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Pogba + United + adidas – The perfect marketing match?

An announcement under the hashtag #Pogback at 12.30am signalled Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United after four years at Juventus. The boy who left England with bags of potential has come back as a man to finish what he started with his first senior club.Whilst Jose Mourinho has signed Pogba for purely footballing reasons, it’s clear the club, adidas and the player himself will all benefit commercially from this new partnership. From a marketing perspective it seems to be the perfect match.One of the biggest personalities and most exciting young players in the game has joined the biggest club in the world, which is just starting its second season with kit supplier adidas, for whom Pogba is already a key ambassador.

Signing up Pogba on a £31m 10-year deal earlier this year has helped adidas create a fresh, new look that capitalises on the Frenchman’s unique style, individualism, flamboyant nature and flashy personality. He has been the figurehead of the brand’s #FirstNeverFollows campaign, a brand position that builds on the previous #ThereWillBeHaters activation and mixes football, fashion and music. The aim of this is to appeal to the younger audience, the next wave of potential adidas consumers, and win them over from newer brands like Under Armour and New Balance, who are challenging the more established giants.

Pogba gives adidas a point of difference over its rivals, such as Nike, who were also competing for his signature. He wasn’t signed just as a face to shift trainers, but as a catalyst to help change the nature of adidas’ football marketing…to make his mark on the brand itself.

From United’s viewpoint, Pogba and adidas also help the club reach a younger audience, an audience that may be swaying towards supporting Manchester City, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or another of Europe’s big clubs.

Pogba will be the face of both United and adidas for years to come. He hasn’t returned to Old Trafford for just one or two seasons; he will surely be there for a significant proportion of his career. He represents the new United, forging a new identity in the post Sir Alex Ferguson, era under the leadership of Mourinho.

Adidas, like other sponsors, do not get a say in the club’s transfer activity (although they may have had a quiet word in Ed Woodward’s ear), but for them shirt sales are clearly critical. Aligning one of their big ambassadors with one of their biggest clubs (alongside Real Madrid) will have been music to the ears of adidas, as the ‘POGBA 6’ United shirts start flying off racks around the world.

One of the reasons adidas teamed up with United in the first place is because the club has a huge fan base in the US and Asia, both target markets for the German sports brand. Pogba will help to gain cut-through in those markets.The French midfielder’s social channels have more than 13m followers. For United, this offers an opportunity a reach a new audience; whilst for Pogba, joining the Red Devils will no doubt see this figure grow and grow, as has happened with other recent arrivals to the club – a win-win. And adidas can utilise this massive reach to push out branded content and messaging to his adoring fans.This branded content played a role in the announcement of Pogba’s capture. Adidas teamed up with UK grime artist Stormzy to record a short piece of music-focused film featuring Pogba that matches the #FirstNeverFollows theme, announcing the player’s arrival at United. We are likely to see more dual-branded content like this appear as adidas and United push Pogba to the front of their marketing activity and his global appeal spirals skyward.

The Momentum Behind Women’s Sport

It’s been business as usual this week at Synergy, because we’ve been celebrating and championing the momentum behind women’s sport.

On Tuesday night we were celebrating the SSE Women’s FA Cup, which we partnered our client SSE in creating, winning the inaugural ‘Empowering Women Through Sport’ award at the UK Sponsorship Awards. Fantastic recognition for SSE, our team, and a sponsorship that is literally a game-changer. It is focused on a commitment to invest in the women’s game with funding dedicated to creating a national programme of girls-only football activity and, as the first ever major sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup, it signals the growth and stature of the women’s game.

And the day before, we championed women’s sport and, in particular, women’s tennis following Raymond Moore’s sexist idiocy and Novak Djokovic’s ill-advised, and subsequently retracted, reaction, when I made the point on that night’s main BBC evening news bulletin that women’s sport worldwide has greater momentum and investment behind it, by every measure, than ever before.

Further proof of that — if it were needed — and of the popularity of women’s tennis arrived the same day from the latest ESPN Sportspoll, sent to me by my friend and ex-colleague Alex Balfour.

Female sports fans are the biggest growth area in the last ten years in the US, whereas male fans in the 12–34 year old segment have decreased.

Look at the biggest ethic grouping among WTA fans in the US…

And where are they in the US? The south. These aren’t Federer, or Nadal, or Djokovic coat-tailers Mr Moore: they’re Serena fans.

Go Serena. Go women’s sports.

Why winning the Premier League is more than just priceless to fans

Leicester City are three points from writing their own happy ending to one of the greatest sporting stories of modern times. What’s more, their closest rivals to claiming the coveted silverware are not one of the traditional ‘Big Four’, but Tottenham Hotspur. An unlikely pairing and an unlikely tale for the richest football league in the world.

With a new name set to be engraved on the trophy, an exciting new avenue of commercial opportunities is set to be opened up, but who’s set to benefit from this?

THE CLUBS

Put simply, the club will make more money. Considerable amounts of money.

Let’s start with the basics – the winners of the Premier League will not only take home the trophy, but will also bank a £24.7m cheque for their efforts. Plus, with UEFA Champions League revenues to come for both clubs next season, they can look forward to anything between £10m to £55m of additional income. To put these figures into perspective, Leicester City’s commercial and sponsorship income in 2012 was just £5.2m.

The financial impact goes beyond just prize money – the real commercial win comes through an expanded fan base, both at home, and, more lucratively, abroad. The recent trend has seen Premier League clubs spend their pre-season on money-making tours in the Far East and America – emerging markets where they can capitalise on both fan engagement and brand investment.

Winning the Premier League will undoubtedly gain Leicester an army of new fans across the globe (their story has already won them hearts on home shores). If you don’t believe it, just look at the differences between the Twitter exchanges – both in terms of language and pure numbers – when Leicester announced they were safe from relegation in last season, to when they announced they had made the Champions League this season.

A global fan base can lend itself to a new approach to sponsorship – dividing up regions and sponsor categories to allow for the monetisation of countless deals. Manchester United claim an ‘Official Casual Footwear Partner for South Korea’, Chelsea boast an ‘Official Whiskey Partner in Myanmar’, while Arsenal have an ‘Official Telecommunications Partner in Indonesia’. Could we soon see these types of deals for Leicester?

In terms of adding fans, there isn’t just a global benefit, but a local one too. Leicester’s average attendance in the League two seasons ago was 24,990, which is close to 10,000 fans below stadium capacity. This season, you can’t get a ticket for love nor money at the King Power Stadium, with reports that touts are selling tickets to Leicester’s final game of the season for £15,000. The demand to watch the Foxes live – and be a part of the fairytale – is greater than ever.

Leicester don’t just become more attractive to potential sponsors because of the additional reach and bigger fan base. The authentic money-can’t-buy narrative will have brands falling over themselves to be part of it. In sport, the greater the odds of success, the greater the story, and the odds have never been greater in the Premier League. A Cinderella rags-to-riches story that provides a welcome relief from past rhetoric of wealth that surrounds the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.

THE PREMIER LEAGUE

The Premier League will be delighted at how the season has played out. Now, they can rightly claim back their title of being the most exciting league in the world. In Spain, just three different teams have won the title over the past decade, with FC Barcelona dominating with six wins in the past 10 seasons. In Italy, again it’s just three teams, with Inter Milan and Juventus splitting the success between them, and AC Milan winning once.

This season, by contrast, the Premier League has been entirely unpredictable. The likelihood of Leicester finishing top of the table was almost impossible in August, and only a fool would have placed any money on their starting odds of 5000/1 to win the league. Don’t we all wish we were fools…?

And that £5bn the Premier League sold the broadcast rights for? It increasingly looks like better value for the broadcasters that shelled out. This exciting season has captured the imagination of fans around the world and will have re-inforced the unique appeal of English football..

As the Premier League seeks global domination in search of more riches, stories like that of Leicester City can only help. Historically viewed as the flashiest, most commercial, most money-obsessed league (both in terms of wages and ticket prices), this season has turned this stereotype on its head. Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy cost the Foxes less than £1.5m combined. In fact, Claudio Ranieri’s entire squad cost a total of £54.4m – one eighth of big spending Man City, and still one third of their nearest title rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

A huge PR win for the Premier league, and let’s face it, you can’t buy coverage like this…

Yes, that’s Leicester City Football Club, on the front cover of the Wall Street Journal – heady times for the club.

THE PLAYERS

Where once Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Sergio Aguero and Luis Suárez were the darlings of sponsors, these household names may soon be replaced by younger, fresher names like Alli, Kane, Kanté, Vardy and Mahrez. Players catapulted from relative obscurity into the limelight, not burdened by huge deals and with the ability to make the most cynical football fan appreciate their talent. It’s reasonable to assume that they will soon be boosting their earning power exponentially through personal sponsorship deals. As an example, Rooney is estimated to be making around £5m a year from private endorsements alone.

And it doesn’t stop there. Vardy’s meteoric rise from Non-League to Premier League has been likened to that of a Hollywood script…and media reports suggest that this could actually happen. When you consider the only other movies in recent times about football careers were about the Class of ’92 – charting the most successful team in English history – and Cristiano Ronaldo, it highlights how enraptured the public are with Vardy’s story.

ENGLAND

Most of the ‘Golden Generation’ have retired, having disappointed fans with their underachievement for over a decade. There has been a noticeable lack of excitement and enthusiasm for the national team…until this season.

Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur boast English talent like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Jamie Vardy, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Danny Drinkwater. These new names have revived a nation’s hope and expectation with their young, fresh approach to the game (and beating Germany in their own backyard didn’t hurt).

This fresh crop of England players, not tainted or weighed down with past failures, will shift shirts in huge numbers before EURO 2016, which is great news for Nike. Fans have once again been drawn back towards the national team and it’s these players’ names that will grace the back of England shirts up and down the country – even Rooney’s kids want Vardy on theirs.

Mars, Vauxhall, Lidl and other England sponsors will also benefit – they have seen much of the cynicism around their prize assets disappear this season, transformed into newfound hope and positivity around the team.

QUIDS IN

It’s clear that pound signs will be flashing in the eyes of the winning club, the Premier League, the players, the FA and sponsors. The big question is whether this is a one-season wonder or the start of a new order. Can Leicester build on this and become truly dominant forces on the pitch in England and Europe, and around the world commercially?

Even Spurs, should they finish second, will have stepped out of the shadow of the dominant clubs in the Premier League and stand to gain financially off the pitch. One thing’s for certain: if Leicester and Spurs manage to continue their charge in the UEFA Champions League next season, the Big Four could start to shift uncomfortably in their boardroom chairs.

Watch this Space: Jersey Sponsorship in the US

In this year’s NBA All Stars game in Toronto, there was one towering difference on the court. It had nothing to do with what the players were doing with the ball, but everything to do with what they were wearing. On their jerseys, for the first time, there was a brand logo – Kia.
Let’s put this in proportion: at 3.25 inches by 1.6 inches it’s barely noticeable in comparison with the logos on MLS or European sports jerseys, but it’s the barrier it crosses that’s significant. There can be no doubt that this is the NBA putting feelers out for what Commissioner Adam Silver talked about back in 2014 when he said: “We know what the value is to advertisers…to be able to show fans in-game branding.”

The math is simple – the average MLS jersey goes for around $3–3.5m dollars a year, but for commercial departments from the leading “big four league” teams in the US, I would imagine that there have been some envious glances across the pond to Manchester United’s deal with American car company Chevrolet at $75m a year.

Whilst the NBA have been joined by the NHL (whose Commissioner described jersey sponsorship as “coming and happening”), the MLB and NFL have been certainly more lukewarm. There are obvious logistical issues around it.

First, with a league’s collective bargaining agreements there needs to be consensus and balance as to whether it’s sold centrally or as per the European sports model, team by team. And secondly, the objection of broadcasters concerned about potential conflict and lost revenue.

The real question here is not whether this will indeed happen in the USA (I believe it’s inevitable over the next few years in NBA and NHL, at the very least), but rather whether it will impact negatively for consumers. And moreover, will brands here in America learn the lessons from the decades of good, bad and ugly jersey sponsorships in the past to influence the future?

So do consumers care…and, in particular, the Millennial consumer?

At Synergy, we’ve long been frustrated by the lack of real understanding and insight on the way Millennials engage with and view sports – both now and in the future. There are countless myths that have been built across the demographic, some of which are wrong and many of which can skew the way brands and rightsholders build campaigns. At the end of 2015, we undertook a bespoke and comprehensive piece of research with our sister agency, The Intelligence Group, around both Millennial and Generation X attitudes towards sports, sponsors and the future of sports engagement, with findings featured throughout Now, New & Next 2016.

The survey (3,145 consumers in America with 66% 18–34-year-olds and 34% 35–54-year-olds) specifically examined the potential impact of jersey sponsorship among the audience.

In short – they don’t see it as an issue. The rise of European soccer, MLS and WNBA has made jersey logos a more acceptable part of the viewing experience for the Millennial sports fan. The research highlights that 27% of Millennials think jersey sponsorship is “very appropriate” (higher than Gen Xers), whilst, tellingly, more Gen Xers than Millennials think it’s better for brands to be in the ad break or break bumpers.

History also shows that team success soon overcomes fans’ commercial objections. FC Barcelona – whose motto is famously “More than a Club” – held out for decades against commercial shirt sponsorship by featuring Unicef on the front of their jersey (at no charge), before replacing the global charity with sponsorship from the Qatar Foundation for a then record $40m a year.

Whilst there was a clear media backlash, it didn’t last long when a team with significantly increased resources went on to lift the UEFA Champions League. So if it helps your team produce a great spectacle, most fans soon overlook the logo.

Critically, fans soon discover that a brand appearing on their shirt will not affect their “fanship.” Indeed, more than being just a benign presence, fans may even come to see a jersey sponsor as a positive force for good, with the brand actively enhancing this very fanship. Another reason why this front-and-center asset can be so powerful.

As a jersey sponsor you have a responsibility, since your logo becomes part of the history of the team. Famous jerseys down the ages of European sports are identifiable due to the brand logo on the front of them – the brand locked forever, in the very midst of that trophy-lifting moment. The same applied off the pitch, where through the replica shirt market, fans of all ages wear your brand on a daily basis.

You cannot be edited out – be that in the live moment, or the subsequent media coverage: your brand is indelibly stencilled into that moment of history (for good or bad).

This responsibility means that you must understand and tap into the players, the fans, the culture and the tone of the team.

Lessons Learned for the Future

So what lessons can brands considering jersey sponsorship here in the US learn to ensure this doesn’t become just a glorified media buy?

1 UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Jersey sponsorship has always been the closest you can get to being in the action as a brand. New tech can only help this to literally get up close and personal with your team and your favourite players. At the 2016 CES Sports Forum, virtual reality was talked about by one team owner as “what TV was to radio” – imagine the creative capacity for VR technology being able to take fans into the action courtesy of the jersey sponsor.

2 IN-GAME, EVERYWHERE
Being at the heart of the action means being at the heart of the live moment, and research shows that Millennials notice brands in-game more than anywhere else. As a jersey sponsor you need to ensure you contractually own the live moment by having access to your team’s official social media feeds in order to feed the consumers’ desire for in-play, shareable content that can enhance their fanship.

3 CONNECT WITH THE PLAYERS TO RESONATE RICHLY
Get the players onside and fast, as they’re the living embodiment and running billboard for your brand. This is what can make the activation of a shirt sponsorship both easy (as you don’t need to shoehorn your brand into the situation) but also dangerous (you may not want your brand involved in certain off-court exchanges).

Again, with players controlling their own IP and the restrictive contracts they can have with teams in the US on its usage, brands need to be savvy enough to work in harmony with the players. Additional agreements with them are a must, especially in relation to their social feeds. Take, for example, the starting line-up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, which has a combined Twitter and Facebook following of 58m, versus the team’s official feeds of just over 5m.

LeBron’s Twitter following alone is nearly as big as that of all the other teams in the league combined.

4 DISRUPTIVE THINKING PAYS
Don’t be afraid to innovate or have fun with it – when Intel signed a jersey deal with FC Barcelona they literally turned the traditional model inside out by putting their Intel branding on the inside of the jersey. Some brands have handed over the space to a charity that they back for key matches – something that usually attracts positive sentiment.

5 THINK LOCAL AND ACT GLOBAL
The geographic activation restrictions of most US league deals ensure that the jersey sponsor would need to keep home fences mended, but the real potential for the leading teams would be the global potential. It’s no accident that leading UK soccer clubs Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are sponsored by Chevrolet, Standard Chartered and Yokohama respectively – all brands targeting a global audience. Chevrolet don’t even sell vehicles in the UK.

Jersey sponsorship will happen here in the US, and fans will accept it. Leagues and brands, however, must look past the jersey as simply prime estate, instead seeing it as a chance to help share the very beating heart of the team.

Respect this, enhance it and tap into the fan culture, and it’s among the most powerful assets in a sponsorship arsenal. Get it wrong and it’s an expensive – and very public – mistake.

This blog comes from Synergy’s Now, New & Next sponsorship and entertainment outlook for 2016, which can be viewed in full here.

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!

Why The Premier League Killed Title Sponsorship – And Now Needs A Purpose Beyond Profit

I wasn’t surprised by the Premier League’s decision to discontinue title sponsorship when the current Barclays deal ends next season. The League’s TV riches and the bigger clubs’ sponsorship earning power and ambitions made it a question of when, not if, this would happen.

As I wrote on Twitter back in February when the Premier League’s new £5.1 billion domestic TV deals were announced:

It’s difficult to conclude the new TV deal won’t influence the clubs’ expectations of the percentage increase achievable [from a new title sponsorship] versus the current Barclays sponsorship…given the huge gap between Premier League TV and title sponsor revenue, maybe the PL title sponsorship’s days are numbered.

And so it proved. Here’s why.

The gap between current Premier League TV revenue and title sponsorship revenue is already enormous. Last season, the twenty Premier League clubs shared over £1.6 billion of centrally-generated revenue: 94.6% of this was TV money. Of the other 5.4% (just under £88 million), £40 million was from the Barclays title sponsorship — just 2.5% of total centrally-generated revenue. A pretty low percentage. When the increased domestic TV revenue — 67% up on the current contract — kicks in in 2016–17, along with new and inevitably increased international TV revenue (currently worth £2.2 billion but expected to rise to £2.9 billion), the title sponsorship money will look even more like a drop in the ocean.

And that would still have been the case even if the Premier League had been able to satisfy the clubs’ expectations and find a brand willing to substantially increase the £40 million per year title sponsorship paid by Barclays, which always looked unlikely, and which as we now know didn’t happen.

The other key financial factor in the Premier League’s decision is the bigger clubs’ ever-increasing sponsorship earning power and ambitions.

Led by Manchester United, the bigger Premier League clubs are now routinely generating nine-figure sums from their shirt sponsorships, and achieving double-digit increases when they renew or replace sponsors. They’re also aggressively marketing their secondary sponsorship packages, and looking to diversify and increase their sponsorship from other sources, such as stadium sponsorship and (pioneered by Manchester United with enormous success) training kit sponsorship and regional sponsorships.

This has also impacted on their view of the Premier League title sponsorship’s value.

The clubs keep 100% of the sponsorship income they generate individually, whereas they share equally (i.e. 5% each) the title sponsorship money generated at the centre. As with the TV money, the growth in their individual revenue streams has also outpaced their share of the title sponsorship deal and made it look increasingly minor. £2 million per club from Barclays is a drop in the ocean for the bigger clubs and now looks like small beer even to the others compared to the TV money.

The bigger clubs can also justifiably argue that they can sell the substantial collateral that they have to release to Barclays (perimeter ads, match sponsorships, player appearances, digital and data rights and the like) for much more money than that they receive as their share of the Barclays deal.

And in a related point, the category exclusivity that is part of the Barclays deal and prevents all of the clubs from selling sponsorship to Barclays’ competitors has also become increasingly unattractive.

Bottom line: the Premier League has outgrown title sponsorship — given its finances and earning power, it simply doesn’t need title sponsorship any more.

And moving beyond title sponsorship creates new marketing opportunities for the Premier League.

It opens up the ‘hero brand’ model used so successfully by the likes of the NFL and NBA to market and differentiate their brands without the dilution of a title sponsorship. A Premier League brand free of title sponsorship has the potential to be more flexible and attractive to consumers, more attractive to potential licensing and merchandising partners, and much more attractive to potential sponsorship partners — although whether the clubs are prepared to release enough inventory and categories to allow the League to expand its very limited roster of secondary sponsors remains to be seen.

But for all its riches and all its new post-title sponsorship opportunities, there’s one thing above all that the Premier League must do for itself and its brand: to re-define, and then communicate and live by, what the League’s values are and what it stands for.

Currently it positions itself only as being ‘all about the football’. And when you ask people what the Premier League stands for, great football is absolutely one of the two things they generally say.

But the other is (and not in a good way) money — lots of money.

That’s not a sustainable position.

If the Premier League is to truly become a ‘hero brand’, it needs a purpose and values beyond football and profit.

And if the FIFA scandal teaches us anything, it’s surely that football needs a purpose and values beyond football and profit now more than ever.

Bloodmarketing: is Red the new Black?

Back in summer 2012, the sponsorship industry witnessed a seminal CSR activation by Hemoba, a Brazilian blood bank and Brazilian football club Vitória, with their ‘My Blood is Red & Black’ campaign. Synergy’s colleagues in Brazil wrote about the activity at the time in their review of the year, picking it out for special praise.

As a quick reminder for anyone unaware of the activity (so that’s probably just … ), the concept revolved around the insight that people in Brazil only give blood when inspired to do so by someone they really care about. So who better to donate for than the club you love?

From this singular insight the club created a clear, cute and well-intentioned campaign, the centre-piece of which saw the red of Vitória’s famous red and black shirts leeched white. As fans committed to blood banks across Bahia State, the club shirts steadily regained their iconic colour.

Again, you can’t argue with the results for Hemoba – who marked an increase in donations of 46% – or Vitória itself, as there has scarcely been a more appropriate example of fans giving their blood, sweat and tears for their team shirt.

So why mention this again?

Well, because last week it was announced that anyone giving blood (okay, anyone in Denmark, in a prescribed location, at a defined time…) would be given a copy of the new PlayStation 4 game, Bloodborne.

With multiple rave reviews, and a RRP of £49.99 (or around 500 Danish Krone), there’s little question this represents a good deal. Even Danes not able to make the donation session on March 23rd in Copenhagen were still encouraged to sign up to give blood, as those that add ‘PS4′ after their name on the GivBlod donor list, have the chance to win a PlayStation 4 console.

Why target gamers? GivBlod have established that there is currently a shortage of male blood in Denmark, so used what they considered a traditionally male platform to incentivise action.

Why Bloodborne? Well, the hemoglobic connection was probably too good to miss, plus it’s a game with a PEGI rating of 16, meaning if you’re buying it, there’s a chance you meet the 17 years-and-over legal age to give blood in Denmark.

With largely positive (if a little quippy) feedback from the online community, it suggests that PlayStation and GivBlod are on to something here.

Question will be whether they use this mechanic to engage more broadly than the stereotypical male gamer demographic, particularly since in Denmark this passion point is actually not quite as definitively XY as assumed (although PS4 ownership might be).

Moreover, if looking at the Europe-wide statistics, it’s clear that female gamers are in fact becoming more and more prominent.

In the wake of #Gamergate, it’s all the more important that advertisers, brands and associated stakeholders consider the wider gamer demographics as a relevant group to engage.

Regardless, it’s unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of consumer incentivisation meeting a product launch beyond the initial Danish blood test.

More money, more problems?

Earlier this month, the rights to broadcast the Premier League in the UK from 2016 to 2019 were sold for a combined £5.13 billion. At over £2 billion more than the equivalent package from 2013 to 2016, this works out at £10.19 million per game over that period, or a staggering £113,000 a minute (which is still three times cheaper than Wilfried Zaha...). It now means that, when the deal starts, all Premier League clubs will receive more money for their domestic TV deals than any other club in the world, save for the two Spanish behemoths, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Whichever way one spins it (and there are a lot of ways – including this excellent analysis from The Swiss Ramble), it represents a dizzying sum of money, but what are the implications of the new deal for the sport?

For football traditionalists, there is no shortage of concerns, including the introduction of Friday night Premier League football and the increased dominance of the Premier League over other domestic competitions (the £3.5 million prize pot for the FA Cup compares fairly unfavourably with the projected £152 million for the Premier League champions). But, perhaps most intriguingly, the announcement has caused football fans to sharpen their focus on how clubs utilise these vast sums of money.

With accusations of greed and wastefulness already commonplace, the increase in TV money will be an added stick for supporters to beat clubs with if there is no tangible change in the way that most fans feel they are treated. Rising ticket prices, poor matchday experience, difficulty of getting to matches and poor administrative club staff pay are all familiar, justified gripes from football fans that will be inevitably magnified by this influx of cash.

At the announcement of the new deal, Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore declared that the Premier League would be putting more money towards grassroots football, but also called on individual clubs to act to help fans, specifically around ticket prices. This sentiment was shared by many in the footballing fraternity, who queued up to heap pressure on Premier League clubs: Gary Lineker commented on Twitter that football was now ‘awash with money’, and called for clubs to ‘cut ticket prices and make it affordable for real fans to attend.’ Jamie Carragher continued the theme by stating that ‘ticket pricing, especially for away fans, has to change’, advocating a policy of ‘£20 for the 20 away games.’

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Although ticket pricing should be the minimum that clubs are doing to improve their relationship with fans, it will be intriguing to see their different approaches to it, and will be a fairly simple aspect to track. Will we really see wholesale changes or will we see the continuation of a general theme of token gestures from clubs (I got a £2 discount off a recent away match ticket from my supported club, which knocked the cost down to a much more manageable £53…)?

If no substantial action is taken by clubs, it is clear that fans will waste no time in airing their grievances. In a world where fans feel increasingly ostracised from the football club hierarchy, there has been a noticeable rise in high-profile protests by supporters using the level of focus on the sport as an opportunity to push their agenda. This fan action is not focussed solely around the issue of ticket pricing and club treatment of fans, but in recent times has also included high-profile protests against clubs signing particular players, club owners who do not seem fit for purpose and even the use of WiFi in stadia.

In a world where Premier League clubs’ financial power continues to rise exponentially, and where fans increasingly feel marginalised, we are progressively seeing examples of supporters effectively undertaking their own PR stunts. It is a disappointing sign of the times that the public tarnishing of clubs’ images (often by their own fans) and those of governing bodies is seen as one of few viable ways to force action.

Of course, this sort of protest from supporters can also have a negative effect on club partners; Portsmouth shirt sponsor, Jobsite were probably not delighted to be associated with the above march against club owners, who fans believed were wrongly appointed to their powerful jobs. But outpourings of fan sentiment like this can often give sponsors interesting openings. Not only does it give useful fan insights that can influence creative activations (maybe fans aren’t desperate for WiFi in stadia?) but more importantly creates opportunities for sponsors to step in and add real value for fans when they may otherwise be feeling neglected.

This can be in the form of clear, tangible demonstrations of support like increasing opportunities to get to games or cutting costs of getting them there, but also can be through adding value to the matchday experience. Also, as has been seen in high profile examples such as with Ched Evans, sponsors can use their considerable clout to reinforce fans’ views to push for action and influence clubs in a way that fans simply cannot.

It will certainly to be interesting to see if, and how, Premier League clubs look to help fans with the increased TV money. But, equally, if there is continued inaction, then the reaction from sponsors to these ‘injustices’ will be worth keeping an eye on.

Watch this space.