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ESports: It’s in the Game

Banana, Fenrir and ppd. No, that’s not a profound spellcheck error, but actually three superstar players who, as part of separate teams, competed for $10.1m in prize funds at a single tournament earlier this year. To make a comparison, this is only 19% less than what UEFA paid out to Real Madrid for winning La Décima in 2014.

Unlike Bale, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, however, you probably haven’t heard of them, their teams or even the sport they play. They won their money playing Dota 2, an online multiplayer battle arena game, think digital chess combined with fantasy gaming, and they represent top members of the growing eSports community.

ESports is a catchall phrase for what is essentially competitive computer gaming: organised tournaments, put on either by game producers, game players or independent bodies. The range of competitive games is, as you’d expect, huge, but they mostly fit within competitive categories; from the lesser-known computer-based multiplayer games, such as League of Legends and the aforementioned Dota 2, to major console gaming titles such as Call of Duty and the EA Sports FIFA Series.

ESports have long been part of gaming culture, but as this generation of tech-savvy gamers has grown up with high-speed Internet in conjunction with the growth of free-to-use video stream sites, such as YouTube and Twitch, the growth of the competition and consumption elements of eSports has sky-rocketed. We spoke with Kyle Bautista, General Manager of compLexity Gaming – one of the world leaders in competitive gaming – who told us: ‘Players and teams have been competing in these games for decades, but the problem was being able to expose a large enough audience to them to get people to know they existed, let alone sustain any substantial growth. The biggest contributor to the growth of eSports is likely Twitch and other livestreaming services.’

Following its growth in 2014, which saw its number of visitors surge by 513% from 371m to 1.9bn, Twitch was purchased by Amazon, and whilst the parent company’s influence has so far been minor, Twitch’s recent purchase of the company ‘Good Game’ – which manages eSports teams ‘Evil Geniuses’ and ‘Alliance’ and also curates eSports tournaments – suggests that Twitch is looking to integrate itself even further into eSports culture.

Amazon will be hoping to replicate Google’s success with YouTube (which sees successful content creators having their streams and videos sponsored by advertisers) on Twitch as a long-term monetisation programme. The advertising streaming option is beneficial as it promotes both great content creation from its users, as they receive a cut of the money, but also encourage brands to spend their valuable ad money on successful channels. To make Twitch as accessible as possible for brands, however, it has to rely on its predicted growth coming to fruition and provide detailed audience segmentation for brands to tap into.

Unlike traditional sports, whose history lies within live events and then TV or radio broadcast, eSports have grown out of an Internet-connected audience and their users exist almost exclusively online. Where big sporting rightsholders have been catching up with new Internet consumption habits, eSports were moulded by them and will continue to grow because of them. It’s unlikely that those habits are going to break, with Vice President of eSports at Riot Games Dustin Beck describing eSports fans as ‘a generation who aren’t consuming their content on TV’, going on to describe TV as ‘not a goal or a priority’.

These changing habits reflect the wider change in content consumption in the Western world: the same access of high Internet speeds that spawned the success of eSports also created a Netflix generation who watch what they want, when they want and on the platform of their choosing. In the future, as this generation matures, the consumption rates of eSports will continue to grow: it already surpasses the likes of NBA Finals and the MLB World Series in viewing figures.

The average eSports fan consumes 10.5 hours of content a week compared to traditional sports fans who watch 7.5 hours a week. Furthermore according to IHS, eSports video will bring in $300m in online advertising revenue alone in 2017, with consumption of eSports to double in size to 6.5bn.

Whilst the access to and usage of Internet-enabled devices has had a major part in the growth of eSports, so has the public perception of gaming as both a pastime and art form. Corporations such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have helped power a global growth in console gaming, popularising a wealth of highly intelligent and beautifully designed games.

This, in conjunction with the proliferation of home PCs, has helped make gaming, as a mainstream activity, become more socially acceptable. As growth in ownership of powerful devices such as smart phones, tablets and consoles continues, so will the perception of gaming itself. For the masses, eSports still represent a niche corner of the more acceptable scene. As growth continues, however, this is likely to become a more widely accessed sporting event.

Where previously the sponsorship of eSports has been dominated by endemic brands such as Alienware – whose activations have been mostly restricted to logos on apparel and a few sponsored streams – we’re now seeing the likes of Coca-Cola, Red Bull and American Express stepping into the space and bringing their unrivalled sponsorship experience to the fore.

Coca-Cola has a large following on its @CokeESports Twitter account, delivering both a Millennial-focused platform for Coke Zero, alongside a few simple activations such as printing out fans’ League of Legends characters on bottles and cans at tournaments.

Meanwhile, American Express released personalised debit cards for fans, citing the hard to reach Millennial demographic being the exact reason for their sponsorship. ESports for these brands offer unique opportunities to access a global consumer audience, mostly Millennial, who are bypassing traditional advertising routes. For Bautista, these big brands create an entirely new proposition for eSports: ‘The addition of someone like a Coca-Cola, a MasterCard, or Nissan certainly brings a higher level of expectation to an event or team, but it also opens up more doors. The ability of a blue-chip company to create an extensive and innovative interaction between their world-renowned product and their targeted audience is what makes the non-endemic sponsors so exciting.’

It is debatable, however, how both the non-gaming public, Media and Government would welcome heavy brand investment in a move towards more sedentary ‘sporting’ activities. Here in the UK, the Government pushes a number of healthy living initiatives, notably Change4Life which encourages movement, whilst stories about the apparent ‘obesity crisis’ are never far away from the news.

Meanwhile, to the concern of many, sedentary gaming activity appears to be on the rise. A recent study by Nielsen revealed that on average US gamers play for 6.3 hours a week, an increase of over one hour since 2011; moreover a UK Government briefing reported that 55% of English boys play video games for two hours or more every day. Overly heavy brand sponsorship of this sedentary activity, therefore, has a certain risk factor; with the wrong PR and communications angle, it could have a negative impact on the brand’s relationship with both stakeholder groups. The latter especially might lead to a reduction in brand perception metrics, in particular trust.

Admittedly it is true that major sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics, are often watched in sedentary (and arguably unhealthy) environments at homes and pubs. However, the key difference is that these traditional events have the potential to inspire movement (in children especially); Coca-Cola GB, for example gave away one million footballs during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and McDonald’s, as a sponsor of the Home Nation FAs, are heavily involved in the grassroots game. ESports, on the other hand, lacks an obvious link to promote physical activity, over just simply inspiring more consumption of gaming and sedentary spectating. Sponsors, therefore, will have to work hard to come up with creative solutions if they are to fully justify their sponsorship with some important stakeholders.

Another point for consideration for brands must also be the perceived danger of video games on the psyche of young people. Over the past few years there has been a great deal of debate over the link between violent video gaming and real life aggression. Although Twitch users have to be aged 13+, and there are barriers (such as age gates and profanity filters) to underage consumption of adult-themed material and language, this is by no means foolproof. While the argument hasn’t been proved, the perception alone could damage a brand’s image; especially if the brand involved directly appeals to children and teens in other areas of their marketing.

(Source: Newzoo)

ESports are the future, the next big sporting phenomenon set to eclipse some traditional properties in the coming years. 2015 has the potential to mark a dramatic shift in the sponsorship landscape, which provides a ripe opportunity for global brands to speak to millions of young people worldwide. It is a truly global platform that levels the playing field by taking no account of geo-political sensitivities.

Already, some big players are getting involved – Amazon’s purchase of Twitch TV is a sign of things to come – and more are sure to join the party in 2015. Now is the time, if done both sensitively and with due regard given to the dangers of encouraging sedentary behaviour, for brands to become synonymous with eSports before the wave crests.

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

By on February 26th, 2015

Tags: Default, Gaming, Innovation, Olympic sports, Red Bull, Sponsorship consultancy, Sport, Television audiences, YouTube

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Now, New & Next 2015

From one of marketing’s Dark Arts to sometime cornerstone of brand activity, sponsorship has changed a great deal over the past three decades for Synergy.

We’re seeing more brands identifying the value sponsorship can deliver across their particular mix of marketing channels; more rightsholders grasping what it really means to work in partnership with commercial organisations; and, consequently, more varied and vibrant engagement points with consumers.

And, make no mistake, it is these very consumers who are central to everything we do. Sponsorship is about understanding, aligning and interacting with people’s passions to help bring to life that elusive brand promise – the actions that speak so much louder than words.

There’s no surprise, therefore, that many of the pieces in this year’s Now, New & Next focus on the impact of today’s fulcrum generation: Millennials. Much feted, and regularly discussed, and with good reason for sponsors – after all, these are the people whose beliefs, passions and priorities are shaping the world we live in and the sponsorship industry of tomorrow.

This is a generation that will change everything – more empowered, more empathetic, and yet with the potential to be more ambivalent to brands than any before them.

This is a generation for whom newness is part and parcel of everyday life – but for whom innovation without utility breeds suspicion.

This is a generation whose passions are central to both self-expression and self-fulfilment, the gateways to the experiences they hold dearer than possessions themselves.

This is a generation where it’s not just the value but the values of a brand that matter…and nowhere is a brand’s interaction with these consumers more evident than through sponsorship.

See the report here.

We hope you find this year’s #NowNewNext a thought-provoking read.

By on January 30th, 2015

Tags: Consultancy, Engine, Film, Gaming, Innovation, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Sport, Synergy

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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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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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Great Expectations: The Importance of Experiential Activation and Holistic Brand Campaigns

I was sitting in a half-empty cinema when an attendant called out “Is anyone here from Heineken?”, which was met only by silence and the shaking of heads. “No, nobody?… They should have an attendee list” he tailed off, and left the room. Beside me sat the friend who had invited me after winning two tickets to a preview screening of Northern Soul courtesy of Heineken’s Open Your City Campaign. As she munched on a random, but delicious, brand of popcorn that had been placed on each chair, the screen crackled into action and an amusing ad played in which a man experienced a whole range of brilliant activities delivered exclusively to him by Heineken.

The ad went on for two minutes, then the film started. And that was my brand experience done and dusted. My cup holder stood empty, bereft of even one bottle of Heineken, and I looked around enviously at those who had had the foresight to buy a Stella Artois from the cinema bar.

Before you call me ungrateful, I know I got a free night out, but – albeit speaking as a selfish Millennial with high expectations – is that really enough? A complimentary cinema ticket is lovely, but it is not a brand experience per se. In fact, a free beer was the least of my expectations. Maybe it is because I have been spoilt in the past by being at some great events – such as a pub quiz run by Converse last year (about which I blogged enthusiastically at the time) and a Williams Martini Racing event run by the team here at Synergy, where fans had the chance to play table football during the FIFA World Cup with F1 drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas. However, the fundamental reason was that, this being my first real exposure to the campaign – as mentioned, my friend won the tickets not I - we both left the cinema wondering why Heineken had actually done the activity.

 

Naturally curious, as someone who works in marketing would be, on my return home I looked up the Open Your City campaign online and re-ran the ad. Strategically, the idea of Heineken being the hero through which you discover varied experiences in your home city is a brilliant one. Both the website and content are incredibly slick, and the six-month media partnership with the Metro, promoting the campaign in London, is smart.

In short, I know why my friend and all those in the cinema with us were drawn to apply. But if a campaign fails to apply the same level of quality to all aspects of activity, it is an opportunity lost. Arguably the experiential moment is the most important part here, as it is the climax of the brand engagement. Moreover, as these consumers are actually interacting face to face with the brand and its values, they must be treated as VIPs; they are, after all, the people who will share, both on and offline, their experiences with their social communities.

We should never underplay the importance of word of mouth. Only yesterday I chatted to two colleagues who had a spot of lunch at Virgin Media’s TV Diner, a one-day only pop-up restaurant where celebrity chef Neil Rankin was creating dishes inspired by cult classics – including Pulp Fiction’s Big Kahuna Burger – to demonstrate Virgin Media’s huge entertainment library. In this case my colleagues had made the effort to book a ticket for this brand experience and thus expectations were high. Half a glass of cola and some (admittedly delicious) food later, however, they left not feeling any more affinity to the Virgin brand.

There was, for example, no explanation of why the pop-up existed, no encouragement to engage with the event socially, and criminally, no cult classics playing on TV screens to add some much needed atmosphere, not to mention product placement. In fact, the activity felt like a PR stunt in which they were nothing more than the photographer’s props – a sense reinforced by the lack of pre-promotion for the event, which was another missed opportunity. Clearly, at this pop-up more could have been done to truly enhance the consumer impression of the brand; something we have stressed is vitally important in previous Synergy blogs.

It is vital to approach integrated brand campaigns through an holistic lens; however, both of these case studies appear to have been led unequally by different disciplines. A media and TV perspective seems to be leading Heineken’s Open Your City, whilst the Virgin Media Diner was led by PR. A bias towards particular angles can cause other equally, if not more important elements (such as the consumer experiential experience) not to be exploited to their full potential.

A great campaign is the sum of its parts – if one cog isn’t quite right, the narrative machine will falter. At Synergy, and in the wider world of sponsorship, we take a media neutral approach, the emphasis being to focus a campaign around a core passion point which must be enhanced through all touchpoints of our brand activation.

I must stress that this blog has been based on two very personal experiences and perhaps these are isolated examples – since my trip to the cinema I’ve seen some Heineken Open Your City events that look truly engaging and, maybe, better reflect the expectations set by the ATL campaign. I am a marketing geek though – I enjoy delving into these things and evaluating them objectively.

But we must not assume everyone is the same, why would they be? A few minutes of a bad or disappointing experience can taint our otherwise positive views of a brand. Campaigns must provide a consistent level of experience and be truly holistic, otherwise opportunities to truly engage consumers may be lost and people may go home disappointed.

I was certainly left thirsty for something more.

By on October 16th, 2014

Tags: Alcohol, Brand marketing, Branded content, Consultancy, Default, Event management consultants, Event management service, Experiential marketing, Formula 1, PR, Public relations, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Synergy, Twitter

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‘Switching from one to five sponsors cannot be judged until the Champions Cup is in its third year’

‘There has been some ill‑informed criticism of the failure to sign all five main [European Rugby Champions Cup] sponsors. Tim Crow of sponsorship experts Synergy is one, if not the leading authority on sponsorship in the UK and explained recently that for rights of the order sought by EPCR a lead‑up time of at least 18 months was needed. Thus, the wisdom of the decision to switch from one headline sponsor to five elite sponsors cannot be judged until the Champions Cup is in its third year. If forced to choose between the opinion of Crow and critical rugby columnists, I choose Crow.’

Writer, broadcaster and England and Lions legend Brian Moore cites Tim Crow’s recent Rugby World piece on the European Rugby Champions Cup in his Daily Telegraph column.

Click here for the article.

 

By on October 13th, 2014

Tags: Rugby, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy

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The Ryder Cup: Less Is More

“The most effective Ryder Cup sponsorships are one- to two-year integrated campaigns which build to a crescendo when the event starts.”

Ahead of this week’s 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Tim Crow talks to the Financial Times about how to generate maximum value from a Ryder Cup sponsorship. Click here for the article.

By on September 22nd, 2014

Tags: BMW, Golf, Press Clipping, Ryder Cup, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy, Sponsorship consultants, Synergy

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Badge of Honour

Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog on the latent potential for sponsors of Major League Soccer, citing climbing attendances, announcements of new teams with celebrity backers, a new major broadcast deal and a raft of high profile players from Europe.

On the face of it, the latest step in this development may not seem to be the most significant, but it’s perhaps more innovative than it first seems, and is yet another indication of the League’s progressive thinking that is helping to raise its profile with fans and sponsors alike.

With the current logo having been in use since the League played its first game in 1996, it was perhaps time for a refresh. The new effort is much more than a simple change of font, however. There are the usual ‘design inspirations’ that always surround a launch of any new logo whether that be in sport, art or fashion. In this case, the primary colours represent the United States and Canada, home to all MLS Franchises, whilst the prominent 3 stars represent the brand’s core values of ‘Club, Country and Community’. Nothing too groundbreaking here.

TW

What sets this new design apart is the fact that the colours are fully interchangeable, making it easier for teams and sponsors to incorporate into their own content, whilst helping to drive the overall profile of the League itself. Any rightsholder’s goal should be to drive scale and commercial saleability for their property, and in something as simple as allowing interchangeable colours in their logo, the MLS is making it easier for both sponsors and teams to promote the League on their behalf around the globe.

Here it is amended for all teams within the League and how it will look on the LA Galaxy kit as of next season:

 

picture 2

A criticism often leveled at rightsholders is that they are prohibitively inflexible, often fearing that the equity that they have invested over time in their own intellectual property will be compromised as sponsors make their presence felt. It is easy to see why this can be the case – sponsors after all, will come and go, so effort must be made in order to protect the enduring asset. What the MLS have done  - and what I hope they continue to do in other areas – is to keep the bigger picture in mind of the promotion and growth of their sport, whilst appreciating the sponsors’ role within this.

LOCOG dipped their toe in this water for London 2012, developing a suite of colours for the Official Logo, allowing partners some freedom in its use in various contexts. It is also reminiscent of the Coca-Cola ‘Club Colours’ campaign – in which Synergy was instrumental – which saw Coke, as sponsors of the Football League, change the colours of its iconic logo for the first time in its history to match the colours of all 72 Football League clubs.

Coke - Football League Poster - Landscape

The MLS example however, represents a significant next step and a template for the future, that I would expect to see replicated elsewhere in the world – particularly in the developing leagues of Australia, Asia and the Middle East.

A perpetual issue within the launch of new partnerships can be the design of composite logos, which try, often in vain, to shoe-horn sponsor marks in with the existing logos of the rightsholder. If, as expected, the MLS open up their logo template to sponsors, it will be interesting to see whether more conservative football bodies such as the Premier League and the Football League take some inspiration from the other side of the pond – particularly with major title sponsorships on the market in the near future.

By on September 18th, 2014

Tags: Advertising, Art & Design, Branded content, Content, Design, Football, Football Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, Sport

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Synergy In Brazil: Inside Nike ‘Casa Fenomenal’ in Rio

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.

By on June 24th, 2014

Tags: Brazil 2014, Brazil 2014 Sponsorship, Default, Experiential marketing, Football Sponsorship, Innovation, Rio 2016, Sponsorship, Sponsorship Activation, Sponsorship consultancy, World Cup, World Cup Sponsorship, World Cup Sponsorship Consultants

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Ex John Hancock CEO on Olympic sponsorship and the IOC

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.

By on February 12th, 2014

Tags: Default, IOC, Olympic sponsorship, Sochi 2014, Sponsorship, Sponsorship consultancy

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