Synergy is on the ground in Brazil during the World Cup, in the shape of our pop-up PR and social media shop in Rio. In the latest in a series of blogs, Synergy’s Reema Babakhan takes us inside Nike’s ‘Casa Fenomenal’ brand experience in Rio.
Although Nike isn’t an official World Cup sponsor, as always it has a pervasive presence on the field via 10 team sponsorships (more than any other brand), including hosts Brazil. They also have endorsement deals with a glittering array of players, including boy wonder Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and many more, with a large number of them wearing the unmissable Mercurial Superfly boot.
As ever too, Nike is equally unmissable off the field, with a huge integrated global marketing campaign, featuring Casa Fenomenal,a major brand experience in Rio that Synergy visited this week.
Following previous residencies in several cities, including London and New York, Casa Fenomenal is set in a spectacularly re-booted industrial warehouse and it celebrates the passion, culture and energy of Brazilian football.
As the doors open, you are struck by the strobe lighting, huge Brazilian artworks on the walls, banging DJ sets and LED screens that fill the venue. A huge cage in the centre plays host to a ‘winner stays on’ 3-a-side football tournament, where Rio kids play with spectacular skills and tricks.
Also on show are interactive exhibitions showcasing the most famous Nike ambassadors, evolutions of Nike’s boots and shirts, the history of the teams sponsored by the famous ‘swoosh’, and an opportunity to try out the aforementioned Mercurial Superflys.
With Nike VIPs also mingling with the crowd – Brazil and Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho on the night we were there – and Rio favourite, MC Marcinho playing a set that had the crowd going wild, Nike Casa Fenomenal was a stunning experience that unquestionably won the hearts and minds of the young, cool, football mad (and wealthy) Cariocas that Nike targets.
Throw in free WiFi, a stunning cinematic setting and sensory-busting exhibitions, and there’s no question that Nike is as ever at the beating heart of the World Cup. And there’s nothing official about it.
In the latest SportsBusiness Journal, there’s a brilliant interview by SBJ’s Executive Editor Abe Madkour with David D’Alessandro, the former CEO of John Hancock Financial Services. D’Alessandro, a larger than life character who was a big and often controversial voice in sports sponsorship during his career (he retired in 2004), is fascinating and entertaining: on business, on being a CEO, and in particular on his attitude to sponsorship and John Hancock’s time as a global partner of the IOC – much of it very timely stuff given recent events in and around Sochi 2014. With Abe’s kind permission, I’ve reproduced some of the key passages from the interview below.
D’Alessandro on his sponsorship philosophy:
“Go big or go home. That’s my philosophy…Most companies are looking to increase market share. So how do you make yourself look three times bigger than you really are? By sponsoring something big and driving its revenue. Go big or go home.”
On successfully executing a sponsorship:
“Successful sponsorships don’t come from the brand people. It comes from the top, leadership at the company. The brand people don’t sit around the big table. They are all over at the kids’ table…You can’t go big unless leadership goes big. So you need to spend your time on the leadership first. You need access to the very top people.”
On getting buy-in to the John Hancock IOC sponsorship:
There wasn’t buy-in at first. In any corporation, you have a lot of marketing programs. This division, that division, this product line, that sales force – and each of them has this little empire, and in that empire they have something they like doing. This guy is sponsoring a Little League team. this guy has a lead-generation program, this guy has some advertising gig. And they all think they are the most important. A strong CEO says: ‘You know what? We are spending $80 million a year if you add it all up.’ Smart marketers say, ‘How do I get everybody under the same roof?’ You’ll never convince them. You’ll never get consensus. You have to dictate it. You have to say. ‘We are going to sponsor this. All you get in line. We are doing the Olympics…so get in line. Get rid of your contracts. I want everybody here.’ And then what happens is, ‘Oh my God, it starts to work.’”
On the success of the John Hancock IOC sponsorship:
“Our sales were going up…We had a common marketing program that everybody could get on board with. We weren’t spending any more money than we used to, but our name recognition was going way up and we were getting into deals we couldn’t get into. And we were attracting sales people that would sell for other companies and other brokers that wouldn’t sell for us before. We had record sales the years we were with the Olympics. Now, do I think it’s all because of the Olympics? No. Do I think it helped us? I certainly do…[it also helped land major deals in China and Japan when the company entered those markets.] Being an Olympic sponsor is a big deal in many parts of the world.”
On his strategy during the Salt Lake scandal [In 1999 reports emerged accusing members of the IOC of taking bribes from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee during the bid process for the 2002 Winter Games. The allegations dominated the headlines and sparked multiple investigations, and D’Alessandro was a lone voice in the sponsorship community calling for the IOC to take action. He repeatedly and publicly criticized the body for system failure, making him a very polarizing figure — so much so that NBC Sports’ Dick Ebersol publicly called him a “bully” and stated he should “shut up.”]
Does he regret being so outspoken? “Why would I have regrets? They pissed me off. They lied. When the bribery issue first started, the IOC called me and told me, ‘In two weeks, this whole thing will be done.’ Then it became clear that they were covering this up and wanted to sweep it under the rug. What bothered me about it, and it seemed pretty fundamental, is that I actually grew up believing in the Olympics. I still do. At Hancock, our product offering was very simple. Whether it was mutual funds or investment funds or insurance, you give us your money, and when you come to get it, it will be in bettershape. You’ll have more money. Trust us. TRUST us. I didn’t do the Olympic deal to be in bed with someone whose brand was, ‘Don’t trust us.’ And it was not trustworthy. We were the only one of the big sponsors who was really tapping into the ‘trust’ factor. I’m paying you $40 million or $50 million and you look immoral. Our research and surveys were starting to show that our sales competition was saying, ‘You are going to buy from those guys?’
On why he didn’t cancel the John Hancock IOC sponsorship:
He says he refused to just drop the sponsorship, even though it would have been the easy PR fix. Instead, he fought for changes. “Let’s say we simply dropped the sponsorship, which would be the corporate thing to do, which we could’ve done with our [morals] clause. But you’ve got six to eight years invested in it already. So that’s $300 [million] to $400 million invested in this thing, including advertising. So I’m going to drop it? Really? If a company drops a sponsorship, that guy who pushed it is dead; a dead man walking inside the company. They don’t stay. So I’ve got $300 [million] to $400 million invested in the Olympics. What am I supposed to do? Say ‘he’ made a mistake? ‘I’ made a mistake? You stick it out.” He says he’s still surprised more people didn’t speak up. “Of the sponsors, I was the only CEO involved.” He picks at his salad and looks back at me. “It was by keeping their feet to the fire that they made a lot of changes. They weren’t ready to do that.” And it did lead to reform: There was the expulsion of several IOC members and adoption of new IOC rules. “I saw Jacques Rogge in 2002, and he said to me, ‘I didn’t like it at the time, but you did a great thing for us by keeping us alert.’ The IOC has no tolerance for scandal now. If there was a scandal in the IOC, it would be handled much more quickly.”
On his worst Olympic experience:
“Atlanta put on a terrible Olympic Games,” he says. “I was there for a week. It was like having a circus. They weren’t ready for prime time. It was over-commercialized. It was the worst of Americana, and it really turned off a European-centric IOC. The IOC learned something from that. They learned the Atlanta presentation was great, but you can’t pick these things on presentations. So they put much more solid teams in place to go around and look at the cities and facilities.”
The full interview can be viewed here. Believe me, it’s worth your time.
2014 marks Synergy’s 30th year in business. No small achievement, and we’re very proud to have played our part in the transformation of the sports and entertainment marketing industry in that time, and, above all, to have worked with so many amazing people and organisations. To all of you, but in particular to our people and our clients past and present, we thank you and salute you!
Naturally, we wanted to do something to celebrate and to share #Synergy30 (of course, there’s a hashtag), but rather than looking back, true to the innovation that has defined us throughout our 30 years, we’re going to look forward at the future of sports and entertainment marketing. And so, throughout 2014, we’ll be bringing you specially-created and timely piece of content on that theme, some made by us, some made by friends of the company.
So, to get #Synergy30 started, who better than the legendary Patrick Nally, the man who back in the 1970s created the sponsorship model for global events, to consider the future of sponsorship. And, in a thoughtful and hard-hitting piece, to preserve and enrich the salience of sponsorship, he calls for radical and total re-think of the global sporting ecosystem that his sponsorship model did so much to create.
Enjoy, and please feel free to comment below and share on the social network of your choice, using #Synergy30. Over to Patrick…
There is a grave danger that unless we respond to the changed social landscape, sponsorship will be questioned, challenged and threatened with radical decline. Brazil, the host of both the next World Cup and Olympics, is facing a social uprising challenging why the Government is funding mega events and not social investment, creating a questionable sponsorship environment. And every major event, Sochi 2014 being the latest, also sees questions raised about the involvement and influence of sponsors, with certain categories as lightning rods.
When I started West Nally my focus was on using sport as a communication medium. It had to change when I was asked to find a commercial solution to fund the emerging International Sports Federations. The key to the West Nally approach was to create a deliverable package of sponsorship rights to be sold exclusively to global partners in non-competing business and commercial categories. It demanded a fresh mindset from governing bodies and event hosts, who had previously struggled to manage commercial activities. West Nally went on to work with most of the world’s major governing bodies including FIFA, the IOC, IAAF, IFB, and ITF, and the programmes West Nally developed in the 1970s effectively became the blueprint for sports sponsorship and remain so today.
Coca-Cola became the first official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup at the 1978 tournament in Argentina.
It’s difficult to understand why our approach has lasted so long, especially when ‘the package’ was not designed to meet the sponsor’s objectives, but to maximize the rightsholder’s revenue. It is also difficult to comprehend that those very organisations have never seriously debated this old approach, concentrating on renewing and extending their existing contracts for as long, and for as much, as they could.
In many respects the world is almost unrecognisable to that of the 1970s when West Nally was launched. It has been transformed by technology, by the emergence of new economies and of vibrant nations with a desire to play a major and responsible role on the world stage. It is a world of fantastic opportunity but also of major challenges, including concerns about the health of a generation of less active young people. But one thing which has not changed is the world’s passion for sport which, thanks to developments in media, is now more universally available than ever before. Sport is a significant and positive force in business and in society, but we have to accept that as the world has changed, that the established ways of doing things may no longer be appropriate or effective.
If we want the sports marketing industry to continue to grow, it needs to be directly involved in the debate and examination of the relationships between sports and the worlds of commerce, education, technology, governments and politics and society in general. It is essential that a new roadmap be produced with fresh guidance for all stakeholders. It is important that the Industry encourages International Federations to accept that the resources and expertise of the Industry, as well as leading commercial organisations (sponsors), National Governments, Universities, Academics, media and content conglomerates, should combine to positively review a new approach.
Many of the models for the governance of sport, its relationship with sponsors and the world of business, for bidding for and hosting major events, and sport’s role in education and society in general, were established many years ago and need to be tested and re-evaluated against the realities of a world which has been shrunk by technology, but which continues to create new social challenges.
Sports Ministers from more than 130 countries recently issued The Berlin Declaration, which publicly underscored their joint determination to ensure that sport is accessible to all as a matter of right, to promote public investment in physical education, and to review the whole approach to the hosting of Mega Events. To do that, we have to understand exactly how sport fits into our 21st century world and to develop themes and specific strategies to ensure it remains positive, relevant and engaging to all stakeholders – especially to sponsors.
The new roadmap needs to redefine the relationship between sport and commercial partners, to maximise the role and benefit of sport at every level of education. To explore the beneficial relationship between sport and technology. To identify new and more relevant forms of best practice in the governance of sport. To consider the rationale for hosting major sports events and the expectations of governing bodies. To consider the relationship between sport and all elements of traditional and social media. To consider the legal status of sport, its events and athletes and the relevance and effectiveness of existing procedures. To measure, record and address the attitudes of young people to sport. To assess the changing value of sport as a medium and entertainment property alongside other cultural and artistic activities.
A challenging, but essential task.
Patrick Nally, January 2014.
Picture credit: AFP/Getty
About Patrick Nally
Patrick Nally is widely acknowledged as the ‘founding father’ of modern sports marketing.
With BBC presenter and sports commentator Peter West, Patrick founded the West Nally Group in 1969 as a public relations agency with a specialized sporting events mandate. With West as chairman and managing director Nally its driving force, the company would go on to redefine the sports business by pioneering the offering to blue chip companies of exclusive, off-the-shelf packages of sponsorship rights to the world’s largest sports tournaments on behalf of the world’s leading sports federations.
In 1976, on brokering an agreement to sponsor the FIFA World Cup, the company assured its reputation as a leading innovator within the expanding sports marketing field. Employing over 400 staff in 14 offices across 11 countries in its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, West Nally has served as partner to, among others, the IOC, FIFA, UEFA, the Davis Cup and Federation Cup in tennis, the Hockey World Cup, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the International Rowing Federation (FISA), the International Cycling Union (UCI), the International Association of Athletics Federations, and the FIS World Ski Cup.
Still very much involved with the development of major sports, in 2009 Nally took up the lead in promoting poker as a mind sport on a global stage. As the current President of the International Federation of Poker (IFP), founded in Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the Olympic movement and most other sports federations, it is his intention to champion poker as a game of strategic skill, alongside chess, bridge, draughts and Go. With more than 50 member nations, IFP promotes the game through its unique Match Poker format, which eliminates the luck of draw and utilises smartphones instead of physical cards. While the size and scope of IFP keeps expanding, the goal remains the same: to promote the educational, social and respectable values of poker as a mind sport.
For some years, Patrick has also been working with the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to assist in establishing relationships with international sport federations and explore ways of using sport as a portal for education. Patrick is a lecturer and touring fellow of the World Academy of Sport and a past Academic Director of the IE Business School in Madrid’s Master in Sports Management teaching the use of sport as the ultimate communications medium.
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.
Tim Crow features in isportconnect TV’s Weekly Round Up, discussing how Tokyo 2020 will evolve Olympic & Paralympic marketing, why Tokyo won the 2020 Games over Istanbul, and the challenges the IOC faces to make the Olympics more appealing to younger audiences.
Sponsorship professionals: we know the numerous daily challenges you face and that this places huge pressure on your time.
Is it the emergence of big data, social media, the evaluation report for the CEO, your nagging to do list, how to magic up some tickets for the Chairman’s friend, meeting a new agency or a million and one things that are each as urgent as the next? The world of sponsorship is filled with opportunity and challenges. Today’s always-on connectivity means you never switch off and alongside the pace of change that today’s sponsorship executives face, it’s easy to lose focus and forget the fundamentals.
This is why our belief has always been, and always will be, simple: it’s the big idea that connects your brand to fan passions. That is the key to unlocking the enormous potential of sponsorship. And given that it is the vital ingredient, we give ourselves the time to get it right.
In our world we have a unique challenge. Sponsorships are more often than not long-term relationships, normally more than three years and not uncommonly over a decade. Creativity, innovation, reinvention, imagination – call it what you will – is therefore a critical factor in connecting with your audience and extracting maximum value from your ongoing partnership.
Sponsorship can offer a rare intimacy in a fragmented communications world; a way to connect your brand through fan passions and make you loved. And the central principle of our agency since we were founded in 1984: innovation is what unlocks the greatest value for sponsors.
This is why we invest heavily in our people and processes to generate the very best in innovative thinking. All great ideas start with an audience insight and through an understanding of their unique behaviours. Align that with a deep understanding of a brand, and you have the starting point for a unique positioning on which to base creative thinking.
Our process allows us to generate ideas that are effective – the key to landing ideas that have impact. There is often debate if marketing is a science or an art and, of course, it’s both. We apply science to give us audience understanding and metrics; with creative magic to give us ground-breaking, bold and innovative ideas.
We rely on this process, as we’re constantly challenged to create and deliver the ‘big idea’. For some campaigns this comes once a year, for some once a month and for others even more frequently – and it’s critical to the value we add for our clients.
It’s how we approach everything and makes sure our clients never face the challenge of “We’ve been in this sponsorship for years, how do we continue to create new ideas to not become lost as part of the wallpaper?”
If those challenges sound all too familiar, we’d love to help you inject some new life and energy into your partnership.
Let’s look at a small sample of brands we’ve been helping recently:
BMW Sweet Chariot
The brief: create a connection between BMW and England Rugby fans to land the brand in rugby.
The idea: the shared value of Sweet Chariot as a rugby anthem and link to transport provide BMW’s content sweet-spot.
The brief: to create an outstanding, once-in-a-lifetime Olympic experience for consumers and launch Powerade GB’s Twitter presence.
The idea: to connect Powerade’s key London 2012 assets – Jess Ennis, access to the Olympic Stadium and the product – to offer consumers the chance to be the first to run on the Olympic 100m track.
Guinness Surge Bar at Twickenham
The brief: Drive footfall to, and talkability about, the new Guinness Surge bar at Twickenham.
The idea: Invite England legend, Lewis Moody, to become the official landlord of the bar, giving fans on match day a totally new and surprising experience.
All these ideas are created with fans in mind but how do we connect them and their passion with those of the brands? As a start point, we consider the four key circles of influence that help centre the sponsorship on a singular creative thought:
1. Brand – Understand your brand and don’t be afraid to completely overhaul your approach. Many brands and businesses go through enormous change during the term of a sponsorship. Make sure you are always relevant and true to your own brand and then make sure this is always at the heart of your creative positioning to maximise value.
2. Audience- Ensure you apply specific thinking for each target audience – the best sponsorships will have different approaches for different audience groups, including employees, customers and the general public. Spend some time exploring what will excite each of your key target groups.
3. Connections – Devote time to making connections between your brand and fans to create brilliant campaigns. If you don’t excite fans with your activation, you may as well not bother. Once you have your creative plan, test it to make sure it your audiences love it. This is even more critical for long term sponsors – consumers know you and expect you to add to their experience. Make certain you don’t let them down.
4. The Partner – As your business or brand priorities change, make sure you have dialogue with your rights holder so they are crystal clear on your needs and objectives. Partnerships should be mutually beneficial and it’s important that your work together to make ideas work. In an ideal world, rights holders should always make your return on investment the number one objective of the partnership. They can be a massive support in delivering the big idea – and quite the opposite too if you don’t engage them.
So that’s a little bit of science, but it’s impossible to share our magic through a blog post, so I’ll just leave you with this…
Magic can make a massive difference to your sponsorship. Find some time and the right partner to help you refocus and unlock the value for your brand. And suddenly your magic will appear everywhere.
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.
On a recent visit to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals a couple of weeks ago, I was struck – as I’m sure many other tennis fans were – by the whizzy digital atmosphere created for the matches at the O2 Arena, where pounding music, lasers and LEDs all combine to create a genuine spectacle. It may be tennis, but not as you or I know it – and a far cry from the traditional, and very white, Wimbledon Championships.
It’s not just the ambiance which is different; rule tweaks, with matches played as best of three rather than five, are in place to shorten matches from the Grand Slams. And, of particular interest to this blog, is the friendliness to sponsors. The O2 Arena, in its ATP World Tour Finals guise, is bursting at the seams with sponsor branding, with neon perimeter ads for sponsors including Barclays, Ricoh, Corona and FedEx. So far, relatively standard. But add to this that every ace hit during the tournament is sponsored by Mercedes, and Ricoh’s ownership of the match facts, and it’s fair to say that fans face a sponsor bombardment, unusual not only in tennis but in top-level sport in the UK.
So, have the ATP World Tour Finals gone too far? Not necessarily.
While such a level of branding clearly isn’t appropriate for every sporting event, this particular tournament has established its own tone and atmosphere, which creates an appropriate context for more ‘in your face’ sponsorship. To make the obvious comparison, it just wouldn’t work at Wimbledon (forget the fact that on-court branding isn’t allowed there – there’s just a sense that it doesn’t feel right for such a traditional and refined event). And in fact it’s not just the amount of branding that feels more relevant to the context but the type too – the “night out” atmosphere creates a better fit for a beer brand such as sponsor Corona.
Is this openness on the part of the ATP at the World Tour Finals good news for the sponsors? In some senses, yes. More visibility combined with record numbers of fans tuning in to watch this year’s tournament creates more exposure for sponsors – the bedrock of many brands’ sponsorship objectives. The ATP screens and LEDs provide a great platform for communicating sponsorship campaigns, such as Barclays ball kids programme. But are these sponsors having to work as hard as they might if branding opportunities weren’t simply served (excuse the pun) up to them on a plate? At Wimbledon, the only brands on court are those with an authentic role in proceedings – Slazenger providing the balls, Rolex the clocks, Robinson’s the drinks, and so on. This filter clearly isn’t apparent at the ATP, unless there is an existing link or brand campaign connecting Mercedes and aces.
Of course, that’s not to say that the ATP World Tour Finals sponsors’ greater branding opportunities stop them from activating creatively off-court (see Corona’s beach bar for example), nor that they can’t use these opportunities to support a bigger sponsorship campaign with an authentic brand or product link at its heart. However, considering the highly tactical nature of some of the uses of branding, it is at least possible to make the argument that an exposure-strategy trade-off exists for sponsors.
On the other hand, if it’s fair to say (as I have) that some sporting environments are more appropriate for this sort of branding than others. At Twickenham for example, there is a heartbeat soundtrack and graphic on the newly installed LED screens for video referee decisions in the same way there is at the ATP World Tour Finals – could a (relevant) brand claim ownership of this? At football, could the right brand sponsor goal announcements or injury time?
If harnessed to a genuine brand insight, more branding doesn’t have to feel crass – in fact, it could be ace.
It will not have escaped the attention of anybody who owns a TV that BSkyB have been thrown into yet another fight to win the hearts, minds and subscriptions of sports fans. This is by no means a new challenge for the broadcaster, who in the past has beaten off competitors like On Digital, Setanta and ESPN. However, after spending more than £1bn on sports rights, including 38 Barclays Premier League football matches, BT look set to give BSkyB their toughest battle yet. This is reflected in the fact that more than a million people have signed up to BT’s new sports television package in its first three months alone – before a Premier League ball has even been kicked.
Sponsorship will play its part in the battle for sport broadcasting supremacy. BSkyB-owned online gambling brand Sky Bet was unveiled as the new title sponsor of The Football League in July; the five-year deal spans from 2013-14 to 2017-18 seasons.
The deal has been viewed as a very shrewd move, with Sky Bet acting as a vehicle to drive users to Sky Sports. Sky Bet director, Richard Flint, revealed to Sports Sponsorship Insider last month that the company’s objectives for the sponsorship can be broken down into the following areas. Firstly, Sky Bet wants to increase recognition and awareness of its brand. Secondly, Sky Bet wants to increase its front of mind awareness for existing customers so they spend more on skybet.com than with its main competitors, such as Bet365, Ladbrokes, Betfair, Paddy Power or William Hill. Finally, Sky Bet wants to acquire new customers and drive revenue directly from the websites and mobile apps of the 72 Football League clubs.
The sponsorship is a great fit for Sky Bet, as football betting accounts for over half of the company’s revenue during the football season. Similarly, The Football League has invested heavily in its online presence in recent years. The official Football League app has more than 700,000 users; its website attracts over eight million unique visitors per month, which combined with a growing Twitter following of nearly 176 000 followers, there is clearly a ready-made, highly engaged audience for Sky Bet to tap into. In conjunction with its sister brand, Sky Sports, Football League viewers will be inundated with Sky Bet messaging during live matches and via a number of Sky-owned football programmes, which has the potential to see the number of new Sky Bet users grow significantly.
Football League Chairman Greg Clarke said: “I am delighted to welcome Sky Bet to working with The Football League and its clubs. This agreement takes our long-term partnership with Sky to a new level and provides a genuine boost to clubs ahead of the new season.”
The war between BT and BSkyB looks set to continue, with each organisation looking to out-manoeuvre the other. It will be interesting to see whether BT decide that they too need to step up their sponsorship activity, in line with their broadcast footprint.
The stage is set and there’s everything to play for: question is, who’s in line for the title come the end of the season?
Alongside the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Neymar has been the biggest news in Brazilian football in the last few years, and one of the hottest topics in Brazilian advertising and marketing too. And now, with his move from Santos to FC Barcelona, his stage has moved from Brazil to Europe and, maybe, the world.
Neymar is part of a generation of Brazilian players that, despite some very talented names, lacks the quality of Romário, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. He is still too young to already be considered part of this pantheon, but Brazilians hope he will get there soon.
Mentos, the confectionary brand, was the most recent to announce Neymar as its face in Brazil. They did it last week, at the same time he was signing the contract with Barcelona. Asked about the fact that the player was leaving Brazil, Henrique Veloso Romero, the company’s president, said that it didn’t matter where he’s living or playing, because Mentos is associating its brand with Neymar’s story.
Actually, Neymar’s story is part of a traditional Brazilian fairytale of the poor boy who becomes a global football star. The same thing happened to Pelé, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, and all of them got the attention of Brazilian consumers. That’s the reason why the Brazilian media is doing 24/7 coverage of Neymar’s new life in Barcelona: the arrival at the airport, the clothes he is wearing, the Spanish fans, his girlfriend’s reactions, and so on. In this context his football skills appear to be secondary.
No one can question Neymar’s appeal to brands and consumers. He has a good story to tell, bags of charisma, and the skills to score goals and deal with the media at the same time. The problem is that so far no brand has found some white space within the ‘Neymar brand’ to communicate something unique and different. He is everywhere, but he is always doing the same kinds of testimonial and campaign.
Brand managers must consider that Neymar is an asset that carries some very characteristic values – goals, youth, irreverence, parties, beautiful women, trendy hairstyle, fairytale story etc. – but that these values can’t apply to every possible brand, category and strategy, especially when so many other brands are using him in the same way.
And there are alternatives! A recent survey asked Brazilians which values footballer and non-footballer athletes convey, and the results were very interesting. Football players are usually associated with popular values and a Brazilian spirit. On the other side, athletes outside of football are more associated with trust, intelligence, beauty, modernity, and dressing well. Of course Neymar is an exception and can bring many of these values with him, but this research proves that football and football players – in particular Neymar – are not always the answer to brands looking to work with sports in Brazil.
Note: Neymarketing is a term coined by our friend and partner Tim Crow.
Bruno and Guilherme are partners at Ativa Esporte, the Brazilian sports marketing consultancy which is Synergy’s partner in Brazil.
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