 17th, 2015

Tags: Broadcast sponsorship, Default, Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup 2015, Rugby World Cup Sponsorship, Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Consultants, Social Media, Social media sponsorship consultants, Social media sponsorship strategy, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultants, Television, Television audiences, Twitter

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Ambush and Amateurism: How Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Began


The closer we get to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which Synergy is working on for four of the tournament’s sponsors and one of ITV’s broadcast sponsors, the more I’ve been reminded of the very different commercial background to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, the first time the RWC was staged in England, and the huge impact the tournament had on rugby and sports marketing in the UK. So, being (I suspect) one of a fairly small group of people to have worked on both RWC 1991 and 2015, here’s my take on the formative years of RWC sponsorship.

Ahead of RWC 2015, the eighth Rugby World Cup, we have a very good idea of what the tournament’s going to be like off the field – consumer behaviour, media coverage, brand activations, and so on. But ahead of the 1991 tournament, the Rugby World Cup was an unknown quantity for UK marketers.

It was by far the biggest sporting event to have been staged in the UK since the 1966 World Cup, so it was our first taste of a world event for merely twenty-five years.

The first Rugby World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, hadn’t really cut through here at all: rugby was a much smaller sport than it is now – pro rugby was still eight years away – and the Antipodean time-zone meant that pre-Sky, pre-satellite media coverage in the UK was after the fact, and light.

There were no meaningful sponsorship benchmarks: only a handful of companies had signed up to sponsor RWC 1987, almost all of them Japanese brands motivated solely by strong TV coverage of the tournament in Japan. One, KDD, paid more than the others and effectively became the tournament’s title sponsor. And as we shall see, in 1991 another Japanese brand repeated the trick.

A 1987 Rugby World Cup Final ticket. Note the KDD branding.

A 1987 Rugby World Cup Final ticket. Note the KDD branding.

These were also evolutionary times for sports marketing in the UK. Although the industry was growing fast, the supply of opportunities was still limited, rights holders were old-school and commercially under-skilled (not least in rugby), and among brands, sports marketing was very much a minority activity.

The result of all that was that many of the operating principles we take for granted today just didn’t apply ahead of RWC 1991.

And the biggest difference was how RWC 1991 event and broadcast sponsorships were sold.

Today, it’s well-established practice for rights holders to sell their event sponsorships well in advance, and give their major sponsors a contractual first option to buy sponsorship of the event’s TV coverage. World Rugby been exemplary in this respect, and as a result one of the Worldwide Partners, Land Rover, has exercised their contractual option to become a co-sponsor of ITV’s RWC coverage. Similarly, our client SSE was only able to buy the other ITV broadcast sponsor position after the other RWC Worldwide Partners passed on the opportunity and it went to the open market.

All very orderly. But there was nothing like that in place for RWC 1991. Back then, the ITV broadcast sponsorship was open to all from the off, and taken to market at the same time as the event sponsorships. The broadcast sponsorship sold relatively quickly, whereas most of the event sponsorships were eventually sold at the last minute.

Compared to today, it was chaotic.

Two events above all led to this happening.

The first was the organising committee’s mysterious decision to award the tournament’s commercial rights lock, stock and barrel to a (now long-defunct) company called CPMA. This proved to be disastrous in many ways, not least in relation to sponsorship. CPMA priced each RWC event sponsorship at a deluded £2m, got knocked back by the market, and never recovered. Although Heinz (then run by former Irish rugby international Tony O’Reilly) signed up in 1990 for £1million, there were no other takers, and as a result CPMA inevitably became a price-taker reduced to doing last-minute deals: seven of the eight RWC 1991 event sponsors signed up in the six months prior to the tournament (I was on the buying side of two of these deals) for an average of around £300,000 each, including three in the last month.

The second was ITV’s coup in 1989 of winning the exclusive UK TV rights to RWC 1991, with a bid of £3million which the BBC could not, or would not, match: great business for ITV when you consider that the tournament was a big TV hit (over 13 million watched the England-Australia Final on ITV) and that this success paved the way for ITV to retain the rights to the RWC to this day. And even before the 1991 tournament started, ITV knew they were certain to make a profit when Sony bought the RWC broadcast sponsorship for £2million – two-thirds of what ITV paid for the rights.

This also turned out to be very good business for Sony, as David Pearson, Sony’s UK MD at the time, later recalled:

‘Various [Rugby World Cup] opportunities were presented to Sony including [being] one of eight named sponsors of the competition itself. However, what I felt was of much more interest was the opportunity to become the unique sponsor of the [ITV] broadcast rights…I decided to only sponsor the broadcasting and leave the event sponsorship to others…I believed that far more people would watch the matches on TV than in the stadia and I did not like the idea of sharing sponsorship with seven other parties. So it proved. The majority of people believed that Sony had actually been the event sponsor, giving rise to allegations by the official event sponsors that Sony had ambushed the competition. But that was false. We had chosen legitimately from the choices put to us by the agency representing the World Cup organisers and [ITV].’

I couldn’t agree more: Sony did nothing wrong. They took a brave decision on a new tournament and a new advertising format – paying, let’s not forget, far more than any of the event sponsors – and reaped the rewards. Ambush it may have been, but it was an officially-sanctioned and enabled ambush: the responsibility was wholly CPMA’s owing to their mismanagement of the commercial rights.

As to the ‘allegations by the official event sponsors’, my strong impression at the time was that most of this was driven by Heinz, who were particularly aggrieved: not only had they been undercut by CPMA’s fire-sale of the other event sponsorships, but they’d also seen the main benefit of being the first sponsor to sign up – the highest level of brand association with the tournament – blown away by Sony. (It’s perhaps not entirely coincidental that Heinz has eschewed major sponsorship ever since).

So all in all a painful lesson for the RWC, and a wake-up call for sports rights holders and brands everywhere about how sponsorships should be bought and sold around major events.

But I don’t want to leave you with a negative impression of RWC 1991 on or off the field: quite the opposite. The tournament was a huge success and left behind some very significant legacies.

It turbo-charged the UK sports marketing industry, accelerating its skills and giving it its first experience of activating the multi-sponsor major event model which was becoming the worldwide norm. Without that experience, for example, I have no doubt that five years later Euro 1996 would not have have been the huge success that it was off the field for sponsors in the UK.

But above all RWC 1991 was a watershed moment for rugby’s profile, which took off and never looked back. Quite simply, the tournament electrified the country. Everybody was talking about it, everybody was watching it, and especially in the week of the Final, it was everywhere – back pages, front pages and everything in between. It was glorious.

Here’s hoping for more of the same over the next couple of months. Good luck to everyone involved with RWC 2015.

By on September 3rd, 2015

Tags: Ambush Marketing, Broadcast sponsorship, Default, ITV, Rugby, Rugby World Cup, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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Spieth & McIlroy’s Google Spikes Are Growing, But Tiger Still Rules – For Now


I’m a big fan of the beta feature in Google Trends which enables you to compare search volumes since 2004 for just about anything, and often use it to add additional insights to our work. (Warning: if, like me, you’re into data, it’s pretty addictive). Recently, it’s also provided a really interesting angle on the end of the Tiger Woods era in golf, and what looks like the beginning of a new era marked by the rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

For most of his career, Tiger has been the world’s most Googled golfer, as shown by this chart, also shown below, comparing his search volumes since 2004 to those of his nearest rivals – although the most notable feature is of course the huge spike in December 2009 marking Tiger’s disgrace.

Tiger chart 1

You can also see that in the last couple of years the gap between Tiger and his rivals has closed. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Google Trends also enables us to compare how searches for Tiger compare to megastars in other sports. Here he is compared to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James for example.

Tiger v Messi etc

So Tiger may have ruled golf, but both before and after his fall his Google search volumes didn’t compare to the biggest stars in bigger sports – if you play around with other big names you get similar results.

But back to the main point. How is Tiger’s apparently inexorable decline in form and the simultaneous rise of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth reflected in recent Google search volumes? Does Tiger still rule, or is the new McIlroy-Spieth era evident on Google as well as the golf course?

This chart, also seen below, shows how it played out in 2014.

TW v Rory Spieth 2014

Despite making only seven appearances during the year owing to injury, Tiger was still comfortably the most-searched of the three players on average in 2014, with his biggest spikes both coming from the two majors he appeared in: a missed cut at the US PGA and a 69th place at The Open.

Rory’s average in 2014 was around half that of Tiger, and like Tiger his biggest spikes also came at The Open and the US PGA, but obviously for very different reasons as Rory won both tournaments. His other big spike came in May, caused by his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki and subsequent win at the BMW PGA Championship.

In contrast Jordan Spieth wasn’t really a factor in 2014, except – in a sign of things to come – for a spike for his second place finish on debut at The Masters, where he also outscored McIlroy by seven shots when they played together in the second round.

Fast forward to 2015 and it has of course been Spieth’s year so far, with wins in both majors, The Masters back in April and the US Open earlier this month, which the chart below and here clearly shows.

Tiger Rory Spieth last 90 days

(Interesting that Spieth’s Masters win generated a much higher spike than his US Open win. This could be for all kinds of reasons, but I suspect the two biggest are the novelty factor of Spieth’s debut major win and the Masters being a bigger deal worldwide than the US Open, as this chart shows.)

What’s also clear is that, driven unquestionably by the media, there is as much interest in Tiger’s poor performances as there is in a great performance by Spieth or McIlroy. For example, Tiger’s missed cut at this year’s US Open generated almost as much search interest as Spieth’s win, and Tiger’s missed cut at last year’s US PGA generated more search interest than McIlroy’s win. Which is why Tiger’s average search volumes are still the highest – although Spieth especially is closing the gap.

So, for now at least, Tiger still rules golf on Google. But not in a good way – and probably not for much longer.

Let’s see whose spikes are biggest at the next major – the biggest of them all – The Open at St Andrew’s.

By on June 29th, 2015

Tags: Default, Digital marketing, Digital sponsorship consultants, Digital sponsorship strategy, Golf, Golf sponsorship, Golf sponsorship consultants, Social media sponsorship consultants, Social media sponsorship strategy, Sponsorship consultants, Tiger Woods

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“Sponsorship rights need re-booting for the social media era”

In the latest edition of the Telegraph’s Business of Sport special features, Synergy CEO Tim Crow advises brands to be wary of how digital sponsorship assets are currently sold, and calls for rights holders to re-think their approach to integrating sponsors into their digital and social media.

Click here to read the article.

By on June 24th, 2015

Tags: Content marketing consultants, Content marketing strategy, Digital sponsorship consultants, Digital sponsorship strategy, Facebook, Press Clipping, Social media sponsorship consultants, Social media sponsorship strategy, Sponsorship consultants, Sponsorship effectiveness, Sponsorship measurement, Sponsorship valuation, Twitter

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Why The Premier League Killed Title Sponsorship – And Now Needs A Purpose Beyond Profit


I wasn’t surprised by the Premier League’s decision to discontinue title sponsorship when the current Barclays deal ends next season. The League’s TV riches and the bigger clubs’ sponsorship earning power and ambitions made it a question of when, not if, this would happen.

As I wrote on Twitter back in February when the Premier League’s new £5.1 billion domestic TV deals were announced:

It’s difficult to conclude the new TV deal won’t influence the clubs’ expectations of the percentage increase achievable [from a new title sponsorship] versus the current Barclays sponsorship…given the huge gap between Premier League TV and title sponsor revenue, maybe the PL title sponsorship’s days are numbered.

And so it proved. Here’s why.

The gap between current Premier League TV revenue and title sponsorship revenue is already enormous. Last season, the twenty Premier League clubs shared over £1.6 billion of centrally-generated revenue: 94.6% of this was TV money. Of the other 5.4% (just under £88 million), £40 million was from the Barclays title sponsorship — just 2.5% of total centrally-generated revenue. A pretty low percentage. When the increased domestic TV revenue — 67% up on the current contract — kicks in in 2016–17, along with new and inevitably increased international TV revenue (currently worth £2.2 billion but expected to rise to £2.9 billion), the title sponsorship money will look even more like a drop in the ocean.

And that would still have been the case even if the Premier League had been able to satisfy the clubs’ expectations and find a brand willing to substantially increase the £40 million per year title sponsorship paid by Barclays, which always looked unlikely, and which as we now know didn’t happen.

The other key financial factor in the Premier League’s decision is the bigger clubs’ ever-increasing sponsorship earning power and ambitions.


Led by Manchester United, the bigger Premier League clubs are now routinely generating nine-figure sums from their shirt sponsorships, and achieving double-digit increases when they renew or replace sponsors. They’re also aggressively marketing their secondary sponsorship packages, and looking to diversify and increase their sponsorship from other sources, such as stadium sponsorship and (pioneered by Manchester United with enormous success) training kit sponsorship and regional sponsorships.

This has also impacted on their view of the Premier League title sponsorship’s value.

The clubs keep 100% of the sponsorship income they generate individually, whereas they share equally (i.e. 5% each) the title sponsorship money generated at the centre. As with the TV money, the growth in their individual revenue streams has also outpaced their share of the title sponsorship deal and made it look increasingly minor. £2 million per club from Barclays is a drop in the ocean for the bigger clubs and now looks like small beer even to the others compared to the TV money.

The bigger clubs can also justifiably argue that they can sell the substantial collateral that they have to release to Barclays (perimeter ads, match sponsorships, player appearances, digital and data rights and the like) for much more money than that they receive as their share of the Barclays deal.

And in a related point, the category exclusivity that is part of the Barclays deal and prevents all of the clubs from selling sponsorship to Barclays’ competitors has also become increasingly unattractive.

Bottom line: the Premier League has outgrown title sponsorship — given its finances and earning power, it simply doesn’t need title sponsorship any more.

And moving beyond title sponsorship creates new marketing opportunities for the Premier League.


It opens up the ‘hero brand’ model used so successfully by the likes of the NFL and NBA to market and differentiate their brands without the dilution of a title sponsorship. A Premier League brand free of title sponsorship has the potential to be more flexible and attractive to consumers, more attractive to potential licensing and merchandising partners, and much more attractive to potential sponsorship partners — although whether the clubs are prepared to release enough inventory and categories to allow the League to expand its very limited roster of secondary sponsors remains to be seen.

But for all its riches and all its new post-title sponsorship opportunities, there’s one thing above all that the Premier League must do for itself and its brand: to re-define, and then communicate and live by, what the League’s values are and what it stands for.

Currently it positions itself only as being ‘all about the football’. And when you ask people what the Premier League stands for, great football is absolutely one of the two things they generally say.

But the other is (and not in a good way) money — lots of money.

That’s not a sustainable position.

If the Premier League is to truly become a ‘hero brand’, it needs a purpose and values beyond football and profit.

And if the FIFA scandal teaches us anything, it’s surely that football needs a purpose and values beyond football and profit now more than ever.

By on June 8th, 2015

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Football Sponsorship, NFL, Sponsorship consultants

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Changing the Game for Women’s Sport

Although consensus on London 2012’s tangible legacies in the UK remains elusive, arguably the most high profile and certainly the most sustained legacy is the momentum behind greater recognition for women’s sport, created by the medal success of the Team GB women and their starring role at the Games.

It was clear before London 2012 that momentum was already building, with the public furore at the omission of women from the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist a clear signal of things to come.

England women's rugby team celebrate world cup triumph

Now, post Games, nowhere is the legacy in the UK more evident than in the competition between the BBC, BT Sport and Sky to out-behave each other as champions of women’s sport.

BT and Sky both have dedicated editorial platforms and sportswomen of the year awards. BT Sport broadcasts Women’s Super League football and the BBC has ramped up its coverage of England women’s international football, in particular the most recent England v Germany friendly, which also out-sold – for the first time ever – the previous month’s men’s international.

And what a difference a few years has made to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, with the 2014 Team of the Year award presented to the World Cup-winning England women’s rugby team.

But these are the exceptions that prove the rule, as consistently demonstrated by a long-running Women In Sport campaign, that women’s sport in the UK is overwhelmingly the poor relation to men’s, in terms of both media coverage and, as a result, sponsorship.

The transformative financial effect that media coverage can have can be clearly seen in women’s tennis. Billie-Jean King’s pioneering work in creating the WTA, and above all the dual men’s and women’s format of many major tennis events – in particular the Grand Slams – has kept women’s tennis and its stars in the spotlight, and as a result the money, for years. Other women’s sports, lacking the media spotlight, are playing catch-up, and the gap is growing.

Bridging it will not happen overnight, but in time, increased media visibility will come and will inevitably drive increased commercial viability for brands looking to sponsor women’s sport.

However, media coverage is only part of any viability equation for brands.

New behaviours will also be required. The inconvenient but undeniable truth is that much of the brand money invested through sponsorship in women’s sports is connected to sex appeal – what one might call the ‘Kournikova factor’.

It’s easy for brands to get quick wins by adding to the purses of the planet’s most glamorous stars – after all, sex sells, right? But sponsors that genuinely care about the advancement of women’s sport will look to celebrate women as athletes, not pin-ups, and to lead the way in promoting an attitudinal change.

Like a Girl

This is something that has been confronted by the brand Always, with its highly creative and engaging #LikeAGirl campaign. Based on the simple question of what it means to do something (such as run, throw or fight) ‘like a girl’, and demonstrating quite how loaded this phrase has really become, the campaign challenges both genders’ thinking, acting as an apt reminder of the effects adolescence has on both girls’ and boys’ perceptions of themselves and others.

And, as well as new behaviours, brands interested in using sport to market to women will also need to navigate two major and related disconnects between theory and reality in this space.

The first is the assumption that a higher profile for women’s sport will automatically drive greater women’s participation in sport. This is unproven. Famously, for example, after London 2012, sports participation in the UK actually decreased across all groups, including women.

Which leads on to the second disconnect. The fact is that many women, for a variety of reasons, are not sports fans. As such, another widely held assumption, that using women’s sport to promote exercise amongst women will be effective at scale, is also unproven.

This Girl Can

The new Sport England ‘This Girl Can’ campaign recognises this, attempting to drive attitudinal change to sport amongst women by confronting the fear of being judged, a key barrier for many women.

At Synergy, our understanding of these disconnects has led to successful campaigns for clients, proving that brands can make a difference if their activity is grounded in the appropriate insights.

Bupa’s ‘My First Run’ campaign demonstrated how crucial the right female ambassador is (in this instance, Jo Whiley) to drive coverage, engagement and ultimately behaviour change, which in this case led to an estimated 23,000 women being inspired to take part in their first ever organised run.

Bupa first run

Similarly, Coke Zero’s ParkLives programme, which offers free, fun, family activities in local parks, has seen great success, with communications specifically avoiding the ‘s-word’ to ensure female participants are not put off by a direct association with ‘sport’.

So, there’s no doubt there is a big opportunity for brands here. That said, they must beware of thinking about it solely in the context of sponsoring Women’s Sport – capital W, capital S. For us, the biggest opportunity lies in driving attitudinal and behaviour change in the context of women in sport and in women’s relationship with sport in its broadest sense: in building trust, providing inspiration, and creating the environment in which women can express themselves, and audiences and participants can connect without prejudice or agenda.

Tim’s blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship outlook for 2015, which can be viewed in full here.

By on March 10th, 2015

Tags: Female Sport, Sponsorship, Sport, Synergy, Women's Football, Women's Rugby, Women's Sport, Women's Tennis

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Corporate Japan Gets Behind Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sponsorship

Tokyo 2020

It’s been quite a week on the sponsorship front for Tokyo 2020, which announced three new Tier One sponsors – Canon, NEC and Fujitsu – in 48 hours. Here’s a quick take on the implications for Tokyo 2020 and Olympic sponsorship.

1. Tokyo 2020 already has five Tier 1 sponsors – NTT  and Asahi having signed up last month – putting it level with Rio 2016, which has however been marketing its domestic packages since 2009 whereas Tokyo has been in the market only since 2013. So it looks like Tokyo’s pace of sponsor acquisition is going to be more in line with London 2012 than with Rio 2016: as I’ve written previously, Rio 2016 has consistently lagged behind London 2012 in deal volume.

2. Early indications that Tokyo 2020 looks like living up to its bid promise of being a safe bet will no doubt prompt a collective sigh of relief at the IOC, given both Rio 2016′s well-publicised problems and the recent audit that revealed Pyeongchang 2018′s sponsorship and finances are in crisis. (Related point: Rio 2016 is yet to publish its accounts, in striking contrast to London 2012, which published annual financial statements. One to watch.)

3. Assuming that Tokyo 2020 is achieving its $128m Tier 1 sponsorship pricing, it has already surpassed the $568m Tier 1 revenue total projected in its candidature files, and is well on its way to surpassing its $958m total revenue projection. However, as I wrote back in September 2013 when Tokyo won the 2020 Games, these revenue projections were extremely cautious, and I continue to expect Tokyo to achieve sales of well over $1 billion, and perhaps as much as $2 billion if Japan’s economy remains stable. Remember however that these figures will include VIK, which Tokyo 2020 estimated would be 34% of sponsorship revenue, an unusually low VIK figure for a modern Games – London’s VIK figure was just under 55%.

4. Category boundaries are a key negotiating point in any sponsorship, but particularly in the Olympics, which always produces more than its fair share of obscure designations owing to the crowded dynamics of the Olympic sponsorship landscape. The latest batch of Tokyo 2020 sponsors continues proudly in this tradition – ‘Data Centre Hardware Provider’, ‘Specialist Public Equipment & Software Provider’ and so on – and a related curiosity is that none of the latest categories featured in Tokyo’s candidature file projections of what its Tier 1 categories would be, proving once again that bid books are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Finally on categories, if I was a Panasonic shareholder I’d want to know why Panasonic’s new 2016-2024 TOP sponsorship agreement left the camera category open to Canon for Tokyo 2020, something that Canon is clearly already enjoying given its mischievous reference to ‘sharing the emotion’ in its Tokyo 2020 media releasePanasonic’s long-running Olympic tagline being ‘Sharing The Passion’.

5. Judging by Tokyo’s early success there will be many hotly-contested Tokyo 2020 sponsorship tenders, but arguably the most competitive will be for Tokyo’s automotive sponsorship, given the fiercely competitive Japanese auto marketplace, which grew 3.5% in 2014, and the numerous domestic and international brands operating in Japan. Only time will tell which brand emerges victorious, but candidates are sure to include Nissan, already heavily invested in the Olympics worldwide including in particular Rio 2016, and Japanese market leader Toyota, which made an untypically public and embarrassingly unfulfilled declaration that it intended to be Tokyo’s 2020′s first sponsor just before Tokyo’s final bid presentation. Watch this space…

By on February 19th, 2015

Tags: IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Pyeonchang 2018, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Rio 2016 Sponsorship Consultants, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Tokyo 2020

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The 5 Key Olympic Sponsorship Implications of the IOC’s Agenda 2020


Earlier this week the IOC approved the 40 recommendations in new IOC President Thomas Bach’s Olympic Agenda 2020, the ‘strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement’. Although the overall implications have been extensively covered elsewhere – check out in particular this excellent piece by David Owen – no-one has yet looked in detail at the key implications for Olympic sponsorship. So, here’s my view.

1. Buyability: Bach puts clear water between the IOC and FIFA

The Agenda 2020 white paper was published a few days after FIFA once again descended into chaos. Although this was coincidental, it emphasised both how open the Agenda 2020 process was, and how clearly it was designed to make the IOC and the Olympics fit for the future – both in stark contrast to FIFA. The key word here is buyability. Agenda 2020 is not only re-assuring for existing Olympic sponsors: it also makes the IOC and the Olympics far more buyable than FIFA and the World Cup – the IOC’s primary competition for potential global sponsors. In Agenda 2020, President Bach has put an ocean of buyability between himself and FIFA.

2. Partnership: actions speak louder than words

In our experience, most rights holders genuinely want to create partnerships with sponsors, but all too often find it tough to make it happen. In this respect it was very good to see how integrated IOC TOPs were in Agenda 2020, with representatives on several of the working groups. How often have you seen a rights holder embark on a process as far reaching as Agenda 2020 with its sponsors embedded in the development and execution of the recommendations? The IOC has created a new gold standard.

3. The IOC’s youth strategy is still in a mess

The average age of an Olympics consumer – as defined by broadcast TV, the Olympics’ primary distribution channel and revenue source – is now over fifty and rising. This is now a crisis for the IOC, which must find a way to engage with younger audiences to ensure its future and to retain and attract sponsors, and is thus a key theme of Agenda 2020. And the plain fact is that Agenda 2020 revealed that the IOC youth strategy is a long-running mess. The Youth Olympic Games – the Rogge-era IOC’s ill-conceived attempt to solve the problem – has demonstrably failed in its current format, and the total re-boot approved in Agenda 2020 was long overdue. The new Olympic Channel – of which more below – is key to solving the problem. But above all it was good to see Agenda 2020 acknowledge the need that it needs strategic partners from outside the Olympic Movement, and to involve its sponsors far more, in its youth marketing strategy.

4. The Olympic Channel is all about content, not distribution

The newly-approved Olympic Channel should have been launched years ago, but wasn’t for fear of damaging the IOC’s cash cow, its broadcasters, particularly in the US. But now it is here, it is to be welcomed. It’s a vital enabler in enabling the IOC to to take the Olympics to digital-first younger audiences. But this is not about what screens it lands on, but what lands on the screens. When the Olympic channel was first mooted I advocated strongly that the IOC should look to co-create content with its sponsors, and it was good to see that this featured (albeit with the usual IOC caveats about branding) in Agenda 2020. Above all, I hope that the IOC takes an enlightened approach to its content strategy, way beyond the archive and Olympic sports coverage. How about, for example, a strand dedicated to eSports, the Millennial gaming phenomenon, with an Olympic theme?

5. Sponsors’ activation footprints should remain discretionary, not mandatory

The most potentially controversial sponsorship-specific Agenda 2020 recommendation was to introduce a programme designed to increase local activation by TOPs. This is a longstanding issue in Olympic circles. Understandably, every NOC wants TOPs to activate at scale in their country, and becomes frustrated if they don’t. Equally understandably, and quite rightly, TOPs want to control the geographic footprint of their activation programmes and align them to their business priorities. This must continue, and as such in my view TOPs should resist the IOC suggestion of contractual obligations. Meanwhile, the new marketing capability programme for NOCs – to be run, interestingly, by P&G – promises to ease, if not remove, the issue.

Further reading:

Olympic Agenda 2020 Recommendations

Olympic Agenda 2020 Context and Background


By on December 11th, 2014

Tags: Default, IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Rio 2016, Rio 2016 Sponsorship, Rio 2016 Sponsorship Consultants, Socialympics, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Tokyo 2020, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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Maxwell, Manchester, Glasgow: My Commonwealth Games Memories

I couldn’t have been more excited for Glasgow 2014. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time working for clients in Glasgow. It’s a special, special place, and I very quickly grew to love it and it’s people. I had no doubt that Glasgow would stage a great Games, and that the city and it’s people will be stars of the show.

This is the third edition of the Commonwealth Games in the UK that I’ve worked on: the first two created some vivid, and highly contrasting, memories.

In 1986 I was working at the Mirror Group, and became part of the team responsible for delivering the Mirror’s last-minute sponsorship of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. The Mirror sponsorship positioned Mirror owner Robert Maxwell and the Mirror Group as coming to the rescue of the Games, which was already in a financial crisis subsequently compounded by a boycott by over half of the Commonwealth countries in protest at the UK’s links with apartheid South Africa. It’s difficult to argue that the promotional and organisational momentum Maxwell brought to the Games saved it from humiliation. But the reality was that it was an aggressive takeover – arguably the biggest ambush marketing job in history – which was, like most things at the Mirror, a vehicle for Maxwell backed by empty financial promises.


This is the definitive article on Maxwell and Edinburgh ’86, by Brian Oliver, extracted from his forthcoming book on the Commonwealth Games. Some of the stories in there may sound incredible, but I can assure you that they’re true – I was there for most of them, and more besides (such as the time he invaded the track during the Opening Ceremony). Working for Maxwell on Edinburgh ’86 was often chaotic and surreal, but it taught me very valuable lessons about sponsorship – both how to do it and how not to do it – which I still use today.

Fast forward sixteen years  to Manchester 2002, a very different Games and Games experience, but with, for me at least, one similarity to Edinburgh ’86; another sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games by a media company, in this case the Guardian Media Group (GMG). But it could not have been more different to the Mirror’s.

By this time I was at Synergy (or Karen Earl Sponsorship as it was then known) and we advised and led the delivery of GMG’s Manchester 2002 sponsorship, which was an award-winning success. GMG’s print and digital media provided vital support and promotion for the Games; showcased GMG’s diverse media titles; demonstrated GMG’s commitment to and historic links with Manchester; and also provided a highly successful internal platform to build GMG employee pride and engagement, an area in which Synergy continues to specialise today.

And of course, unlike Edinburgh 1986, Manchester 2002 was hailed by all as a huge success, in particular in showcasing and accelerating Manchester’s transformation, delivering tangible legacies, and confounding the sceptics by showing the world that the UK could successfully stage a major multi-sport event – in many ways paving the way for London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Fast forward to Glasgow 2014, which Synergy has been working on for SSE, the Games’ first Tier One sponsor, since last year. You can find out all about the SSE Glasgow 2014 sponsorship here and here,  and get involved with the SSE GoGlasgow campaign here by tweeting your support for one of the home nations teams by using either #GoEngland, #GoNI, #GoScotland or #GoWales.


Every hashtagged tweet registered on SSE’s GoGlasgow Twitter leaderboard and generates extra funding for the stars of the future via the SSE Next Generation programme.

Go Glasgow!

By on July 23rd, 2014

Tags: Commonwealth Games, Default, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy, Twitter

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