A Year To Remember: Synergy’s 2015

It’s been another year to remember for Synergy and our clients. So, with 2015 heading for the history books, in time-honoured fashion we’ve taken a little time to record and reflect some of our highlights – and there have been so many that we couldn’t quite whittle it down to ten, so eleven it is. We hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it!

1. Winning Sport Industry Agency of the Year

Where else to begin but Synergy winning Agency Of The Year for the second time at the BT Sport Industry Awards back in April. Acknowledged as the biggest and most prestigious award in UK sports marketing and sponsorship, the Sport Industry judges reserved particular praise for Synergy’s creativity and vibrant culture – the latter being clearly on display in the celebrations which lasted through the night and into the next day!


2. Front and Centre at Rugby World Cup 2015

We were proud to play our part in the biggest and best Rugby World Cup yet, working with four of the RWC tournament sponsors – Canterbury, Coca-Cola, Emirates and MasterCard – as well as ITV RWC broadcast sponsor SSE and England Rugby partner BMW. Roll on Japan 2019!


3. Helping SSE take the lead on women’s football

One of our proudest moments in 2015 was to support SSE in a landmark agreement to become the first ever major sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup and commit to grass-roots funding that will make a real difference to girls’ football. The visionary nature of the sponsorship and the success of our SSE #GirlsTakeover campaign has set the benchmark and hopefully paved the way for many more brands to get behind women’s sport.

4. Celebrating Capital One’s Little Legends

This year we re-imagined a showpiece Wembley football final for Capital One. To climax the 2014/15 Capital One Cup campaign, we used the final to showcase and celebrate football’s ‘Little Legends’, handing over 45 key roles at the final to kids between the ages of 6-14, including hanging up the kit, carrying flags, delivering the match ball, singing the national anthem, performing the half-time entertainment and delivering a match report for a national newspaper!

5. Taking SynergyLive To The Next Level

Back in 2013 we were the world’s first sports marketing agency to launch a real-time social media service, SynergyLive. This year we took it to a new level. Two examples. We helped rugby fans to #seebeyond with Accenture, producing fast-turnaround data-visualisations designed for sharing, such as this.

And for BT, we re-imagined wheelchair rugby for the connected era with a cutting-edge production of the BT World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge at the iconic Copper Box, integrating wow-factor digital such as The Smashmeter into the viewer experience.

6. Filming Another Royal Salute Story of Power and Grace

Following the overwhelming success of our first Royal Salute film, which generated millions of views worldwide, we teamed up again with the brand this year for another iconic film, The Rider, featuring Nakoa Decoite, the big wave surfer and polo pro. Shot on location in Maui, the film tells the incredible story of one of the world’s most uniquely talented and intriguing personalities. Enjoy…

7. Making The MARTINI Terrazza The Talk Of The Town

We’ve proud to have once again helped bring MARTINI’s legendary style to F1, taking the now-legendary MARTINI Terrazas to six cities from Barcelona to Sao Paulo. The Terrazzas treated almost 50,000 beautiful people to each city’s very best music, art, fashion and food, making MARTINI F1′s coolest and most desired brand.

8. Keeping Sport On The Election Agenda

They say sport and politics shouldn’t mix, but we took a different view back in May during the UK General Election, spotlighting the surprising (or unsurprising, depending on your point of view) lack of sports strategy in the major parties’ manifestos. The result was one of our most-read blog posts of the year.

9. Discovering Different With Nikon

2015 saw Synergy work with Nikon for the first time, creating the #DiscoverDifferent campaign – unforgettable photographic experiences curated by Nikon experts, revealing the hidden delights of some of England’s most iconic cities.


10. Taking A Shirt Launch To New Heights

Another rugby highlight from 2015, and our biggest, most innovative and effective shirt launch ever. Our ‘Launched By The Loyal’ campaign for Canterbury enabled thousands of superfans to launch the England Rugby World Cup shirt simultaneously from their social media feeds, led by three who sky-dived a giant replica from 12,500 feet over Stonehenge with the Red Devils. The results: huge media coverage and record shirt sales.

11. And Finally…Opening Synergy Stateside

Our final highlight of another amazing year is of course the launch of Synergy in the US, which saw us welcome back Dom Curran as US CEO (once a Synergist, always a Synergist) and Ryder Cup Worldwide Partner Standard Life Investments as a founding client. Synergy US is go!

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.

Spieth & McIlroy’s Google Spikes Are Growing, But Tiger Still Rules – For Now

I’m a big fan of the beta feature in Google Trends which enables you to compare search volumes since 2004 for just about anything, and often use it to add additional insights to our work. (Warning: if, like me, you’re into data, it’s pretty addictive). Recently, it’s also provided a really interesting angle on the end of the Tiger Woods era in golf, and what looks like the beginning of a new era marked by the rivalry between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

For most of his career, Tiger has been the world’s most Googled golfer, as shown by this chart, also shown below, comparing his search volumes since 2004 to those of his nearest rivals – although the most notable feature is of course the huge spike in December 2009 marking Tiger’s disgrace.

You can also see that in the last couple of years the gap between Tiger and his rivals has closed. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Google Trends also enables us to compare how searches for Tiger compare to megastars in other sports. Here he is compared to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James for example.

So Tiger may have ruled golf, but both before and after his fall his Google search volumes didn’t compare to the biggest stars in bigger sports – if you play around with other big names you get similar results.

But back to the main point. How is Tiger’s apparently inexorable decline in form and the simultaneous rise of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth reflected in recent Google search volumes? Does Tiger still rule, or is the new McIlroy-Spieth era evident on Google as well as the golf course?

This chart, also seen below, shows how it played out in 2014.

Despite making only seven appearances during the year owing to injury, Tiger was still comfortably the most-searched of the three players on average in 2014, with his biggest spikes both coming from the two majors he appeared in: a missed cut at the US PGA and a 69th place at The Open.

Rory’s average in 2014 was around half that of Tiger, and like Tiger his biggest spikes also came at The Open and the US PGA, but obviously for very different reasons as Rory won both tournaments. His other big spike came in May, caused by his break-up with Caroline Wozniacki and subsequent win at the BMW PGA Championship.

In contrast Jordan Spieth wasn’t really a factor in 2014, except – in a sign of things to come – for a spike for his second place finish on debut at The Masters, where he also outscored McIlroy by seven shots when they played together in the second round.

Fast forward to 2015 and it has of course been Spieth’s year so far, with wins in both majors, The Masters back in April and the US Open earlier this month, which the chart below and here clearly shows.

(Interesting that Spieth’s Masters win generated a much higher spike than his US Open win. This could be for all kinds of reasons, but I suspect the two biggest are the novelty factor of Spieth’s debut major win and the Masters being a bigger deal worldwide than the US Open, as this chart shows.)

What’s also clear is that, driven unquestionably by the media, there is as much interest in Tiger’s poor performances as there is in a great performance by Spieth or McIlroy. For example, Tiger’s missed cut at this year’s US Open generated almost as much search interest as Spieth’s win, and Tiger’s missed cut at last year’s US PGA generated more search interest than McIlroy’s win. Which is why Tiger’s average search volumes are still the highest – although Spieth especially is closing the gap.

So, for now at least, Tiger still rules golf on Google. But not in a good way – and probably not for much longer.

Let’s see whose spikes are biggest at the next major – the biggest of them all – The Open at St Andrew’s.