Why Eni Aluko’s Under Armour Deal Is Bigger Than You Think

“Aluko’s unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike takes Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers”

Last week marked another welcome breakthrough for women’s sport. Under Armour announced a long term sponsorship deal with Eni Aluko, the first of its kind for a WSL player, making the England international the first UK based female footballer to join #TeamUA.

But while we celebrate another positive step forward for women’s sport, we must also take a minute to applaud Under Armour. In signing Eni Aluko they have taken themselves into a new space. Forget Lionel Messi. Ignore Neymar. They both have their (obvious) merits. Eni Aluko is the secret weapon.

So why is this partnership so special?

As a female athlete (who, by the way, has been instrumental in raising the profile of the women’s game here in the UK), Aluko has the power to transcend football. Her impact will be bigger than selling a pair of football boots. With over 100 England caps to her name, Aluko has arguably been the most high profile advocate of women’s football over the past five years and is hugely respected within the game. After becoming the first female footballer to appear as a pundit on Match of the Day, Aluko headed to the European Championship’s in France this summer as part of ITV’s broadcast team. Suddenly we have an athlete that is not only inspiring girls to play football, but inspiring women within the wider confines of sport. She is famous for her determination and drive to succeed both on and off of the football pitch.

And guess what? Under Armour share these values. A match made in heaven may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s pretty special. The brand are no strangers to addressing stereotypes that exist in sport. In fact they are proud of leading the way in this field. In 2014 they made headlines with their (literally) hard-hitting ‘I WILL WHAT I WANT’ campaign alongside Gisele Bündchen. The point of the campaign? To inspire. To break down barriers. To overcome.

So, this is where the next 12 months will be interesting. Under Armour must now activate this sponsorship in a way that is only possible with a female athlete in Aluko’s position. Her unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike will take Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers. Challenges that women and girls face in sport can be addressed and the next generation of young aspiring female footballers can be inspired. Eni Aluko is the only athlete on Under Armour’s UK roster that can tell this story in a truly credible way.

Will other brands follow suit?

Although they are the first sports brand to strike a long term partnership of this kind with a WSL player, it would be naïve to view Under Armour’s investment in women’s football as a risk. While a recent SSE campaign proved that Aluko is already a massive inspiration for girls around the country, the potential value for brands working in women’s sport is great.

According to Sport England, there are over 7 million women engaging with health and fitness in the UK today. 75% of women want to get into sport and those participating is increasing at a faster rate than men. Couple this with the fact that women’s buying power combined with increasing influence now drives 70-80% of all consumer purchasing in the household (Ernst & Young) and you have a marketing formula that is going to work.

As Synergy’s recent ‘This Girl Does’ event uncovered, brands must connect to their audiences in an authentic way in order to engage. When you talk to people in the right way, they can’t help but want to get involved. Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign proved this by shifting women’s perception to feel like sport is a place where they can be.

So, what next?

In Eni Aluko, Under Armour now have the opportunity to engage with women and girls in a unique way. Let’s hope they do it. We can’t wait.

Brand Murray Is Just Beginning

Arguably sport always has been, and always will be, associated with stars. Sportspeople of incredible athletic ability make the impossible appear effortless, creating moments of magic that give fans the chance to utter the phrase “I was there”. For an athlete to be held in this rarefied bracket of superstars can bring global fame and vast financial reward, but also a burden of expectation not just from their own fans, but the sports they bestride.

The Next Stage

An athlete who must surely now be considered within this group is Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray. Three years since his first win, Murray once again captured the title that he covets most, placing him alongside esteemed double Wimbledon winners such as Stefan Edberg and Rafael Nadal. The win also topped off an incredible year for Murray. Marriage to his long-term girlfriend, guiding Great Britain to a Davis Cup win and becoming a father has brought about a slow but noticeable transformation of brand Murray. His growing maturity matched with a change in perception among even the most casual of tennis fans offers him the perfect opportunity to take his brand even further as he moves into the next stage of his career.

Star Power

According to London School of Marketing’s 2015 sport power list, Murray ranked in 16th place. Not bad, but when considered alongside his fellow male players, Rafael Nadal (8th) Novak Djokovic (7th) and Roger Federer (1st), there appears to be some room left to grow. Federer’s continued brilliance away from the court is in contrast to his slowly diminishing powers on it. Without a Grand Slam win for four years, Federer’s ‘RF’ brand remains worn by more than just a few of the paying crowd on centre court. His ability to show a side of his personality that resonates with sponsors without a link to the court has helped prolong his marketability and it’s a path that Murray has already started to tread.

Although he counts Under Armour and Head as his on-court equipment partners, Murray’s partnership with Standard Life represents a deal that looks to work with some of the less athletic aspects of Murray’s character and is undoubtedly contributing to a better understanding of the man behind the racket. Yet it’s imperative that the partnership works both ways, with a set of shared traits that can be projected to a targeted audience for the benefit of both sponsor and athlete.

Careful cultivation of these traits can truly transform reputations and Standard Life’s Master Your Dreams film series is a perfect example of the process at work. The films explore a side of Andy Murray that isn’t well-known, helping the audience to see a new thread in the Murray story and one that Standard Life applies to its own organisation. From the meticulous preparations of Andy’s childhood, to meeting his own sporting heroes, viewers have shown a willingness to engage with the films, sharing their changing perceptions and even thanking Standard Life for providing the opportunity for them do so.

Standard Life’s willingness to look beyond the common narrative and work with a different side of brand Murray not only helps them stand out from the crowd but supports their own story, not something every sponsorship or indeed athlete, has the ability to do. The challenge therefore is two-fold, first to identify an athlete whose own brand, ambitions and athletic performance complements that of a sponsor and secondly (and far more challenging) is to select the the correct aspect of an athlete’s story to tell.

Executed properly the rewards are clear for all to see, both on and off the court.

Breaking the Model

Sports marketing was invented in the US at a time when broadcast TV was most definitely king.  The problem is that shifts in audience behavior and technology have made the media environment much more fluid.  In a recent survey we commissioned with Deep Focus/Intelligence Group (our Sister Agency at Engine) questioning nearly 4,000 people on their sports consumption behaviors, a whopping 83% agreed that the way they are consuming sport has changed significantly over the past 5 years. Quite simply, the traditional sports marketing model hasn’t kept pace with this change – it’s time for disruption.


The fact that broadcast TV ruled the roost when the model was established meant that broadcasters were able to set the rules.  One of these rules was a precedent whereby broadcast contracts contained an obligation for the rightsholder to guarantee a minimum level of spend with the media owner.  This obligation, in turn, is passed on to the sponsors. In pretty much every sponsorship contract we see in the US, there is a significant “minimum media spend” clause. (As an aside, that kind of clause simply doesn’t exist in the UK, thanks to the non-commercial nature of the BBC.)

This arrangement clearly makes perfect sense for both the media owners and the rightsholders. The media owners significantly reduce their financial risk as the guaranteed income partially offsets their rights fee, while the rightsholders ensure a minimum level of activation from their sponsors.  Sometimes, the rightsholder is the media owner, which makes that clause particularly attractive!


The problem is, in this day and age, the “minimum media spend” clause is nothing short of a disaster for sponsors.  The only thing it guarantees a sponsor is a sub-optimal activation campaign.

Firstly, it can force sponsors into inefficient media strategies. For example, one of our clients is an asset management firm whose (significant) media budget is targeted squarely at Financial Services professionals. Primarily, that means advertising outdoor in financial centers (eg. posters, taxis, airport takeovers etc.) and advertising on TV, online and in print with the key financial channels and business titles. Forcing them to spend any of their media budget with the rightsholder’s media partners is literally forcing them to waste money. Of course this is a relatively extreme example. In most cases the sponsor will choose to use a portion of their media budget with the broadcast partners anyway as a means to reach the audience of the sport, teams or events they sponsor.  But, if that’s the case, why do we need the “minimum media spend” clause at all? That’s the kind of “protectionism” the US usually stands against.

The next consequence of the “minimum media spend” clause is that it leads sponsors towards advertising-heavy activation campaigns.  With so much cash committed and so much inventory to fill, it’s obvious that the activation starts with advertising. The problem is that with such a large chunk of the budget accounted for by the media obligation, the activation often ends with advertising as well.

Over 60% of US sponsors use their advertising agency as their lead agency on their sponsorship campaigns, but that just re-enforces the issue.  Advertising agencies might create great advertising campaigns – but great sponsorship campaigns need to be so much more, because the fact is that fans are consuming sport in a completely new way.

This was clearly demonstrated to us in New York recently, when we went to a sports bar to watch the Mets take on the Dodgers in the NLDS.  Clearly, the crowd were glued to the TV during the game, but it was a completely different story between innings.  While the TV played advertising (much of which was from official sponsors), almost everyone in the bar was looking at their phone – checking their social media platforms of choice for more information and opinion on the game they were watching.  So, collectively, brands were paying millions of dollars to be on TV – but no-one was watching.


In the same Deep Focus/IG study we discovered that around half the people under 35 are constantly checking their social media channels during a live game. The reality is that audiences are spending more and more time beyond the reach of traditional advertising, and sponsorship campaigns have to follow them.

This reliance on advertising also means that sponsors have lost the initiative when it comes to finding new and innovative ways to engage with the audience.  They are leaving it all to the rightsholders, who are coming up with an ever-increasing list of “micro-assets” for the sponsor to buy.  As this blog in April explored, there’s nothing wrong with the “FedEx Air and Ground Player of the Week” or the “Maytag Filthiest Play of the Day”, as long as there is a great campaign around it.  But, too often, there’s not, which is probably the reason why these micro-assets don't resonate with the audience.

We tested this theory in the Deep Focus/IG study by giving the audience a list of 30 micro-assets and asking them which ones they recognised.  The twist was that 21 of the micro-assets were real and 9 were completely made up.  The result: the 2nd most-recognised micro-asset was completely made up (Dunk of the Day presented by Dunkin Donuts) and there was no statistically significant difference between the average awareness levels of the real and made up micro-assets.

What we are left with is far too many sponsorship campaigns that consist entirely of advertising (to fulfil the “minimum media spend” clause) and “micro-assets” to tick the fan engagement box.  And if sponsors do look to push things through different channels like PR or experiential, then it is usually some isolated activity that is not connected to the central campaign idea.

There is clearly a better way to think about sponsorship campaigns.  One which is rights, media and channel neutral; which plays out one central idea through the very channels that the audience is actively using; which has no conflicts or vested interests; and which encourages rather than restricts innovation and creativity from brands. One of our favorite recent campaigns is the Madden '15 GIFerator.  Innovative, built on a solid fan insight, social at its core and not an ad or micro-asset in sight.

But this kind of disruption isn’t easy.  The fact is that there is so much vested interest already in play, as the existing players (from media owners to large agency groups) aim to protect the revenue associated with the status quo. So the only ones who can disrupt this market are the brands.  Brands who recognise that it takes more than an ad and some off-the-shelf micro-asset to connect with fans and who understand that they need to be driving creativity and innovation in this space. Brands who realise that we need to break the old model and replace it with something born in the connected era.

Synergy expands to U.S.


NEW YORK – November 2, 2015Engine Group, the global marketing services network, today announced the U.S. launch of Synergy, its award-winning sports marketing and sponsorship agency. Based out of Engine Group’s New York office, Synergy U.S. will be led by Dominic Curran, who has been named CEO. Curran, the former Global Sport Director for Bacardi, will report to Rick Eiserman, North American CEO at Engine Group.

Synergy’s U.S. offering will adopt the brand-facing model integrating strategy, creative, digital, experiential marketing and public relations that has made it a leading sports sponsorship agency in the U.K. Headed by CEO Tim Crow, Synergy works worldwide with clients including BMW, Coca-Cola, Emirates and MasterCard on global marquee sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup, the Olympic Games, and the Rugby World Cup. Standard Life Investments, Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup, will be on board as a launch client of the new U.S. office.

“The agency landscape around sports marketing is ripe for disruption in the U.S. and Dominic is the perfect person to lead that charge,” said Eiserman. “Brands are frustrated by the lack of media neutrality in the U.S. and the obsession with paid media thinking and rights. Synergy’s approach is to create powerful campaign ideas that have ability to play out across all media, with digital at the core."

Crow added: “A big part of our success stems from the fact that we are neutral brand-facing specialists and guarantee our clients no conflicts of interest – we create strategies, partnerships and campaigns solely for brands. That’s always been core to our offering and we’ll be replicating that model for brands in the U.S.”

Synergy’s move to the U.S. marks the first time the agency has opened an office outside the U.K. Since its inception more than 30 years ago, Synergy has won some of the industry’s most prestigious awards, including recently being named Agency of the Year at the Sport Industry Awards in London.

“I am thrilled to bring Synergy’s differentiated model to U.S. marketplace,” said Curran. “We’ll be diving right in, helping Standard Life Investments activate at the Ryder Cup next year. I’m looking forward to building an agency with the right expertise and creativity for brands and fans in the connected era.”

Engine Group recently announced the U.S. launch of customer engagement agency Partners Andrews Aldridge in September, and the expansion of digitally-led agency Deep Focus to London and Los Angeles. The network is growing rapidly following its acquisition by Lake Capital in August 2014, with more than 2,000 employees across the U.S., UK and Asia.


Synergy is dedicated to creating the world’s most innovative and effective sponsorships for brands. Founded in 1984, and with offices in London and New York, Synergy works worldwide from strategy to delivery for clients, including BMW, Capital One, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Guinness, MasterCard, Standard Life Investments and more. For more information, visit www.synergy-sponsorship.com.


Engine Group is a global marketing services network of specialist communication agencies that transforms brands through its unique collaborative culture and business approach. The individual agency brands within the network cover the vast range of marketing services including strategy, digital marketing, social media, advertising, public relations, and content creation and production. With operating hubs in the UK, North America and Asia, the agencies within the network include WCRS, MHP Communications, Trailer Park, ORC International, Partners Andrews Aldridge, Deep Focus, Synergy, Calling Brands, Mischief, Fuel, Transform and Slice. The group’s client portfolio range from top brands such as Unilever, Santander and Kimberly-Clark to all the major entertainment studios including Warner Bros., Disney and 20th Century Fox. More information is available at enginegroup.com.

Synergy Loves…The Changing Face of Women’s Sport

Here are a few arresting stats for you from Sport England:

- In the UK, 1.75m fewer women than men regularly play sport

- Commercial investment in women’s sport is 0.4% of the total investment in sport

- By age 14, just under 10% of girls achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day

Disappointing, huh? Have a couple more:

- Since 2010, 12 nominees (out of 42) for BBC Sports Personality of the Year have been female. All winners have been male

- This season's men's FA Cup winners will secure £1.8m in prize money, while the team who lift the women's Cup will net £5,000

So let’s not beat around the bush (ahem), it seems fair to say that women’s sport, both at an elite level and within general participation, still has a way to go to reach the same level of popularity and success as male sport. Within these two categories, there appear to be clear barriers:

  1. Barrier for general participation: Involvement - women don’t feel confident enough to get involved in sport, and are not aware of the opportunities available to them
  2. Barriers for professionals: Representation. Whether it be the level of TV coverage or the funding available, professional sportswomen seem to get the raw end of the deal in comparison to their male counterparts



These barriers are clearly significant but there is no disputing that the landscape is shifting, and at an increasingly rapid rate. Indeed, 2015 has proved to be a watershed year in the changing the face of women’s sport, and it’s about time!

So what’s changed? There have been numerous rule amendments, brand campaigns and incentives programmes, backed by professional bodies, which are excitingly changing perceptions in women’s sport. Below I have outlined a few of our favourite examples:

“This Girl Can”

A nationwide campaign across TV, outdoor media and print, launched by Sport England, featured REAL women sweating and jiggling to get women and girls moving, regardless of shape, size and ability.

The campaign is striking, using strong photography and film to articulate an important message and say to women that it doesn’t matter if you are big or small, tall or short, fit or unfit, everyone can and should get involved!


The campaign film has already had 13 million views online, with Sport England about to launch a second phase in the campaign off the back of its popularity.

As well as the impressive view numbers, another positive outcome that Sport England reported was the female community coming together online to support the campaign. Whilst the ads didn’t experience much internet trolling (depressing that this was potentially surprising), when they did, Sport England didn’t need to respond, because real women did it for them.

England Cricket Board

Following the success of the 'This Girl Can' campaign, the ECB is aligning with Sport England through a series of exciting opportunities and initiatives to help inspire and motivate more women and girls across the country to play cricket.

The ECB is encouraging cricket clubs up and down the country to be part of a nationwide push to inspire more women and girls to get into the game. By signing up, clubs will be able to access bespoke guidance documents and resources recommending new ways to attract women to the sport.

“Inspiring The Future” 

'Inspiring Women' is asking women who work in the sports sector to pledge one hour a year to go to a local school and chat to girls about what it is like to work in the industry.  They are looking for women working in all types of sport doing all kinds of jobs – including athletes, coaches, HR officers, physios, journalists and accountants.

Once again, many high-profile sporting organisations have already given their backing, including 'Women in Sport', the British Olympic Association, the FA and BT Sport, whose presenter Clare Balding is taking a leading role in the campaign:

FIFA 2016

In an exciting turn of events, EA Sports created positive headlines for FIFA (not many of them around currently) by announcing that it will be introducing female footballers into its video game series, beginning with the forthcoming FIFA 16 edition.

The game features 12 international all-female teams, 11 of whom will appear at next month’s World Cup finals.


The FA

At the start of 'Women's Sports Week' and with the FIFA Women's World Cup just days away, The FA has launched a month of free football sessions for girls and women.

From after school skills sessions for 5-11 year olds to coaching sessions for 12-17 year olds - not forgetting social football for adults - there is a way to get into football for women and girls of all ages.

The Boat Race

In 2015, for the first time in 88 years, the Women’s Boat Race was shown and staged for the first time on the course that has for so long been the sole preserve of the men.

Glamour Magazine - "Say No To Sexism In Sport"

Glamour are also getting behind the women in sport revolution with their “Say No To Sexism In Sport” campaign.

The aims of the campaign are as follows:

  1. Raise the profile of women's sport
  2. Lobby for more coverage in mainstream media
  3. Increase the number of women involved in sport at every level - from those who watch it, to those playing it, all the way to those in the boardroom

If you want to get involved, you should pledge to regularly watch women’s sport games in 2015, be it on TV, at a stadium or on the sidelines.


Always - #LikeAGirl

Our final example comes from the US. The #LikeAGirl campaign from Always aims to change the perception of what “like a girl” means. The powerful ad was shown for the first time during the Super Bowl ad break, and was viewed online an impressive 56 million times.

In fact it was so successful, that they have made a sequel showing how the meaning of the phrase is already changing.
Why can’t “running like a girl” also mean winning the race?

The answer is, it absolutely can! I challenge anyone in 2015 to argue against this statement - before immediately running fast in the opposite direction.

Whilst this year is key, the change needs to continue uninterrupted. The women’s World Cup in Canada and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio provide two key opportunities for further brand campaigns and involvement. Rio itself already has over 25 brand partners, and only time will tell which are brave enough to join the party and prove that running like a girl can most definitely mean winning the race.

Sport Sidelined: A Synergy Snapshot of The 2015 General Election

As Ed Miliband stated, the 2015 General Election is set to be the ‘tightest for a generation’. With policy focus on heavyweight areas, and media attention revolving around the potential results and the resultant political permutations, you could be forgiven for growing weary of the wall-to-wall election coverage.

However, there has been very little attention paid to the topic of Sport. It's clear the seductive vision of the Olympic legacy promised in the 2010 UK General Election has not been realised. London 2012 brought more Team GB medals than any other Games, but participation levels in the UK are still falling, and yet Sport has been sidelined in the 2015 party manifestos. Within the combined 327 pages of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos, there were collectively 23 sentences referencing the subject. Not only is this disappointing, but it also seems illogical considering the impact Sport can have on on other policy areas, not least as physical inactivity is said to be costing our national economy £8.2 billion a year... 

We must therefore ask: what effect, if any, will the election have on the Sport and sponsorship industry? To find an answer, we pored over the party manifestos, and delved into the political news archives to establish which elements of pre-election party chatter around Sport would actually make it on to the election agenda.

A summary of the major points can be found in our infographic here

For a more detailed view of these key topics, please read on...

 Funding cuts leave door open for brands

Funding V2

In the weeks leading up to the 2015 General Election, much of the rhetoric has focused on each party’s approach to reducing the UK’s vast deficit (£101.8bn in 2014 alone). This need for collective belt-tightening makes cuts inevitable. With parties keen to ensure focus on the heavyweight policy areas, such as Education, Housing and the NHS, Sport has taken a back seat.

The prospects for sports funding, especially at the grassroots end of the spectrum, are poor. Whilst this is a worrying trend, any funding shortfall could open opportunities for brands to bridge gaps to provide capital, manpower, facilities and amenities. Work like McDonald’s grassroots football campaign and Barclays' ‘Spaces for Sport’ programme have shown that brands can provide vital funding, equipment and coaching where there is a real need. With cuts to be made, and a prioritisation of welfare services, sponsors could play a key role in keeping Britons active.

Manifesto game plans show limited football focus

Football V3

MPs are often accused of politicising football, but parties have comfortably avoided any such accusations around this election, by barely including the national game in their manifestos at all. Following the February announcement of the new Premier League TV deal, worth £5.14 billion, leading politicians wasted no time in adding their two pennies, but Labour's manifesto was the only one to mention the subject.

Miliband has pledged to ensure the Premier League delivers on its 1999 promise to invest 5% of its domestic and international television rights income into funding grassroots. Further, Labour look to mix pounds and passion with a proposal to enable accredited supporter trusts. The move would mean fans could hold their football club far more accountable by appointing and removing at least two of the directors, and purchasing shares when the club changes hands.

The trickle-down of funds from the new TV deal and the enhanced ability for fans to hold their clubs to account could mean an evolving role for brands. Sponsors' changing role within football can be seen in recent high-profile examples, including that of Ched Evans, where club partners successfully supported Oldham fans in their calls to cancel the signing the player following his previous jail sentence.

After their focus on 'Reclaiming The Nation's Game' at their 2014 conference, it was hoped that football may play a large part in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto, but there were discouragingly few references. One of the few sport-related pledges concerned an exploration of safe standing, a stance that is sure to please a number of fans. Given the popularity of such a policy among football supporters, it might be tempting for brands already involved in the sport to show their own support by influencing policy-makers on this topic.

Worrying times for alcohol, betting and fast food brands

Restrictions V2

Alcohol, betting and high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) brands would have been following the manifesto releases with a sense of trepidation, given the noise from major parties last year. Labour were most forthright in their views, referring to sponsorship of sports events by alcohol brands as 'potentially harmful' and calling for a debate on current rules. Their pre-election consultation on sport also included references to introducing a levy on betting companies, which could act as a new revenue stream for community sport. Additionally, a leaked document also proposed a 9pm watershed for TV adverts for unhealthy products that might appeal to youngsters – a policy mirrored by the SNP.

However, upon manifesto releases, there was barely a mention of marketing restrictions in any of the aforementioned industries. This does not mean these policies have been forgotten, rather, they appear to have been temporarily sidelined, due to the focus on 'safer' traditional policy areas. Given the impact any fresh legislation could have on brand advertising and sponsorship approaches – as well as marketing budgets – companies and rightsholders in the firing line will have to keep their eyes open.

A lot to learn on school sport

Schools V2

A minimum of 2 hours per week from Labour, £150 million investment a year from the Conservatives and half a day a week from the Greens. These are the manifesto pledges made by the parties on the subject of school sport. The immediate question is, of course, what on Earth do they all mean? Comparing these disparate units of measurement is an almost impossible task, and that’s before chucking in extra layers of confusion, such as Labour's rebuttal that the Conservatives' promise actually represents a reduction of current funding, when taking inflation into account.

The lack of a substantial commitment by any party ensures that schools still remain fertile ground for sponsors, as Lloyds Bank National Schools Sports Week programme has shown, and brands that can best understand where funding gaps will arise, once the anointed party has implemented their policy, will be best placed to create fruitful partnerships.

Closing the gender gap

Gender V2

The push for equality within sport, in terms of both participation and representation, is gathering pace, with FIFA’s No to Racism and Sport England’s ThisGirlCan campaigns being just two high-profile proof-points. But whilst all parties vocalise support for women’s sport when prompted, the Conservatives were the only party to clearly put pen to paper, pledging to push the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25% by 2017. The Green Party included a more vague reference to ‘setting targets for participation by women’.

The silence was particularly disappointing from Labour, who had put a primary focus on the subject within their pre-election sports consultation. Within the party's ‘More Sport For All’ document, there was even suggestion of a government fund incentivising commercial sponsorship of women’s sport.

Such silence presents sponsors with the opportunity to bridge the gap on gender policy. The profile of women’s sport is growing, but investment accounts for just 0.4% of the value of all the sponsorship deals and just 7% of total sports media coverage. As outlined in Synergy's NowNewNext article on the subject, brands can make a real difference within women's sport if their activity is grounded in appropriate insights. Savvy sponsors with existing partnerships stand to benefit the most. Our advice to the (right) brands not already engaged would be to get involved whilst you can.

Tories target American Sport

US Sport V2

Increasingly popular in the UK, it was never going to be long before US sport landed on the political agenda. Referenced in the Conservative manifesto, David Cameron aspires to increase UK links with the major US sports, with a long-term view of franchises based in the UK. More than 600,000 people have already attended each of the previous two NFL events on Regent Street, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have long been rumoured to become a permanent NFL London-based franchise. On top of this, Britons have already witnessed regular-season NBA games on home turf as the Global Games Schedule expands overseas.

The globalisation of sport, as discussed in Synergy’s NowNewNext report, is happening fast. It seems that a Conservative government would be prepared to turbo-charge this process. Sponsors need to be ready for the opportunities - and challenges – that this will bring.

Minority parties explore major changes

Minority V2

Despite UKIP repeatedly referencing their support for ‘unifying a British culture’, the promise may be somewhat inhibited by a pledge to abolish the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as part of their streamlining measures. Given the department’s crucial role in administrating UK sport at every level, including a major role in delivering the Olympics, the policy seems potentially ill-judged.

Another policy that stood out from the manifestos was the Green Party’s position on horse racing. The proposal for a whip-free Grand National, and consequent ‘full review of the sport’ would represent a step towards the event being cut from the sporting (and sponsorship) calendar altogether. With £80m bet every year by the British public and 600m TV viewers globally, the policy would have widespread impact.

These more outlandish promises might be laughed off in almost any other election campaign, but given the likely delicate balance of power, concerns are justifiable, especially if either party were to grab power under a coalition or alliance.


Boiling 500+ pages of manifesto down into a seven-point snapshot was easy. Not because the Synergy Insights team comprises some of the brightest sponsorship brains in Britain (although this may well be true), but because sport and sponsorship have largely been sidelined by the UK political parties. While our seven snippets show that the parties have not been totally silent, one thing is emphatically clear:

Sport could use sponsors now more than ever.



Conservative Party https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto

Green Party https://www.greenparty.org.uk/we-stand-for/2015-manifesto.html

Labour Party http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto

Liberal Democrat Party http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto

SNP http://votesnp.com/docs/manifesto.pdf

UKIP http://www.ukip.org/manifesto2015

Gambling Watch UK http://www.gamblingwatchuk.org/

Office for National Statistics http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/index.html

Sport England https://www.sportengland.org/

Sport and Recreation Alliance http://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/

Sports think tank http://www.sportsthinktank.com/


Synergy Kick-Off MasterCard’s Rugby World Cup Partnership

Earlier this year, Synergy helped MasterCard announce their worldwide partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015 . In order to emphasise the iconic nature of both the Rugby World Cup and London, Synergy developed a plan to launch the sponsorship with a striking image with one of the best rugby players in the world, Dan Carter.

As the world’s leading points scorer, Dan Carter needs little introduction. As someone who sits comfortably alongside legends of the game, he is a perfect fit with MasterCard who have signed him up as an ambassador from the launch through to the beginning of the tournament in 2015.

In his first outing as an ambassador, The All Blacks legend headed out into the middle of The Thames to practise his kicking towards London’s largest set of goalposts, Tower Bridge, in front of the world's media. Dan also conducted a series of interviews to deliver MasterCard’s key sponsorship messages. A press release, imagery and a behind-the-scenes video were delivered across MasterCard’s media in key global markets.

Ann Cairns (President of MasterCard’s International Markets) and Brett Gosper (Chief Executive of International Rugby Board) were also both in attendance on the day to speak to the assembled media about the Priceless nature of the Rugby World Cup, as well as the important role MasterCard’s sponsorship plays in creating a legacy of innovation around the tournament.

The day was a great success and, in total, the activity generated over 150 pieces of coverage across global markets, with highlights including CNN, Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal. The image of Dan Carter and the accompanying interviews certainly seemed to strike a chord with rugby fans and proved to be a fantastic way of celebrating the new partnership. 

Highlights of what was a very memorable day can be seen below:

The story behind Boris and the horse

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will no doubt have seen the photos of Boris Johnson mounting a horse to launch the London leg of the Global Champions Tour. The photo appeared in the Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and The Times, plus an array of onlines with Metro, Guardian, Daily Express, MSN and BBC Online to name a few. The launch also featured on BBC London TV (twice) and LBC.

Global Champions Tour (GCT), a new Synergy client, is coming to the capital for the first time thanks to Peter Phillips. Taking place adjacent to the Olympic Park in early June, the horse-jumping event aims to bring back the atmosphere and festive spirit we saw at Greenwich last summer.

Synergy's role was to launch the event. We had the event venue confirmed at the Olympic Park (but not yet built) and support from the Mayor’s office, which meant around 10 minutes with Boris.

Ah ha, you may say, but surely getting Boris is guaranteed coverage? Not on a day when he already had two photo calls and around ten the previous week - he’s no stranger to the publicity trail. However, the GCT team at Synergy had a firm strategy in place to ensure that the launch event would guarantee coverage.

1.       It’s all in the timing

You can never guarantee a news-free day, or always ensure your event isn’t clashing with another big launch, but you can be smart with the timing. We chose a Tuesday post Bank Holiday, with PR offices shut down over the weekend, events and launches would be few and far between. Being a month out from our event and conversation turning towards the Olympic Park re-opening in the summer also gave us a fighting chance.

2.       Location, location, location

Let me tell you, dear reader, getting access to what is essentially a building site is not easy. But we knew that being on the site where the event will take place and having the Olympic Stadium as the backdrop was key to putting our story and London into context. So, after some serious Health & Safety documentation, we secured our ideal location for the shoot.

3.       Having a Plan B

Never put all your eggs in one basket. Probably the best PR advice out there. Alongside Boris (and, of course, the horse), we ensured we had a variety of spokespeople at hand to support the launch and provide sound bites, including Peter Phillips himself and Team GB Olympic Gold medal winner Nick Skelton. Pre-arranged interviews ensured guaranteed coverage was lined-up before the event itself.

4.       Doing what PR’s do best – jumping on an opportunity (or a horse)

Finally, a PR's best tools are common sense, fearlessness and the power of persuasion, all of which came to play at our photo call. With a firm plan in place, we knew we’d have a successful launch: however, not ones to rest on our laurels, the team jumped on every opportunity on the day. Boris didn’t end up on the horse by accident: the team worked hard to orchestrate the moment we knew would be photo gold. Being bold and spotting the right opportunity for our request (the cycle helmet acted as our prop of choice), we managed to get Boris on the horse less than a minute before he was whisked away by ‘his people’.

Disclaimer: No horses were harmed in the making of this photo. Same can’t be said for Boris.

 Nick Skelton, Boris Johnson