Archive for the ‘Barclays Premier League’ category

Should Sponsors Resist Contractual Activation Guarantees?

In modern sponsorship, success is most frequently characterised as being about win-win partnerships, where both sponsor and rights holder benefit from the shared value created – in other words, the synergies – by activation at scale. When this happens in the UK, it’s usually the result of the sponsor delivering on a generally non-contractual commitment to activate.

However, at Synergy, we work on sponsorship contracts with rights holders around the world, and it’s not uncommon to see contractual activation guarantees, particularly in the US. These can take several forms, including guaranteed activation spends, ‘activation pots’ (where the brand can choose from a menu of items provided by the rights holder) and/or  activation commitments, such as leveraging on-pack to a minimum scale or dictating mandatory markets to activate within.

There is further complexity when rights holders dictate the channels that sponsors must use as part of their media buy. This typically takes the form of minimum media spend with the official broadcast partner, as part of a wider deal between the broadcaster and the rights holder. And in the latest potential evolution, the NBA is exploring mandating jersey sponsors, as part of any deals brokered in the future, to spending guarantees with its broadcast partners Turner and ESPN. Although terms of this are still very much under consideration, it is in response to fears from the broadcasters that brands with jersey sponsorships won’t need to buy as much of their media.  Of course it is not directly comparable, but imagine if Chevrolet, Emirates, Standard Chartered or Samsung were contractually obliged to buy a minimum number of commercial spots on Sky as part of their Premier League shirt sponsorship deals.

We are now beginning to see more and more of these type of clauses creep into contracts in the UK. So, what are the benefits and disadvantages to rights holder and sponsor?

It is easy to see the benefit to rights holders of being contractually guaranteed an active sponsor, who will take on the financial burden of promoting the asset, thereby increasing its visibility and value.

Contractual terms also protect rights holders at the end of longer deals, when it is not unusual for sponsors’ interest in activation to wane.

It is less easy to see the wins from the sponsors’ perspective. By being forced down certain paths, sponsors have less choice and flexibility on how they activate their sponsorship.

A minimum spend in itself could also be construed as counterproductive, as spend levels are not necessarily a proxy for reach or efficiency of messaging. Digital and Social in particular, can be highly targeted, with less wastage than channels such as Out of Home or TV, and are generally considered to be more cost efficient. If activated smartly, sponsorships can be leveraged on a tight budget.

Dictating a minimum spend in broadcast can also limit a brand’s ability to activate creatively across other channels, with budget tied up in costly media buys. It can also be strongly argued that brands know their own audiences and how to interact with them better than anyone, so are best placed to select their media strategy.

As Tim Crow suggested recently in his blog on the IOC’s Agenda 2020, imposing geographical obligations is equally unpalatable for sponsors. The IOC is contemplating this to stimulate local activation by TOPs, and whilst National Organising Committees naturally want to see these global brands activate at scale in their territories, sponsors have their business priorities across the globe, which demand the focus of their marketing budgets.

In truth, it is a very fine line between ensuring that partners are, and remain, active and simply trusting them to activate effectively. Rights holders will argue that they are simply safeguarding themselves against being used as a media buy, with little incremental benefit to themselves. The balance needs to be found where clauses are included with contracts to ensure that this doesn’t unduly restrict sponsors’ freedom of choice.


By on January 15th, 2015

Tags: Advertising, Barclays Premier League, Basketball, Brand marketing, Football Sponsorship, Innovation, IOC, Manchester United, Olympic sponsorship, Olympic sponsorship consultants, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy

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Liverpool Seeking 50% More From Shirt Sponsors As Gerrard Exits

Tim Crow talks to Bloomberg about Liverpool’s reported price tag of £30m per year for its next shirt sponsorship contract.

To read the article, click here.


By on January 6th, 2015

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Default, Football, Football Sponsorship, Manchester United, Press Clipping, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultants, Sponsorship measurement, Sponsorship valuation, Synergy

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Whose Name’s on The FA Cup?

Since Budweiser’s decision to withdraw from its £9m per year deal at the end of last season, The FA Cup has been without a main sponsor, with the FA as yet to find a suitable replacement lead partner for the oldest football tournament in the world. So it is fair to say the recent draw for the third round of the FA Cup felt a little odd.

Perhaps the main reason no brand has yet come forward to sponsor the FA Cup is an inability to assess the value of the PR opportunities and overall value the sponsorship offers. This is one of the reasons behind the recent launch of Synergy Decisions, a framework for sponsorship valuation set to help brands think about value in a whole new way.

Nonetheless, this is not the first time the FA Cup has been without a main sponsor. Littlewoods, the retail and consumer merchandise brand, was the first ever headline sponsor back in 1994. AXA took over from 1998 through to 2002, but following that there was a period of four years without a sponsor. E.ON entered the scene and agreed a deal in 2006 before subbing themselves off for Budweiser in 2011.

While some argue that the FA Cup has lost a bit of its magic and romance of old, its footprint remains staggering – 736 teams from across the country start out on the ‘Road to Wembley’ each season. Add in global audience figures for the Final (one of the few sporting events still shown live on terrestrial TV, as well as BT Sport) and it’s strange that there is still no successor to Budweiser.

Could the deeper problem be that the FA Cup is not something a brand can ‘own’ given the lack of a naming rights proposition, unlike the Capital One Cup, Barclays Premier League or Aviva Premiership? Comparing the FA Cup Final against that of the next biggest domestic cup competition in England, The Capital One Cup, delivers some interesting insights. The Capital One Cup Final is totally owned by the sponsor, which appears on all advertising and branding in and around the stadium, and also drives hundreds of mentions of the title sponsor.

In a way, this means the Capital One Cup is a celebration of the brand’s affinity with football. The FA Cup Final, meanwhile, offers the main sponsor fewer rights. You would imagine that the press would take a significant amount of persuading to incorporate ‘the FA Cup with Brand X’ into their copy. Brand X will only be mentioned through proactive activation via PR, social media and advertising.

The PR efforts of main sponsors are very important for rightsholders as it helps to promote the tournament as a whole, not just the sponsor’s brand. Having no one to replace Budweiser, who ran advertising, digital engagement and PR campaigns, means the overall promotion of the competition is likely to drop this season. However, this season the FA has noticeably stepped up its game, launching its own campaign called #FACupAdventure – which saw the FA Cup visit the South Pole for some launch photography. The campaign also includes a call-to-action encouraging fans to tweet images of their own FA Cup adventures this season.




It will be interesting to see how The FA’s efforts impact on their search for a sponsor and whether it will become even more challenging for the rightsholder to find an ideal partner next season, especially given eyes will already be beginning to be diverted to opportunities beyond 2015…

By on December 16th, 2014

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Communications, Default, FA Cup, Football, Football Sponsorship, Naming Rights

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A year like no other: Synergy’s 2014

As another year comes to an end, now seems a suitable time to reflect on a whirlwind 12 months for Synergy.

Here we outline some of our most innovative work in 2014, what the wider implications are for the industry, and what other campaigns have caught our eye and set the benchmark for what will undoubtedly be another busy and exciting year:


What we did:

2014 kicked off slightly early for some of the team at Synergy, who were at Twickenham activating IG’s inaugural sponsorship of The Big Game. Through the ‘Big Game, Bright Lights’ campaign, we looked to capitalise on the down-time that half-time offers and re-invigorate the crowd for the second half. By innovatively using Twickenham’s LED inventory, fans experienced an audio-visual spectacular that connected IG’s brand with Harlequins and gave fans the chance to win some amazing prizes.


Industry insight:

Half-time at sports games have often felt like a necessary evil for sports fans in the UK; a short break to allow the players to recover and fans to visit the facilities. The Pepsi Half-time show at the SuperBowl in February emphasised that US sport is still the benchmark for half-time entertainment, but IG’s work at Twickenham showed that, with a clear insight and innovative use of standard sponsorship inventory, the half-time break may no longer simply be used as an excuse to get the drinks in.


What we did:

The RBS 6 Nations tends to dominate the sporting agenda in February, and is often when Synergy is at its most active. As part of the RBS 6 Nations activation, Synergy helped to produce a series of films based on defining moments from the tournament. These films truly encapsulated the values of sportsmanship, perseverance and teamwork that the brand and the fans love about The Championship.

Industry insight:

Capturing sport’s inherent ‘truths’ like this, and amplifying them to produce content of interest, based on real insight, is a gift that fans want to receive. Guinness also managed this feat, with their films in honour of Jonny Wilkinson, Shane Williams and Bill McLaren, whilst Barclays’s impressively moving Premier League film captured the essence of the match day experience that makes football so special for fans, and so valued by brands.


What we did:

The Capital One Cup Final in March saw the climax of Capital One’s season-long campaign focused on ‘supporting the supporters’. As part of the Final activity, Capital One looked to maximise the audience of the final by offering free Now TV passes to those not lucky enough to have access to Sky Sports. This was a big gesture that delivered true value to football fans, who would otherwise have missed the first final of the 2013/14 season.

now tv

Industry insight:

Extending the true excitement of an event beyond those lucky enough to attend is a challenge facing a number of brands and rightsholders. However, alongside Capital One’s work, there have been a number of other examples in 2014 of brands bringing events closer to non-ticket-holders. Two that we particularly enjoyed were The National Theatre’s continued commitment to its National Theatre Live programme, which involves live screenings of theatre shows at local cinemas, and Manchester United’s partnership with Google+ that allowed fans around the world to ‘be’ at Old Trafford by appearing live on the pitch-side perimeter boards.


What we did:

In order to kick off MasterCard’s partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy created a photo moment on the Thames involving All Blacks legend Dan Carter kicking conversions over Tower Bridge. As emphasised on the Synergy blog, a good photo idea has to be reinforced with insight and good management in order to be successful. Both of these boxes were emphatically ticked here, with the resultant images capturing the imagination of the national media and providing one of the most compelling sports PR shots in recent memory.

Industry insight:

Other striking PR shots that grabbed our attention this year included the Yorkshire Building Society dying 150 sheep yellow in honour of the Tour de France and Puma’s water projection on The Thames to launch the new Arsenal kit. Once again, these examples looked fresh and innovative and therefore excited the media and fans alike.


What we did:

BUPA’s ‘My First Step’ campaign looked to get more people running by emphasising the ease with which people could start, or re-start, training. As part of the planning, BUPA and Synergy found that 60% of UK adults believed that their bodies would not be up to running once they reached 60, a myth BUPA looked to dispel as part of the campaign. 63 year-old non-runner Jennie Bond was recruited as an ambassador, as we followed her training journey that culminated in her completing the BUPA London 10,000 event.

Industry insight:

Consumer insight is clearly crucial for a successful sponsorship campaign, with the best examples based on thorough planning. Whilst the success of the ‘My First Step’ campaign was built on a relevant and robust consumer insight, we make no excuses for including another piece of Synergy work from 2014 that emphasised the importance of understanding a target audience. Ahead of Round 4 of the Capital One Cup, Capital One gave Brian Clough-style green jumpers to Nottingham Forest’s away fans at Tottenham as a tribute to their legendary manager. The story and images received widespread acclaim and, whilst the execution was impressive, the success of the story was thanks to the team’s insight around the 10th anniversary of Clough’s death and his unforgettable status within the game.


What we did:

June at Synergy signalled the launch of Coca-Cola’s ParkLives project. Following many months of in-depth planning and research, the aim of getting more people more active more often was brought to life through this bespoke programme in partnership with local councils, which provides free activity classes for local people in local parks in cities across the UK.


Industry insight:

The planning for the ParkLives campaign re-iterated that self-created programmes can often be the best way for brands to achieve their CSR goals, rather than simply buying an off-the-shelf proposition. Another great example of this in 2014 was Western Union’s ‘Pass’ programme around the brand’s UEFA Europa League sponsorship. Each successful pass made during the competition signified a contribution of financial support for quality education of young people around the world.


What we did:

The SSE team at Synergy were up in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the culmination of the brand’s GoGlasgow campaign. One of our many roles up in Scotland was managing SSE’s experiential activity on Glasgow Green, which allowed fans to capture a unique photo of themselves supporting their nation. Importantly this activity linked seamlessly into SSE’s wider campaign and fed into a digital leaderboard that acted as a real-time tracker on the conversations around the Games.

Industry insight:

Whilst by no means a new trend, by linking the experiential activity to the wider campaign and creating a strong digital output, the reach of SSE’s footprint went far beyond those lucky people at the Glasgow Green live site, and therefore generated significant engagement levels. Another really simple idea that we loved from this year was Nescafé’s activity in Croatia that again blended the online and offline world simply and effectively to create a fun and shareable experience.


What we did:

A couple of crazy days in late August saw Synergy manage the media launches for both the Guinness Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership 2014/15 rugby seasons, and give journalists, staff and fans unique access to two of the biggest club rugby competitions in Europe. The Guinness launch focused on staff engagement at Diageo’s global HQ in London, which gave employees the chance to quiz the Pro 12 captains; whilst Aviva’s event at Twickenham harnessed the Twitter reach of several of the players by creating the first ever ‘Captains selfie’ which provided fans with a fun, new viewpoint of the launch.

Industry insight:

One of the obvious benefits of sponsorship as a marketing tool is the ability for a brand to give their target audience behind-the-scenes access to something about which they care passionately. Whilst not specifically a launch, The FA’s use of the trophy to promote the sense of adventure around the upcoming third round of The FA Cup is a heart-warming example of a rightsholder giving fans unique access to something special (in this case, young fans being able to take the trophy on a series of their own adventures).


 What we did:

2014 has been a massive year for Martini and Synergy, as we have helped take the iconic stripes back to the Formula 1 grid through the title partnership of Williams Martini Racing. In September, at Martini’s home race at Monza, a massive pan-European trade promotion reached its climax, with consumers and trade partners having the chance to experience  an exclusive Italian weekend. This included rooftop parties, power boating on Lake Como and, of course, access to the Italian Grand Prix itself, and Synergy were on-hand to ensure this massive operation ran smoothly.

Industry insight:

Global sponsorships don’t get much bigger that a Formula 1 car deal, and Martini have used their sponsorship effectively to create unique promotions that engage with their target audiences. We also loved Coca-Cola’s huge FIFA World Cup on-pack promotion – offering consumers the chance to win one of a million footballs. For a brand that is committed to helping people get more active, this was a bold statement of intent. The additional element of a 10p donation to StreetGames for every purchase showed a brand that is embracing the Social Era and also reiterated that sponsorship, shopper marketing and CSR can work brilliantly together when applied correctly.


 What we did:

October was all about The 2014 Ryder Cup, and the BMW and SLI teams at Synergy used their sponsorships in very different ways to achieve their objectives. BMW focused on generating sales leads and bringing fans closer to the action, with all activity centring on the #DriveYourTeam hashtag, whilst SLI used the tournament to demonstrate their ‘World Class As Standard ‘proposition. Two unique content strategies helped to achieve these objectives, with BMW focusing on using Twitter to create relevant and reactive golf content for fans and SLI creating long-form video content with ambassadors Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange to connect the World Class attributes of The Ryder Cup with Standard Life Investments.

Industry insight:

As we all know, a single sporting platform can be approached in very different ways, and a third brand (this time a non-sponsor) who once again used The Ryder Cup as a prime PR opportunity was Paddy Power, and we loved their approach, using a tongue-in-cheek appearance from Nigel Farage to extol the virtues of Europe coming together.


What we did:

The QBE Internationals are always a busy time in Synergy’s calendar and this year we were busy creating fantastic social content for our new client, and England kit manufacturer, Canterbury. Using Canterbury’s innovative new shirt fabric as our literal canvas and creating messaging that linked the product with the team, we were able to put an innovative spin on real-time messaging and put the shirt at the heart of Canterbury’s content.

Industry insight:

As the fan appetite for real-time content continues to grow, the evolving challenge for brands is how to get serious cut-through from their communications. We therefore also liked Virgin Media’s real-time newsroom during the Commonwealth Games, which created fun, amusing and – most importantly – differentiated sponsor content throughout the Games.


What we did:

December has seen another milestone reached for Synergy, as the first instalment in a series of Royal Salute videos inspired by the world of horsemanship, reached over a million views on YouTube (across four geo-tagged edits for different markets). This visually stunning video beautifully encapsulates the bond between man and horse, and is perfectly in keeping with a luxury brand with a strong heritage in polo.

Industry insight:

We have thought about some of the other content we have enjoyed in 2014 and in no particular order, three of our favourites include:

Beats By Dre – The Game Before The Game

The ultimate ambusher pulled off a masterstroke – brilliantly framing the key moment before a game (the moment when Beats headphones have an obvious and key role for the players) with a little help from among others – Neymar (and his dad), Fabregas, Van Persie, Lebron, Serena and even the two stars of the World Cup final – Schweinsteiger and Gotze. The presence of the pantomime villain Suarez didn’t even detract from it!

Nike Football – The Last Game

We loved how Nike brought out the personalities of their superstars and used animation in a fresh and interesting way,  helping them to get around the obvious problems of bringing together a wealth of their talent for a shoot. The medium also opened the door brilliantly to the unique #AskZlatan real-time content series.

Always #LikeAGirl

A very different video – and one that doesn’t rely on any talent costs or high production values – but in an incredibly focused, simple and beautiful way reinforces Always’ commitment to empowering girls globally.

What do all of these videos have in common? All four of them are (in very different ways) tapping into something of genuine interest and relevance – whether a moment or a movement – and therefore people in their millions have actively chosen to watch, talk about and share them.

For Synergy, 2014 has unquestionably been a year to savour in sponsorship – here’s to another great year for the industry in 2015.

By on December 16th, 2014

Tags: Advertising, Aviva, Barclays Premier League, Blogging, BMW, Brand marketing, Branded content, Brazil, Brazil 2014, Commonwealth Games, Communications, Content, Creative, Default, Digital marketing, Experiential marketing, Football, Football Sponsorship, Golf, Guinness, Innovation, Kit sponsorship, PR, Public relations, RBS 6 Nations, Real Time Marketing, Rugby, Rugby World Cup, Social Media, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sport, Synergy, Synergy Loves, Twitter, Viral Marketing, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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The Portfolio Puzzle

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.

By on October 27th, 2014

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Measurement, Sponsorship, Sponsorship asset valuation, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship measurement, Sponsorship valuation

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Red Bullies? Why Red Bull’s Ownership Model has Caused a Stir in German Football

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.

Opposition fans and teams have been quick to voice their displeasure, with 15 minutes of silence from 20,000 Union Berlin fans the most recent example. The reason for this is the apparent threat to the current, strict 50+1 structure of club ownership in Germany, whereby clubs are owned by members. At Bayern Munich, for example, adidas (€75m), Allianz (€110m) and Audi (€90m) all have 8.33% stakes, but the 75% majority is controlled by the members. Having progressed through the divisions so quickly, RB Leipzig have been criticised for making club membership expensive and hard to obtain. This is supported by the fact that the club currently only has 300 members, compared to approximately 250,000 members at Bayern Munich.

Nein zu RB

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.

By on September 29th, 2014

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Football Sponsorship, Formula 1, Naming Rights, Red Bull, Sponsorship

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Our Favourite Things Of 2013

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.


“Immortal Fans”

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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.

By on December 19th, 2013

Tags: Advertising, Ambush campaign, Ambush Marketing, American football, Andy Murray, Barclays Premier League, Basketball, BBC, Blogging, Brand marketing, Branded content, Brazil, Brazil 2014, Charity, Communications, Consultancy, Content, Creative, David Beckham, Default, Engine, Experiential marketing, Facebook, Football, Football Sponsorship, Golf, London 2012, London 2012 sponsorship, Media, Mobile, Naming Rights, NFL, Olympic sponsorship, Olympics, PGA Tour, PR, Public relations, RBS 6 Nations, Rugby, Running, Social Media, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Sport, Synergy, Synergy Loves

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Major League Success

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.

To put that into context, that’s higher than 15 of the 20 Premier League clubs – including Chelsea – and higher than any team in Major League Baseball (save for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who averaged 46,216).

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.

By on November 21st, 2013

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Brazil, Brazil 2014, Celebrity, David Beckham, Football, Football Sponsorship, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Sport, Synergy, World Cup

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Sports Stars: The Tweet Smell of Success?

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:

*Jack’s also a Nike athlete.

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.”

Legal Issues

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.

By on October 21st, 2013

Tags: Barclays Premier League, Branded content, Celebrity, Consultancy, Digital marketing, Football, Media, Mobile, Olympics, Sponsorship Activation, Team GB, Twitter

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The changing model of shirt sponsorship

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?

By on September 10th, 2013

Tags: Advertising, Barclays Premier League, Brand marketing, Communications, Consultancy, Football, Football Sponsorship, Sponsorship, Television audiences

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