Bands, Brands & Fans – It’s all about getting closer…

A few years ago, we witnessed the start of some major changes in the music industry, with traditional revenues from record sales taking a big blow due to an increase in piracy. This coincided with the general public’s perceived value of music diminishing with the record labels continuing to exploit their assets with very short term targets in mind, licensing music for the likes of cover-mounts to the media industry, earning income, spiking sales for newspapers and magazines but further reducing the consumer’s perception around the value of music (which was ultimately being offered to them for free).

Some high profile artists benefited from this at the time, including the likes of Prince who released his ‘Planet Earth’ album exclusively via The Mail on Sunday. This earned Prince substantial revenues. It provided marketing for his 21-night performance at The O2, London and sold a lot of newspapers, so many would argue was a big success. It did, however, contribute towards the longer-term psychological perception amongst the consumer that music has been devalued.

It was at this point that I started to understand the fact that it was the job of both artists and the labels surrounding them to start re-thinking about how to add value back to the album format and demonstrate a reason for the consumer to continue purchasing in the future. It feels natural for artists and their labels to start packaging all of their assets into one deliverable (an app) with the aim of connecting with their fans on a deeper level, owning a bigger part of the relationship with them. The depth of relationship between artists and fans for me has always been the key to success.The rise of Spotify, followed by the multitude of other streaming businesses then created a distraction, tackled piracy and actually incentivised consumer spend, albeit reduced. The real value in music today, however, is primarily in the live business (concerts), but there are various attempts taking place to breathe life back into music beyond just experiential.

It seems the subject matter of how artists and their labels should be pumping value back into their product is heating up. Clearly, deepening the relationship with their fans seems to be becoming more understood amongst artists, with a number of technology players now moving into this space. Until now there has been little focus in the media about this, with most still focused on the battle of the streaming businesses (Spotify, Apple, Google, Deezer, Amazon etc).

If a fan wants to know what Beyoncé wore last night, they check Instagram. If a fan wants to know where Ed Sheeran is performing next, they check Twitter (as long as he’s not decided to take a ‘time out’). If a fan wants to know what Ariana Grande has been up to today, they are likely to watch her Snapchat story. Social Media has brought artists and fans closer together than ever before. It has solidified the artist and fan relationship, offering access never previously seen before. These relationships via social networks offer the ability for artists (and their partners) to promote themselves, sell music, tickets and merchandise. It also provides instant feedback whether it be about newly released music or any other promotional activities. Importantly, it is this relationship, combined with artist-generated content (music, film, games, etc) that can be extremely attractive and powerful.

When Björk launched ‘Biophilia’ a few years ago, she offered her fans an entire suite of content – much more than just music. She successfully continued to build that ever-so-important connection with her fans, giving them much more than they expected, with lots to talk about and engage with.

Since then, a number of artists have attempted to enter this space. A few businesses from the tech world have also moved into the ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship space – their approach being to enhance the overall fan experience, whilst providing insight and learnings about their fans back to the artists and their representatives.

These start-ups include the likes of: Gigrev, Lionshare Media and Disciple Media. BuddyBounce was another great business very much in this space, recently selling to Crowdmix which was due for launch later this year but unfortunately went into administration earlier this month, prior to its official launch. Additionally, Supapass is a new multi-artist platform that has recently come onto the scene, offering not just single artist relationships but the opportunity for fans to engage with a multitude of their favourite artists. An interesting one to watch…

The idea is that fans subscribe to an artist/label channel (costing approx £1 per month). The artists and their rightsholders then earn a substantial % of the revenue share from their fan subscriptions. One generally finds with fan-based marketing that there is always a top-tier core fan who will traditionally spend on artist product and this will specifically appeal to those. By offering multi-artist content, SupaPass are spreading the risk and potentially offering greater impact for the platform. It feels like it makes sense.

It is these artist-to-consumer platforms that will not only ensure continued growth and depth of relationship between artists and their fans, but could also potentially offer a very interesting space for brands to engage. According to the Cassandra Report, Millennials, in particular, expect brands to offer more than just their product or service, and if a brand can be seen to be offering a closer relationship between fans and an artist, the credibility and love for that brand could very easily dramatically improve. Additionally, the learnings and data available could really help not only the artist, but also brands, understand how to interact and behave with these fans, potentially offering a three-way win-win(-win) symbiotic relationship for band, brand and fan.

To conclude, the music industry is continuing to change rapidly. There are no rules and an array of interesting opportunities for brands (as well as artists) to tap into, offering previously impossible access to potentially long-term relationships with fans. The ‘Artist & Fan’ relationship is the ‘Holy Grail’ within the music industry. For a brand to be a critical part of that could be an extremely powerful space to occupy.

Sponsorship Deals: Picking the Right Partner

FC Barcelona and Nike look like they couldn’t be happier together, having signed a new sponsorship deal reportedly worth £120m p.a. and therefore breaking adidas and Manchester United’s previous £75m p.a. record.FIFA and the IOC may be in slightly rockier relationships. After all, a lot has changed since they reported record revenues of £2.1bn ($5.7bn) in 2014 and c.$850-1,600m from Toyota for eight years on their TOP programme.

Yet in both cases, friends have asked me the same question: “Who is the winner in this sponsorship deal?”

Unlike sport, sponsorship is not a game of Win and Lose. It’s time someone articulated why brands and rightsholders (and my mates!) need not see deal-making as a zero-sum game. So here goes…

Thinking Win/Win underpins any successful partnership. But, in sponsorship rightsholders and brands often enter discussions with a Win/Lose mindset, leading to no deal or a Lose/Lose outcome. It’s time the sponsorship articulated why deal-making need not be seen as a zero-sum game, and how rightsholders and sponsors can create Win/Win partnerships.

“Not a technique; a total philosophy of human interaction” is how Stephen Covey, author of best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, defines Win/Win. To Covey, it means that in any deal “all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan”. I find it surprising that many rightsholders and sponsors do not think the same way.

Many rightsholders focus on revenue and price rights without understanding their value to would-be sponsors. It’s like a first date spent pitching all the reasons you are a 10/10 without once stopping to ask what your potential partner about their passions.

What happens without win/win thinking?

Many rightsholders are out to maximize the price they get from sponsors at pretty much any cost, even if it means a bad deal for their partner. In a sense, this is not surprising if we consider their profit maximization problem:

Rightsholder Profit = Revenue from Sponsor – Cost of Providing Rights

(Rightsholder ROI = Revenue from Sponsor / Cost of Providing Rights)

Seemingly, the rightsholders’ profit will be maximized by bleeding the sponsor dry while incurring as few costs as possible. This can cause Win/Lose partnerships, as demonstrated when thinking from a sponsor perspective and their profit maximization problem:

Maximum Sponsor Profit = Incremental Value from Sponsorship Cost of Sponsorship

(Sponsor ROI = Incremental Sales from Sponsorship / Cost of Sponsorship)

As shown in our two equations, Revenue from Sponsor = Cost of Sponsorship. Looked at like this, taking the size of the pie as fixed, both parties could be forgiven for seeing any relationship as Win/Lose.

Except that the size of the pie is not fixed. We must recognize that Incremental Sales from Sponsorship are variable. More incremental sales can mean more value to be shared between both parties.

What would you rather have?

Fortunately, not all first dates are one-way pitches, and insightful rightsholders realize deals are not a zero-sum game. Instead, they search out and build Win/Win partnerships.

However, even for those with the right mindset – even for those daters who could be a perfect match – many still struggle to find the right words to make it show. In sponsorship, the debate and media coverage today is focused on revenue and cost. We know FIFA generated £2.1bn in revenue from 2011-14, but we collectively lack the language and metrics to understand how much is created for sponsors. The point here is that the sponsorship industry needs not only to think Win/Win, but also to talk through a Value lens. Put another way, sponsors care about value and ROI. Rightsholders must demonstrate their ability to deliver maximum value and ROI for sponsors.

They can do this by replacing the one-size fits all rights packages and proposals of today with value-based discussions with sponsors. Instead of metrics like # fans, demographic of fans, # followers and broadcast exposure, potential partners could discuss how to maximise value and ROI through the sponsorship Pathways to Value relevant to them. Consequently, the likelihood of creating a Win/Win partnership and sharing a bigger pie would be significantly higher.

If it becomes clear that a partnership is value-creating, as it appears to be for FC Barcelona and Nike, both parties can negotiate a price and go on to live happily ever after. Time will tell if their tale of romance continues. For now, as Stephen Covey suggests with another of his 7 Habits, let’s Put First Things First and start thinking Win/Win.


If you want to chat Win/Win sponsorship deals or anything to do with sponsorship measurement and evaluation please do send me an email at and, if you haven’t already, take a look at how Synergy think about sponsorship value in our white paper here

Success & Scandal: The Inspiring Early History Of Women’s Football

Goodison Park was packed to the rafters as 53,000 fans watched Alice Kell – captain of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies – score a hat trick in her team’s 4-0 win over St Helens Ladies. By all accounts, the 14,000 supporters turned away from the stadium missed a great game of football. The day was Boxing Day; the year, 1920.For the best part of a century this game stood as the record attendance for the women’s game. It wasn’t till London 2012 when 70,584 saw England beat Brazil 1-0 that this dusty record was broken. In recent years – and especially in the wake of the England’s heroics at the 2015 World Cup – women’s football has been experiencing an extraordinary rise in popularity. England’s semi-final against Japan peaked at 2.4m viewers on BBC 1 and Round 7 of The FA WSL in July 2015 experienced record crowds. Moreover, the Women’s FA Cup – boosted by SSE’s historic title sponsorship – drew 30,000 to Wembley.A challenge for the game’s champions and sponsors is to consolidate and grow this fanbase ahead of the European Championships in 2017.

Given compelling stories celebrating brands’ pasts are often the backbone to strong campaigns, (see Johnnie Walker and Lloyds), perhaps the same strategy could be applied to women’s football, given its fascinating and tumultuous history…

In 1894, feminist Nettie Honeyball founded an unprecedented entity – the British Ladies Football Club – with the aim, she said, of “proving to the world that women are not the ornamental and useless creatures men have pictured”. It was a radical idea and led to the first official recorded game of football between two women’s teams. This took place in 1895 when a collection of players from North London took on their Southern counterparts.

A “huge throng of ten thousand” travelled to Crouch End to witness the spectacle. There followed a series of games, raising money for charity, around the country. Some reporters were sneering, “the laughter was easy, and the amusement was rather coarse” (Jarrow Express); whilst others were supportive, “I don’t think the lady footballer is to be snuffed out by a number of leading articles written by old men” (The Sporting Man). However, by the time the year was over, crowds – apparently blasé to the novelty – had petered out and the women’s game disappeared.

Twenty years later, with World War I raging on the Western Front, The FA suspended the Football League as players joined the ranks in the trenches. Meanwhile, 900,000 women were sent to work in munitions factories, where kicking a ball around at lunch breaks was a welcome respite from their dangerous job. From these kick-abouts, ‘Munitionette’ teams from various Northern factories were formed.

The most famous and successful of these was from Dick, Kerr’s & Co. in Preston. The team’s first match drew a crowd of 10,000 but this success was unlike the short-lived successes of 1895. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies went on to play numerous matches, raising £70,000 (£14m in today’s money) for charities supporting ex-servicemen and other causes. True, there were mutterings of the game’s unsuitability for women but the crowds continued to pour in even after the war ended – 35,000, for instance, saw Alice Kell’s team play Newcastle United Ladies at St James’ Park in 1919.

Alongside Alice Kell, Lily Parr was Dick, Kerr’s Ladies star player. One local newspaper wrote that there was “probably no greater football prodigy in the whole country” and it is said her shot was so hard it once broke the arm of a professional male goalkeeper. Parr’s 31 year playing career saw her score over 1,000 goals, 34 in her first season in 1920… not bad for a 14-year-old.

1920-21 represented the peak of Dick, Kerr’s success. In 1920 they represented England, beating the French women’s team on both sides of the Channel and finished the year at Goodison Park in front of 53,000 fans (by comparison 50,018 attended the men’s FA Cup Final that year). Meanwhile, 1921 was packed with 67 fixtures in front of a cumulative audience of 900,000. Yet, 1921 was also the year of the second downfall of the women’s game, courtesy of a directive from The FA banning female teams from all FA affiliated stadiums and grounds.

The perennial complaint against women’s football – and the excuse used by The FA – was that it was harmful to female health. In 1895 the British Medical Journal had declared “We can in no way sanction the reckless exposure to violence, of organs which the common experience of women had led them in every way to protect.” Now in the ’20s, Harley Street’s Dr Mary Scharlieb wrote, “I consider it a most unsuitable game, too much for a women’s physical frame”.

However, one might argue that these medical opinions were merely a pseudo-justification for The FA’s real fear that women’s football represented an uncomfortable shift in society’s hierarchy. Now the war was over, here you had female teams – “in knickers [shorts] so scanty as would be frowned upon” – attracting more fans than many men’s games being played on the same day.

What’s more, the women’s football matches, which had raised thousands for charity, were now supporting the struggling families of miners during the 1921 Miners Lock Out – a politically charged dispute where miners were had been banned from working in the coalfields, having refused significant wage reductions.It was a lethal combination: Women flouting the role dictated to them by social convention to play a scandalous sport that drew bigger audiences than their male counterparts, whilst raising funds in support of anti-establishment trade unions.

The FA’s ban effectively squeezed the sport into obscurity. Whilst teams such as Dick, Kerr’s continued to play, their banishment to nondescript playing fields meant that never again would they be cheered on by thousands in Goodison Park or St James’s. Years in the wilderness followed until the FA ban was finally lifted half a century later, allowing the game to begin its slow recovery. Although that’s another story for another time…

Back in 2016, with the women’s game reaching the popularity levels of the 1920s, the challenge is to maintain its upward trajectory ahead of, and beyond, forthcoming major Tournaments. The stories, characters and controversy from women’s football’s intriguing past are potentially a real starting point from which to catalyse powerful campaigns around the sport.

Shelley Alexander, ‘Trail-Blazers who Pioneered Women’s Football’ (BBC)
John Simkin, ‘British Ladies Football Club’ (Spartacus Educational)
John Simkin, ‘History of Women’s Football’ (Spartacus Educational)
‘The History of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge’ (The Guardian)
‘WW1: Why was women’s football banned in 1921?’ (BBC)

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.