As tennis’ top 8 prepare to close out the year at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November, Djokovic, Nadal and the like will almost certainly review what went well (and what didn’t) in 2014. Some training sessions will be tweaked, others trashed. Either way, you can guarantee each player understands his portfolio of shots and how he’ll deploy them next year.
Can the same be said for brands and their sponsorship portfolios?
More often than not, no. Sponsorship resource allocation is often an ad-hoc process, and the perfect portfolio remains elusive. This is not surprising. The universe of assets to choose from – puzzle pieces to join together and realize a sponsorship strategy – is overwhelmingly large. Furthermore, different contracts expire at different times – the puzzle pieces are constantly moving. Achieving the perfect portfolio is tough, pinning it down is near impossible.
So what can we do? I’d recommend a portfolio review.
One example of a company who has conducted a sponsorship review is Barclays. In December 2013, the bank assessed whether its asset portfolio – which includes the Barclays Premier League, Barclays ATP World Finals, and the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme in London – was delivering on its sponsorship strategy. And clearly, it’s driving some big decisions.
In May 2014, the BBC reported that Barclays will not renew their £40m-a-year deal with the Premier League in 2016. Furthermore, Barclays has passed up the opportunity to extend its £5.5m-a-year sponsorship of the London Cycle Hire Scheme in 2015.
So, how might Barclays have gone about their strategic review? Well, we’d hope it went something like this:
1. Set objective, value-based criteria
2. Evaluate assets against this criteria
3. Decide which assets to retain vs. replace accordingly
It follows that sound criteria and evaluation are a pre-requisite to sound decisions. But what does this mean in practice, and how is it applied?
First, decision criteria must be set. These should be both qualitative (e.g. fit with brand values) and quantitative (e.g. maximum annual rights and activation cost we are willing to pay, minimum return on investment). Either way, decisions must be grounded in value.
Second, all assets should be evaluated and compared across chosen criteria. The hypothetical example below demonstrates what this might look like:
Figure 1. Example Portfolio Decision Process
Under such hypothetical criteria, Assets 2 and 5 do not make the cut. Deciding to drop them from the portfolio would mean Brand Y management can search out more attractive property across the sponsorship landscape.
Just as tennis’ top 8 review their game and adjust their portfolio of shots year-in year-out, deciding where to allocate sponsorship resources should be an annual process. And just as these players need to work harder to improve, the better they get, brands must put more effort into solving the portfolio puzzle.
The message for brands – put portfolio on the agenda for 2015.
RasenBallsport Leipzig may translate to ‘lawn ball sport’, but once you factor in their club crest (shown below), stadium (Red Bull Arena), and owners (Red Bull GmbH), it is quickly apparent that they are not your average lower league football team.
The club, owned and run by the Austrian-based energy drink company, is the fifth club to join the Red Bull stable of professional football clubs, and has caused a stir within German football since transforming the fifth division team SSV Markranstadt in 2009. After purchasing the licence and re-naming the club (which is abbreviated to RB Leipzig), the club colours were changed and the team moved to a new purpose-built stadium, with the goal of reaching the Bundesliga by 2016.
Multinational franchises aren’t the exclusive domain of Red Bull though, with City Football Group taking controlling ownership of New York City FC and Melbourne City – formerly New York Metrostars and Melbourne Heart respectively – and a minority stake in Yokohama F Marinos. Many feel that being able to own more than one club is anti-competitive to other teams with fewer resources, and that it also restricts the opportunities for home-grown players. UEFA legislation stipulates that clubs with the same owner cannot participate in the same competition, a distinct possibility in the near future, were RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg to both qualify for the Europa or Champions League.
Of course, Red Bull is now a familiar name within the world of sport, owning two F1 teams, ice hockey teams, and a wide portfolio of both extreme sports and more mainstream athlete ambassadors. Within the space of 10 years, Red Bull F1 has won the Constructors’ Championship four times, yet there has been comparatively little backlash against the company. Red Bull’s creation of extreme events such as the Air Race, Cliff Diving and Flugtag series has also captured the imagination of many, and has widely been praised, so why the backlash in German football?
Historically, club ownership has been tied to the local area, and it is this nuance that allows a couple of Bundesliga teams to be owned by multinational corporations. VfL Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen are owned by Volkswagen & Bayer AG respectively, but this is permitted by the Bundesliga, as the clubs were formed from company factory staff. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim are the other club that RB Leipzig highlight in defence of their model, pointing out the role that major investment has played, and a growing acceptance of the club in recent years.
Certainly, Red Bull have a way go to quell the backlash from the majority of the football-supporting German public, but advocates would argue that the success of the model makes the league more competitive. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have won 16 of the previous 20 Bundesliga titles, and a new ‘challenger’ within the Bundesliga may actually be a benefit to German football, in the same way many feel – with justification – that Red Bull has enhanced Formula One.
It would be interesting to see how the English public would react should Red Bull turn their attentions to these shores, as rumoured in 2013. A Red Bull-owned Premier League team would undoubtedly bring worldwide recognition, prestige and controversy; something that Red Bull do not tend to shy away from, but I suspect that prohibitive costs and regulation may prevent investment. Given the UEFA legislation and relative cost for English football teams, I would imagine growth markets of Latin America or Australia are more likely sites for a sixth member of the Red Bull football family.
The last week before Christmas gives us a great excuse (not that we need one) to remind ourselves of some of the campaigns, films, stunts, tech, social and experiential activity that really caught our eye in 2013. We don’t claim that this is an exhaustive list, and some of the things on it aren’t sponsorship, but they all made us want to share them (the key metric in the social era) because they were clever, creative, funny, and in some cases all three.
THE POWER AND PASSION OF SPORT USED FOR SOCIAL GOOD
There is little doubt that this is the campaign of the year, and it has the Cannes Golden Lion to prove it. If you haven’t seen it yet, where have you been? Hurry up and click on the film – your life is about to get better. And if you have seen it already, you’ll need no excuse to watch it again and remind yourself of the emotional power of sports. Nothing comes close to it, and that’s why sponsorship is awesome.
Another brilliantly clever use of sport to address an important social problem. In Paraguay, 24% of children are not enrolled in civil registration, effectively leaving them with no identity. To raise awareness and spark social discussion on this issue, Paraguay and Uruguay played a football match where both teams wore shirts with no names on their backs, while the opening minutes passed without commentators referring to the players by name. As a result, both major presidential candidates agreed to address the problem if elected to office in the upcoming elections.
EXPERIENTIAL IDEAS THAT WENT WAY BEYOND THE EXPERIENCE THEMSELVES
Nike Hypervenom House of Deadly
Nike, Neymar and the world’s largest immersive game experience – a combination that’s tough to beat. In addition to the ‘making of’ film below, here’s a blog we wrote about it back in November.
Coke Small World Vending Machines
Who’d have thought that two countries with such a history of mistrust and conflict could be brought closer together by a humble vending machine? But Coca-Cola showed how it could be done, and why they continue to be among the best marketers on the planet.
HTC Snapdragon Photobooth
To demo the power of its Snapdragon processor, Qualcomm mounted 130 HTC Smartphones into a big spiral to create a 540⁰ photobooth. Needless to say, capturing images in this way allows you to create pretty cool films – and almost convinces you to buy a smartphone just because it contains a Snapdragon processor.
THE REACTIVE CONTENT MARKETING WINNERS
It feels so long ago, but it was only this year that Oreo did its thing at the Superbowl. We’re not going to add any more column inches to that particular execution, but it did mark the tipping point when real-time and reactive content became a new, must-have weapon in sports marketing.
Zippo Saves the Sochi Olympics
The Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch has had more than its fair share of mishaps, but when it went out and was re-lit by a bystander with a Zippo, everyone’s favourite lighter company jumped on it brilliantly with executions that quickly went viral and, top of every Olympic ambusher’s wish-list, incurred the displeasure of the IOC.
Nando’s Fergie Time
Nando’s honoured the Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement by copying the stoppage time generosity that Sir Alex all too often received from referees, by keeping all their Manchester restaurants open for an extra 5 minutes of #NandosFergieTime.
Adidas and Andy Murray
Adidas ensured their tribute to Andy Murray went viral as soon as he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year with instant social media creative and projection mapping outside the SPOTY. It didn’t hurt that Andy Murray also used the exact words in his acceptance speech… All demonstrating that much ‘real-time’ content is actually ‘prepared well in advance’ content.
PR STUNTS THAT PUNCHED WELL ABOVE THEIR WEIGHT
Yeovil Town and the Safely Delivered Loan Signing
23rd July 2013 was a big day for the country: Yeovil Town was safely delivered of the loan signing of defender Alan Tate. In a move mirroring the announcement of the royal baby, the use of an easel and a framed declaration grabbed the attention of the national media and beautifully hijacked the zeitgeist.
The Oakley Bubba’s Hover
In the week before the US Masters, Oakley produced a fabulous stunt featuring a Bubba Watson hovercraft which re-imagined the golf buggy and perfectly matched Bubba’s ‘go for it’ approach. Here’s our blog on it all from back in April.
CONTENT THAT WAS KING
An American Coach in London
An amusingly self-deprecating take on (some) Americans’ views on sah-ker, this film, featuring Saturday Night Live’s Jason Sudeikis, helped launch NBC’s Premier League coverage. We expected it to be crap. It wasn’t.
Rory versus the Robot
Another golf stunt, with the European Tour pitting Rory McIlroy against a robot in a series of challenges. Went viral way beyond golf fans, and easily Rory’s best moment of the year on or off the course.
Heineken: The Negotiation
To be honest, Heineken create so much brilliant content, that it is almost impossible to choose just one. But, we’ve gone for The Negotiation, an imaginative take on the often repetitive story of a Football-loving partner and their other half.
DIGITAL THAT DELIVERED
US PGA Championship Pick the Pin Challenge
For the first time in history, the US PGA enabled fans to pick the pin location for the 15th hole during the final round of this year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill. Nearly 100,000 people voted and (surprise surprise) 61% chose the location closest to the water. A brilliantly innovative way to engage fans digitally with the event and the sport. Check it out here.
David Beckham e-Book Signing
In 1998, David Beckham re-invented the sarong. In 2013, he re-invented the traditional book signing, streaming his book launch live on his Facebook page. And if you opted in with your e-mail address, you even got your very own digital Becks autograph. It sure beats the local Waterstone’s. Here is the great man in action.
Adidas Brazuca World Cup Ball Launch
A fan vote to choose the name? Check. A very cool interactive video with hidden content and allows you to see what the Brazuca sees? Check. Its own Twitter feed with 104,000 followers at the time of writing? Check. A total re-invention of a sponsorship asset? Check. Hats off to adidas, and here’s our blog on the Brazuca from a few days ago.
A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS THAT DESERVE A MENTION…
The Surprisingly Good Middle Eastern Airline Ad of The Year: Qatar Airways Barca Island
Book me a ticket on Qatar Airways. Barca Island looks awesome.
What do you do when a legend retires? You set the ball rolling by creating the #ThankYouSachin hashtag and then watch as fans, brands (including Coke and Heineken) and even the founder of Facebook picks it up and runs with it. Here’s our Storify of the key moments:
We hope you liked this review of some of our favourite things from 2013. If we’ve forgotten something that you think should be on the list, then please post a comment – we’d love you to share it.
Congratulations to all the people, brands, agencies and rightsholders who were responsible for this work and let’s hope the list in December 2014 is even better.
The global football landscape may just be about to change.
A decade ago, Major League Soccer found itself on the brink of oblivion with dwindling attendances and just 10 teams nationwide. Fast forward to 2013 and it is a very different picture. A poll by ESPN in 2012 showed that more than a third of Americans described themselves as fans of MLS, an increase of 24% in just five years and a 33% rise since 2002. Attendances also continue to grow at a steady rate, with the Seattle Sounders recently posting record attendance figures of 44,038 per game.
The quality of the league has always been a criticism leveled at MLS – and not without reason. There is no doubt that it has improved dramatically, but two recent announcements may finally establish the league as a global property and see football truly living up to its billing as ‘the global game’. Although none of this will happen overnight, in time it could present sponsors with a platform from which to deliver fully-integrated campaigns across both North America and Europe – not to mention Central and South America.
A clause in David Beckham’s MLS contract gives him the option to pay $25 million to start an expansion franchise upon retirement. Miami has been identified as the likely city and LeBron James – one of the country’s most high profile athletes – is reported to be a major investor. Elsewhere, Manchester City, in partnership with the New York Yankees, have announced the acquisition of the MLS’ 20th franchise - New York City Football Club.
Add to these NBC’s deal to show Premier League games – worth a reported $250m (£157m) over the next three seasons – and the scale of football’s potential in the United States begins to become clear.
There is no doubt that Beckham, LeBron and the owners of both Manchester City and the Yankees have the financial clout to attract high-profile players, but they must be careful not to fall into the trap of the leagues in China and Australia (and to an extent the MLS itself), where ageing superstars of the world game see one last payday.
If the league is to be taken seriously by fans and sponsors alike, there needs to be a change of strategy in the acquisition of players. It is likely that Manchester City will pave the way for their youngest stars to be loaned to New York, and, as the quality of the league improves, others in the Premier League may follow, seeing it as another way into the lucrative US market. But, I believe the biggest opportunity, both from a league quality and commercial perspective lies in Central and South America – particularly Brazil.
At present, many of South America’s brightest stars make their way to super-rich clubs of Russia and Eastern Europe before securing a transfer to one of the major European teams. The MLS must seek to position itself as a viable alternative for the brightest young talents.
A South American star making their name in the US could be a valuable asset for the league. Whilst the FIFA World Cup in 2014 may come too soon, the emerging economy of Brazil, in particular, could unlock big brand investment into the United States – helping to accelerate what is already a meteoric rise is the popularity of ‘soccer’ in the US and launch it as a truly global property.
Maybe only now are the building blocks in place for the US to take its seat at football’s top table – an open goal for sponsors in the United States and beyond.
For years now, brands have been trying to get celebrities and sports stars involved with their activities. From kit deals to paid appearances, celebrities have enjoyed a good relationship with sponsors.
With the huge growth in social media – especially Twitter – stars can now talk to legions of fans who are ready to lap up any message they can get. A single tweet from Justin Bieber could change the fortune of a brand forever. So, could we be heading into an age in which stars will only get sponsorship deals if they have a digital presence?
Go Daddy sponsorship sees 12% increase on social traffic
Over in the US, Go Daddy (of web-hosting fame) signed a deal with Danica Patrick and her NASCAR team. Now, Danica isn’t a top driver: she’s been on pole a few times and won a couple of races, but she’s not exactly a world-beater. What makes her sponsorship offering different is that she has huge commercial asset in the form of 900k+ Twitter followers, when the average NASCAR driver only has between 100 – 400k.
Go Daddy have leveraged the social media savvy Danica (she also has Pinterest and Facebook accounts) to make her fans and the wider NASCAR community aware of Go Daddy’s involvement. Plus they made the car green, which I imagine helps.
The results? Go Daddy saw an increase of 12% in traffic to their site from social sources in a single month, and the stats continue to go up. In comparison, when Rihanna was sponsored by cosmetics company Cover Girl, they only saw a 3% increase. And yet Rihanna has 3000 times as many followers as Danica… Then why was this sponsorship so much more successful?
Well, both Danica and Go Daddy aligned their tone of voice: Go Daddy spent plenty of time interweaving their brand message with Danica to create story-led content, and were careful with what they tweeted. As shown above, Danica’s mentions of Go Daddy are integrated rather than interruptive; rarely does she tweet an ad-like call to action on behalf of the brand.
Twitter followers as a commercial asset
Who is commercially more valuable, Wayne Rooney or Theo Walcott? They both play international football, they both score goals (one more than the other), they both play for two huge clubs and they both have large Nike sponsorship deals. Rooney’s more valuable though, right? In a world where a player’s every move, word and decisions are consumed by fans – having a brand message put through a huge star helps to spread the campaign a little further.
By having a Twitter account, Rooney can assist with that message – Walcott can’t.
An example of this comes in the form of Jack Wilshere. After deleting his Twitter account in mid-2012 and with it, the 1.5m followers he had, Jack returned to Twitter in March with a more stylised profile. Low and behold, 2 months after re-joining, Jack unveiled the new Nike* England kit:
Whilst it can’t be shown to be true, it’s highly likely that sponsors were pushing for Jack’s return to Twitter. His club, location, nationality and ability create a perfect storm which Nike would love to use in the future.
Accordingly to Dorron Solomon, who looks after the social media output of some of the world’s most expensive superstars, sponsors are now starting to take notice of the social collateral that their players have (especially when it comes to the number of followers):
“[Sponsors] are definitely starting to make it a priority. Every single campaign that’s run online has to be justified and one of the easiest ways to do that is with stats. When you consider that any brand – whether that’s a major sports sponsor or not – has the option of going to a paper, billboard or TV for guaranteed views with a campaign, they’re taking a risk by running it on social, where only engaging content will succeed. If you can place an advert in a prime newspaper location that has a readership of 700k you need to be sure that you can get at least that online.”
Clubs are also beginning to realise the power that their players’ followers have. During the transfer season, Arsenal were faced with a problem that every other club bar them had already experienced: their new signing, Mezut Özil, had more followers than they did. When asked whether this represented an opportunity for Arsenal to reach into a new demographic, Richard Clark, Managing Editor of Arsenal Media Group (which manages all digital, audio and visual outputs) said:
“The club doesn’t seek to exploit the players. If there’s something that the club is doing that we would like them to help promote, we just ask, they’re quite responsive. Usually we just let them get close to their fans.”
You may remember a few years ago now, Snickers asked a number of celebrities, including Rio Ferdinand and Ian Botham, to tweet about their product.
Now, whilst Rio and the rest of the stars had the decency to use the #spon to highlight that the tweet was paid for, it didn’t stop an online furore, with fans tweeting asking what he was talking about, why he was doing it, with many complaining about being advertised to. Whilst the Advertising Standards Authority ultimately ruled in Snickers’ favour, it’s more than likely in the near future that brand-sponsored tweets from stars are going to be more regulated.
What this means for everyone
Going forward, will brands now start picking and choosing their ambassadors less on who they are or what they do positively on the pitch but more on their ability to write in 140 characters? We’ve already seen this in parts, Paddy Power recently chose the controversial and fairly average footballer Joey Barton to represent them in their ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ campaign.
Why Joey? Because his ‘Tone of Voice’, his infamy and his willingness to speak out fits well within the remit of the campaign (which later proved to be a huge success).
With legal issues likely to occur in the future, it’s vital that brands start integrating their star assets with a brand story that can be curated over time. Fundamentally, if brands can start including their fans as well as their stars into their message, then we’ll be seeing some true social engagement.
Many sports stars and athletes like to avoid the commercial side of the game as much as possible, it’s unlikely that you’re going to see a Paul Scholes or Frank Lampard selling Head & Shoulders to strangers on the internet. However, with over 50% of the Premier League players on Twitter now and as more and more micro-content is consumed by the fans who live and breathe the sport, more pressure will be placed on these individuals to not only perform on the pitch, but off it too.
The Barclays Premier League is arguably the most marketable and commercially appealing property in world sport. Estimates suggest that there are more than 1.4 billion Premier League club supporters worldwide, whilst a staggering 4.7 billion people are said to have watched at least one game on television last season.
Predictably, this type of reach comes at a premium for potential sponsors. Last season, Barclays Premier League clubs generated the highest football shirt sponsorship figures in Europe, with total annual revenue reaching almost €150 million – an average of €7.4 million per club in the top flight.
Manchester United’s ground-breaking shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors is thought to be worth $70m (c. £45m) for the first full season, with small increases thereafter, whilst Liverpool’s deal with Standard Chartered has an estimated worth of somewhere around £20m a season – truly eye-watering figures. But for the majority of their Premier League peers, these figures are unimaginable – with many clubs at the lower end of the league registering deals in the low millions – and others struggling to find major sponsors at all.
The gulf, it seems, is big. And growing.
There are signs that the shirt sponsorship model in the Premier League is changing, with clubs finding new and innovative ways to sell their rights. Last season, QPR sold their home and away kit separately to two Asian airlines, Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines, whilst this season, Tottenham Hotspur have sold their shirt rights to HP and AIA for league and cup games respectively. In a tough economic climate, creating narrower rights packages for shirt sponsorship increases the pool of brands that can have the budget for such deals and also reduces their risk.
In 2003, Atletico Madrid signed a deal with Columbia Pictures which used the shirt to promote a selection of new film releases over the course of season, meaning that shirt designs were in constant flux (resulting in, amongst others, the monstrosity below promoting Spiderman 2). Whilst this particular example is perhaps rather extreme, it raises the question as to whether there than can be a role for shirt sponsorship by brands that have an evolving proposition, with messaging changing on the shirt several times within a single season.
The Premier League remains one of few top-tier world leagues in which only one sponsor can be featured on a shirt, and whilst the idea is said to have been floated to Premier League chairman to permit multiple sponsors, it seems that it is unlikely to go through – the argument being that this would further increase the ever-widening revenue gap between those at the top and bottom of the league and potentially devalue the position of the main shirt sponsor.
In case you were wondering, the most sponsors that we could find on any individual shirt was 13 – take a bow Mjällby AIF of Sweden.
Whilst on the point of multiple shirt sponsors in the Premier League – it is clear that there is currently little appetite, but that is not to say that this ‘unused’ inventory should be left completely empty. There is certainly room for the FA to follow UEFA’s lead in permitting clubs to use space on the back of the shirt to support their chosen charity. The Premier League has truly global reach and influence, with the unique potential to ease the marketing burden on charities and to give them the exposure that they so desperately require to continue to operate. Chelsea promoted their Right To Play message in the Champions League, whilst Fulham carried messaging for their Foundation during the club’s Europa League campaign.
Football treads a fine line between realising its global commercial potential and retaining its local integrity. This is a challenge that should not be underestimated. Football is an expensive business, and with fans demanding success on the pitch, sponsorship revenues are critical…but these self-same fans are loathe to see their club (and indeed their sport) sell its soul to the highest bidder. In the last 12 months, we have seen two relatively high profile deals at Bolton and Newcastle both of whom signed controversial deals with payday loan companies. Bolton felt the full force of fan influence, being forced into a rather humiliating last minute change of sponsor.
English Football is now a global commodity. China has the most Premier League followers of any country at more than 300m, with India second on 147m, while the audience across Africa is estimated at 290m. It is easy to see why the idea of a 39th game is of such great commercial appeal and why Premier League clubs now have commercial partners from all corners of the globe.
What is clear, is that in the coming years we will see clubs becoming more flexible and creative with shirt sponsorship – increasingly looking to break up rights to increase their revenue. While the sponsorship market has remained buoyant in the face of economic uncertainty, logic would suggest that there are fewer organisations in the market for larger sponsorship deals. By offering a greater range of rights packages, clubs can ensure that the pool of potential sponsors remains wide. For these reasons, we expect to see an increasing number of clubs following Tottenham’s and QPR’s lead in looking to sell shirt rights for different types of games – home, away, Capital One Cup, FA Cup and maybe even for pre-season tours to the most lucrative global markets.
Question is: how far will clubs go off the field to ensure that they can afford to compete on it?
The merits of a loyal customer base are well explored in consumer marketing. Some suggest that it is 6 to 7 times more expensive to attract a new customer than retain an existing one, whilst the impact of a longer term relationship on the bottom line is clear to see. Brands will fight tooth and nail to ensure that they retain their share of your wallet.
In the sporting world, rights holders are often guilty of assuming loyalty amongst their consumers – the fans. Sports fans are, on the whole, unique; few would defect to a ‘competitor’ if they felt that they were more successful, that ticket prices were lower or that the overall in stadium experience was of a higher quality. And with decreasing reliance on match-day revenues to generate cash due to the size of broadcast and sponsorship deals, there seems to be little incentive for the rights holder to nurture this relationship.
A ticket – or, more specifically, a season ticket – is an expensive and considered purchase which carries with it a significant opportunity cost. The price elasticity may be less sensitive than with other consumer goods, largely due to the tribal and passionate nature of the average sports fan, but it is still very much a key factor in decision making. No rights holder wants an empty stadium – it not only contributes to a decrease in overall revenue but begins to devalue their brand.
Step forward the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. The Sounders put the fans at the heart of everything that they do, and what they have created is one of the most sophisticated and well thought out fan engagement programmes that I have seen in any sport.
Now in its second season, the MatchPass programme is helping to create a closer relationship between the club and its 32,000 season ticket holders. Its primary function as a ticketless swipe card for entry into home games is nothing new. What makes it stand out is the rewards programme that it feeds. The card is swiped at each food, beverage and merchandise transaction to earn points and unlock exclusive rewards such as stadium tours, signed merchandise or a chance meet a player on the field after the match. In addition, members also receive exclusive discounts on the items they buy when using the pass. The card can be preloaded with credit for a completely cashless experience and can be used throughout their CenturyLink Field stadium.
MatchPass is also helping the club to shape positive behaviours, with fans encouraged to arrive 30 minutes or more before kick off for an early-bird points bonus.
The Sounders are not just improving their relationship with their supporters but also making themselves a more attractive proposition for sponsors. Data collected provides valuable customer insights into purchasing habits and match-day behaviour, whilst reward programmes can help to encourage product trial and generate loyalty – extending the relationship outside of the match-day environment.
Rights holders around the world should take note. You can’t assume loyalty. You need to earn it.
How much should you pay for a ticket to a football match or gig? In the past, the answer would have been simple: whatever the seller sees fit to charge you. However, the act of a company, brand or team selling access to their assets has developed substantially in recent years. Slapping a one size fits all price on an asset (and hoping for the best) is no longer an appropriate concept in this social era of consumer choice, and various companies, sports teams and bands are recognising this.
But the point isn’t just that ticketing is changing to absorb changes in consumer behaviour – it is fundamentally being driven by business priorities. In recent times, there has been a steady increase in pioneering pricing strategies, honesty payments and social media-influenced purchases, as parties in the sports and entertainment industries look for ways of maximising revenue through innovation. In industries such as live sport or music, with large fixed costs driving a high minimum cost per match or event, these innovative pricing strategies can represent a win-win for consumers and companies alike.
The Digonex pricing strategy is one approach that is spreading through American sport, and is beginning to be adopted by British sports teams. Described catchily as a ‘fan driven pricing system for event ticketing that scientifically changes prices based upon econometric and behavioural principles’, the system allows for ticket prices to be changed daily depending on market conditions. Similar to booking a flight or ticket to the theatre, the system allows for the flexibility to alter prices for every game dependent on demand.
Following a drop in attendances, brought on by collective belt tightening across their fanbase, Derby County were the first British sports team to test this pricing strategy. Having received special dispensation from the FA (usually clubs can only alter prices for four games per season), it is already proving a success, with attendances noticeably on the up. Tickets for all games are made available at the beginning of the season, meaning sensible Rams fans can book their tickets for big matches in advance to save them purchasing a more expensive ticket closer to the game. In order to appease season ticket holders, Derby have also ensured that ticket prices never drop to a price that would represent better value than a season ticket.
Cardiff have followed in Derby’s footsteps by adopting Digonex and Bristol City are soon to follow. Two Premiership rugby clubs are reported to be close to adoption of the system and the spread is expected to continue to major European sports teams. And why wouldn’t it? When fans can get cheaper tickets, and clubs can benefit from larger attendances and higher revenue on seats that would otherwise have been completely empty, everybody wins.
More recent examples are ‘pay what you want’ schemes for specific matches, dreamt up as a response to tricky economic circumstances and dropping attendances. Mansfield Town saw a doubling of their attendance when adopting the scheme for a game in 2010 and Brentford FC are running a similar promotion for a match against Stevenage in February. Supporters are able to pay whatever they want to for a ticket for the match (over £1) and 50% of any excess over £5 will be passed on to the ‘Sport Relief’ charity. In all these cases, the point is that the tickets would otherwise remain unsold – with no revenue to the club and no bums on seats. With minimal costs to the club involved in hosting an extra fan, this will boost club revenue and help fans out during tricky economic times – while also possibly introducing new fans to the club and generating goodwill through the donation to charity.
These innovative pricing schemes aren’t all just about direct impact on revenue though. Over recent years, there has also been an increase in one-off sales schemes by sports teams and bands as a way of reaching new audiences and/or showing themselves in a positive light. Most famously, Radiohead made a bold move by relying on ‘honesty payments’ for their ‘In Rainbows’ albums in 2007. Denounced and praised in equal measure, opinions differ on whether that move was a financial success. It is clear that money was not the primary driving force behind the idea, and similar moves have become increasingly prevalent around sports.
The evolution of social media is also having an effect on ticketing, with AEG, Malaysia Airlines and KLM examples of brands leading the way with inventive schemes. As an attempt to take on Ticketmaster, AEG have introduced their innovative ‘AXS’ ticketing service. As well as making life difficult for touts by seeking out automated servers purchasing large numbers of tickets, they have introduced a system that allows purchasers to reserve adjacent tickets for friends through Facebook for concerts, shows and other events. Alerted by Facebook, these friends have 48 hours to purchase these tickets knowing that they will be sat next to their mates. Again, it looks like everybody wins. Fans will have a better time sitting next to their mates (and not having to shell out on their friends’ tickets with the inevitable sluggish paying back process) and companies have a happier crowd. This may not directly impact on revenue, but it is likely to have an indirect effect on consumer morale.
Malaysia Airlines and KLM have gone one step further by attempting to socialise the art of booking and taking a flight. When booking a flight, users are reminded of friends who live close to their destination and informed of any friends who may be making a similar journey. Users also have the opportunity to share their itinerary, and through the seat selection process, are able to select seats next to Facebook friends. This clearly comes with a few privacy/stalking implications but the concept feels like a landmark step forward.
Why are these ideas on the increase? In each of these cases, the innovation behind the schemes opens doors to opportunities that benefit each of the stakeholders in the exchange. With Digonex, previously unsold tickets are more likely to be taken up, satisfying fans and helping the club put bums on seats. In a similar manner, the schemes by Malaysia Airlines and KLM give the airlines unique selling points, and the flying experience is enhanced for those making the journey. With the subject of rising ticket prices forcing itself towards the top of the sporting and entertainment agendas, this sort of innovative use of assets can help to maintain and develop healthy relationships between purchaser and seller.
With 19 league defeats so far this season, Ipswich Town aren’t going to win many accolades for their performances on the pitch. However, faced with the launch of their new kit, the Championship side demonstrated creative ability which should make any club sit up and take notice.
To publicise the kit launch, the Tractor Boys headed to Easton Farm to record a tongue-in-cheek viral that hugely entertained football fans across the country. In the film, goalkeeper Arran Lee-Barrett (who needs a bit of practice if their ‘goals against’ column is anything to go by) can be spotted diving around the farmyard and striker Jay Emmanuel-Thomas is filmed dribbling around milk containers. The club’s legendary attacker John Wark also makes a cameo appearance dressed as a farmer.
There’s obviously something in the East Anglian water, as their local rivals Norwich City took a similar approach in 2011, when they brought a bit of Italy to Norfolk with the launch of their Errea kit, through a viral that included Paul Lambert scanning the Gazetta dello Sport.
Why we love it
The football romantics amongst us will remember when kit launches were a rare event that would lead to genuine excitement. They’re now held on an annual basis, with most Premier League clubs producing three kits a year (has a third kit ever been worn?).
Despite plenty of opportunities to experiment, the majority of clubs still rely on a tried and tested way of getting mum and dad to part with their hard-earned cash. Chelsea recently displayed the usual activity undertaken by the majority of clubs, who rely on a photo with a handful of stars (normally including one who has been linked with a move away from the club) posing with the kit behind the club crest. Such launches usually incorporate a video, which in this case contains some particularly profound soundbites from Gary Cahill – “you’re used to seeing Chelsea in a blue strip innit” – and Juan Mata – “every team has a different kit.”
Ipswich Town haven’t taken themselves too seriously and have been willing for fans to have a bit of chuckle at their expense. The viral has been rewarded with over 124,000 views on YouTube to date with football fans quick to register their praise:
“Brilliant! Funny and engaging. Absolutely genius advertising and it doesn’t break the bank, very sensible of Ipswich. Well done!”
“I’m a Brighton fan, but I have to say this is quality!”
“Great idea and good to see a bit of humour instilled in football.”
The viral also received coverage across football forums and media outlets, with Ipswich Town’s retail manager Lee Hyde stating that it was another way to help the club interact with fans:
“It’s fantastic to interact with the fans through social media and social networking nowadays. The viral kinds of feeds from that.”
I won’t be heading to the Ipswich club shop anytime soon, but I definitely take my hat off to them and hope that one day my team Tottenham realise that marketing club merchandise doesn’t have to be quite so straight-laced.
The new adidas f50 miCoach is the first ‘boot with a brain’. The new boot integrates a miCoach Speed Cell into a cavity in the sole which captures and records 360 degree movements and key personal performance metrics.
The boots capture data including speed, average speed, maximum speed, number of sprints, distance, distance at high intensity levels and active training time, which it then transmits to tablets, PCs and Macs using a wireless link.
The miCoach internet platform allows players to upload, track, analyse and share their miCoach data. Once the sole preserve of sophisticated GPS systems, this allows any park player to monitor their performance, identify areas of improvement and compare their stats to those of their mates, teammates and the real professionals.
And as each player improves their performance on the real pitch, they reap the benefits on the virtual one. ‘Avatars’ (virtual personas) take part in a new social football video game – and the only way to build your avatar’s skills and level up is by doing the work in the real world. ‘Gamification‘ is a great way to engage this target audience and adidas have nailed it.
This is the biggest innovation in football boots since adidas launched the Predator. But, with its integrated digital and social elements, this will have a far broader and deeper impact.
For the first time, it gives every player the ability to analyse their own performance, track improvements and compare themselves to not only their mates, but also some of the greatest players on the planet. It is this integration of both professional and amateur players and an accessible, easy-to-use platform, which incorporates social media, that creates a truly unique and engaging brand experience for the consumer.
By putting ‘performance’ at the core, adidas enhances their positioning as the world’s leading performance brand. No matter what your ability level is from occasional 5-a-side player to Lionel Messi, there is always room for improvement and adi will help you get there.
This ‘boot with a brain’ creates engaging content and puts adidas at the centre of a global dialogue around performance. It has brought together football’s elite level with its grassroots in a way that pushes the thought that adidas enables you to be the best you can be.
What the brand says
The adidas vice president of global football, Markus Baumann, says ‘We have been working to develop a boot with a brain for some time and what we have produced will revolutionise the football industry.’ He goes on to say ‘What makes the boot unique is that for the first time you will be able to compare yourself to some of the best players in the world.’
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