EURO 2020: Why Brands Should Set Their Field of Vision Beyond 2016

As UEFA EURO 2016 reached its conclusion, over 300 million football fans tuned in to watch Cristiano Ronaldo and his supporting cast claim the Henri Delaunay Cup in St Denis. But for brands and potential sponsors, eyes should now be trained on a different footballing prize: the opportunity to sponsor UEFA EURO 2020 and the associated UEFA national team competitions.
Following the co-hosted tournaments of 2008 and 2012 – in Austria–Switzerland and Poland–Ukraine respectively – EURO 2016 saw a return to traditional single market hosting. 24 teams, their fans and the eyes of the football world zero-ed in on France for a Gallic festival of football. Its successor, four years hence, will have a very different flavour.Michel Platini may have been suspended, but his 2020 vision remains – a ‘EUROs for Europe’. The 16th edition of the tournament, on its 60th anniversary in 2020, will visit 13 cities in 13 different European countries. It will be the first major football tournament to span more than two countries. Truly, a European Championship.“The EURO will never have better lived up to its name. It will be a EURO of unity and
shared experiences…and with one single language: football.”
–Michel Platini

Unsurprisingly, the idea has polarised opinion. Some have questioned Platini’s motivation – the commercial potential of an enlarged and expanded tournament? Political expediency given the paucity of credible bids to host in 2020? Or ensuring a wide European power base in his now discredited bid for the FIFA presidency? Critics have also been quick to highlight the logistical complexities, the cost for fans wanting to follow their team across the continent, and the loss of the local flavour and ‘host nation spirit’ that often defines international tournaments. Sepp Blatter, of all people, argued that it would ‘lack heart and soul’ – in contrast to Russia 2018 or Qatar 2022, no doubt.

Even if you don’t buy Platini’s ideological rhetoric, it is easy to see why many National Associations and their fanbases are supportive. Nations who would never have had the stadia, infrastructure or finances to contemplate hosting a tournament – particularly the enlarged 24-team version – will now be able to stage a number of EURO matches. Denmark, Hungary and Romania are among the nations hosting three group games, plus a round of 16 games – a fantastic prospect for their local economies and football supporters.

Amid these differing perspectives, what of the opportunity for brands? Initial reaction from existing UEFA sponsors was relatively guarded – adidas commented that ‘we see a lot of potential in UEFA’s plans for EURO 2020’, and Carlsberg described the plans as ‘interesting’. Neither exactly a ringing endorsement, but there is no benefit in showing their hand too early, or too publicly. Clearly there are significant operational challenges for brands in managing a tournament sponsorship across myriad markets, but there are also plenty of reasons why CMOs should give EURO 2020 serious consideration.


The reinvention of EUROs goes beyond the evolution to a city-based model for 2020. The whole structure of National Team football in Europe is being reinvented. Out go the majority of meaningless friendly matches, in comes a new competition called the UEFA Nations League, a UEFA Nations League ‘Final 4’ tournament, a streamlined qualification process, and a more centralised UEFA-controlled rights programme. It may take a while for brands, and fans, to get their heads around the changes (explained in detail here), but the implications are clear: more competitive and meaningful matches; headline tournaments over three consecutive summers (Final 4 in 2019, EUROs in 2020, Final 4 in 2021); and ultimately a broader brand activation platform with more ‘tent poles’ over a four-year cycle.The new structure requires long-term planning and lends itself to a considered strategic approach, both over time and across markets. How should activation be prioritised across Nations League, Final 4, qualifiers and the EUROs? Are the subsidiary opportunities testing grounds for EURO campaigns, or do they require different insights and strategic considerations? Waking up to the opportunity a year out from EURO 2020 will mean you’ve missed much of its potential.It may take time to build equity in the Nations League, and for winning the ‘Final 4’ to develop prestige and cachet. But brands prepared to take a slight leap of faith, rather than stand on the side-lines, will no doubt be rewarded. Fingers crossed we can bid farewell to consolidated perimeter board purchase across European football – those largely unstrategic media buys for brands wanting instant exposure – and that those federations who have retained some control of some inventory will reserve such assets for their long-term brand partners.


It is almost too obvious to state, but the new structure means more matches, featuring more nations, hosted in more countries, engaging more fans. It is hard to see how that wouldn’t create a greater opportunity for brands, particularly those with commercial interests across the region. It will certainly help that four of the traditional ‘Big 5’ markets – England, Spain, Italy and Germany – have been selected for EURO 2020 hosting duties. Having 13 host markets presents a far more balanced activation opportunity than traditional tournament structures, where there is an inevitable concentration of value in the host market. And it potentially makes the investment decision that much easier, with fair share contributions from all host market budgets, without one market having to stump up the lion’s share.

“Getting your message across the whole of Europe is more attractive, it’s more effective.”
–Karen Earl Chairman of the European Sponsorship Association

More host nations means more stakeholders with skin in the game, on the hook to stage a successful series of matches. So, more governments supporting their federations, more tourism agencies championing their host cities, more federations mobilising members, volunteers and schools. There may even be a hint of competition between the hosts to deliver the most celebrated EURO 2020 experience. It all adds up to a very broad stakeholder group, and broader engaged communities, with new budgets, collaborations and partnerships for brands to explore and exploit.


The perception of EURO 2020 will be all-important for brands signing on UEFA’s dotted line. Will the tournament lack a coherent identity, and should that put sponsors off? Tournaments are often designed in their host’s image, taking stylistic cues from the national identity of the host market. But that often leads to a creative straight-jacket for sponsors, and some pretty generic approaches – see 2014 FIFA World Cup for the proliferation of ‘Brazilian’-themed campaigns.

EURO 2020 is more of a blank canvas, and ‘European-ness’ a less tangible characteristic. You could argue that it is more a political than cultural construct, particularly in light of ‘Brexit’, and there could certainly be some interesting geo-political considerations at play for brands talking up the power of football to ‘unite’. Regardless, the tournament should provide a creatively liberating opportunity for brands to anchor their insights and creative ideas in the traditional themes of football, unencumbered by an overtly national tournament identity.“(EURO 2020) will be decidedly continental and profoundly European.”
–Michel PlatiniPress coverage has a huge influence on the tournament perception, and this is another area where EURO 2020 could break the mould. There is a fairly established news agenda around major international tournaments – successful hosting bid announced; concerns raised over the cost of staging the event; nervousness about readiness of stadia; post-event harping about the financial burden, the white elephant stadia and the dreaded ‘L’ word. With EURO 2020, there have been no grand promises to create a lasting ‘legacy’, not one new stadium built, and the financial burden has been spread 13 ways. There may be other issues that render the event a journalistic punching bag, but brands can hope for a much more positive dialogue around their showpiece sponsorship property.INNOVATION AND FLEXIBILITY

Two words not often associated with global rightsholders. However, the restructuring of European National Team football could be seen as an indication that UEFA are prepared to rip up the rule book and embrace new ideas and approaches. Certainly, our recent discussions with UEFA suggest a genuine willingness to explore new rights and opportunities. The fact that they have been consulting brand-side agencies such as Synergy to sense-check brand requirements ahead of the sales process augurs well.

On a practical level, UEFA are unencumbered by any existing sponsor relationships. The current cycle ends in 2018, so it is a clean slate for brands champing at the bit for a piece of EURO action. Apparently all categories are fair game, so we could see a dethroning of erstwhile EURO partners such as adidas, Carlsberg and McDonald’s, and those traditionally locked out given access to the biggest party in European football. The sponsorship structure is still to be confirmed, but there will certainly be packages across the entire UEFA National Team Partnership portfolio, and specific EURO 2020 packages would make sense. It will be interesting to see whether UEFA countenance more flexible brand partnerships – such as localised deals specific to individual hosting markets, or title sponsorship of the Final 4 tournament. The ability to prioritise investment according to business footprint and priority markets would be a strong selling point for many brands.


Arguably the most important question for any CMO will be ‘Is my audience interested?’ EURO is a proven concept, with interest and viewing figures on an upward curve. EURO 2012’s reach of 1.86 billion was a 30% increase on 2008, with estimates for 2016 sitting at 2.1 billion. The EURO final attracts a live global audience of 300 million, with the average EURO match at 150 million – higher than the Super Bowl. In the UK, the audience for England–Italy at EURO 2012 (20.3m) eclipsed even the highest sports audience for the London 2012 Olympics (17.3m). Sizeable numbers, and evidence that the showpiece tournament floats many a boat. The live cumulative audience across the entire 2018–2022 term – with the new National Team proposition – is estimated in excess of 8 billion.

Yet most assessments of fan interest to date have focused on qualitative, not quantitative, aspects – and many of them negative. The argument goes that fans will be disadvantaged by the cost and complexity of following their team across the continent, and the disparate nature of the tournament makes it far less accessible. Sure, the fans who want to follow their team throughout may have to navigate numerous European cities, but without wanting to belittle the importance of such avid fans, this is a tiny proportion in the grander scheme of things.

In fact, EURO 2020 is arguably the most accessible tournament ever: many more fans will be in relative proximity to a hosting venue and will be able to contemplate attending; matches are being hosted in major cities with excellent transport links (unlike many 2012 and 2016 host cities); and every qualified hosting nation will have two group-stage matches in their own country. Using the teams qualified for EURO 2016 indicatively, that would mean 16 ‘home’ matches played in front of local fans at EURO 2020, as opposed to the three ‘home’ group-stage matches for the French team at this year’s tournament. Creating matches with more meaning – through the Nations League – and a EURO structure that ramps up the local fervour in host markets, should ensure a highly engaged fan base for potential sponsors.

UEFA Champions League Final – Does Alicia Keys have what it takes?

This year's UEFA Champions League Final being held in Milan this weekend (May 28th) will look and sound different: as part of a revamped music-driven opening ceremony, Pepsi will be presenting a live performance by Alicia Keys of her new material. Media interest is building, yet I find myself in two minds about the partnership.

On one hand I really want to see a music and sport event tie-up in Europe work and deliver for all parties, to prove that Europe can, as the US has been doing for years, successfully blend entertainment with sport on a big sporting stage. It would be brilliant for everyone: fans, the music industry, the sporting world and of course brands - in this case Pepsi.On the other hand I'm concerned that the approach and strategy behind the partnership is not going to work for the audience and, as a result, the brand. This could have a knock-on impact on whether future major European sporting events and/or artists invest in replicating what has proved to work in the US, in particular at the Super Bowl.

Once more we are seeing the music industry thinking on a very short term basis. The main gain in this case for the label is reach - 220 countries tuning in to see the Champions League Final and hearing Alicia’s new music: as success in music is so reliant on as many people as possible hearing your music, this works well for Alicia and her label RCA.

In order for music to connect with its audience on an emotional level, what is required is familiarity or a simple, catchy hook. But from what we understand, Alicia is planning to perform tracks from her new album. So the TV and stadium audience will be hearing new, unfamiliar music, which will clearly affect their interest and engagement, and may even result in negative reaction.

The stakes for Pepsi are high and you have to ask why they thought Alicia was the right artist. At our recent #TalkinRevolution event about the future of music and brand partnerships, we highlighted that successful brand-led music campaigns generally start with the idea first and the artist second. So: was Alicia chosen before or after Pepsi decided on the strategy?

I have no issue with Alicia Keys - on the contrary, she is a loved, accomplished and talented artist. Her new single 'In Common', is a beautiful song. She has a big digital footprint, with 38m Facebook fans and 23m Twitter followers; so from the perspective of a brand ‘media buy’ I understand the thinking. But what about thought about connecting with the audience? With the Final being held in Milan, Alicia's Italian ancestry maybe offers 'an angle'. But other than that, what's the fit? Is Alicia not naturally more fitting for a female audience? I can't imagine the stadium and viewers will be predominantly female...


Above all, I question whether Alicia can light up European football's Super Bowl moment and, therefore, Pepsi's involvement. If this is going to work for Pepsi, the sound and feel of the music must match the mood of the fans and viewers.

For FIFA World Cup 2014, I co-wrote and delivered the tournament's Official Anthem. As the World Cup was handed to Germany in the Maracana, our music played in sync to a spectacular firework display and I witnessed the result of the studio work, as 78,000 people jumped up and down to the song we put together. That is emotional engagement.

I really want Alicia's performance to work, but I fear that the mismatch between brand, artist and event may prove too great, and that we could be looking at a repeat of Coldplay's Super Bowl 50 halftime show performance, which famously failed in stark contrast to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. I hope I'm wrong. With more than 220 countries tuning into the UEFA Champions League Final, there are a lot of people who want to see this partnership succeed. Only time will tell if it will. The future of music (and related brand partnerships) at major European sport events may depend on it.

You can hear Alicia Keys new single on Spotify here.

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?


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 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.


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.


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.


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.

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)

Roman’s New Empire: Why Chelsea’s New Stadium Bucks The Trend

Chelsea’s new stadium by Herzog & de Meuron

Towards the end of last year, Chelsea (finally) submitted plans for their new stadium on the Stamford Bridge site – something of particular interest to me as both a fan and architecture graduate. The release of the designs was followed by the now obligatory social media backlash. A run through comments on various news sites brought up comparisons with a slinky, an ash tray, a filter and, my personal favourite, an egg slicer. Factor in the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater and London is one Baguette away from a rubbish sandwich.

But despite these ‘creative’ insights, I like it.

The UK is littered with identikit stadia, distinctive for their plastic facades and truss supports. In the Premiership, Swansea, Southampton and Leicester’s grounds are almost indistinguishable. The story is much the same in the lower leagues. Reading’s stadium, for example, sticks out on the town’s outskirts like a grey Lego/K’NEX hybrid toy.

I will concede that these teams have an excuse. Many old grounds were in need of an overhaul and the ‘off the shelf’ nature of these pre-fabricated stadia appear the most cost-effective way to improve the match day experience. However, that excuse holds less weight when you consider the super rich teams at the top of the Premier League.

The Emirates stadium cost £360M to build and, whilst impressive in scale, is largely a bland mass of coloured plastic and glass. The Etihad bowl isn’t much better and it looks like Tottenham will be heading the same way too.

There are lots of examples of great stadium design out there. However, the sad fact is a lot of them rarely get used.

The most interesting venues seem to be saved for one-off tournaments – the Olympics and World Cups. It was great seeing 80,000 people pack into London’s iconic Olympic Stadium to watch ‘Super Saturday’ and witness the enthusiasm for football across South Africa’s impressive array of World Cup venues. But there is an under-lying problem. What happens to these stadia following the tournaments’ conclusions?

The notorious issues of legacy and spiralling budgets seem an inescapable side-story to international tournaments. Brazil’s organisation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both mired in debt and political controversy, is a very current case in point. Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, the debt of which was only paid off 30 years after the 1976 Games, another.

In the UK at least, football is the only sport both lucrative and popular enough to fund such ambitious design, with the Olympic Stadium viable proof. For all Lord Coe’s rhetoric of a strong athletics legacy, we needed West Ham to step in as permanent tenants (landing the deal of the century in the process) to justify the construction cost.

‘The Big O’ designed by Roger Tallibert

You may question why the design of a stadium is actually that important, considering its principal function is purely to seat fans and showcase the sport. However, I would argue that the best venues in the world – iconic landmarks such as the old Wembley, Lord’s and Fenway Park – accomplish much more than pure function.

The reality is most people who encounter these huge arenas do it from the outside and never actually enter, particularly in a prominent city location like West London. Therefore, exterior form and contribution to the local area are crucial.

Looking at Chelsea’s new stadium, the brick piers are the most prominent feature and, in my mind, also the most successful. They give a sense of occasion and celebration which typifies a football match. Two thousand years ago the Romans needed an arena with the grandeur of the Colosseum to do its festivals justice. In the 19th Century, the Victorians advertised their industrial prowess through magnificent train stations, which we still use today.

Monumental brick piers at the new Stamford Bridge

Sport has an equal social impact on our generation. It is part of our national culture and deserves a significant legacy. Somehow I don’t see the Etihad stadium lasting the next 100 years. At least the robust piers of Chelsea’s new stadium look like they might.

The Chelsea project is also in safe, responsible hands. Herzog & de Meuron (the former an avid football fan and player) are excellent architects with an outstanding track record in stadium design. The Bird’s Nest in Beijing is their most famous work but the new stadium in Bordeaux is equally stunning. Add to that the colour changing Allianz Arena and it makes for a fairly impressive portfolio.

Of course premium design comes at a price, so good on Mr. Abramovich for splashing out on bricks over plastic. Not everyone will like it but at least it makes a statement. A stadium is more than a way to make money from fans. It is a club’s home, steeped in heritage and history, a pilgrimage destination made by thousands every week. Chelsea deserve huge credit for bucking the trend and giving their fans an interesting venue to come to. It might even do some good for the reputation of football, and wouldn’t that be nice for a change?

adidas & Manchester United: Keeping Their Eyes on the Prize

Back in late 2014, Synergy cut through the wave of commentary on the record-breaking £750m adidas kit deal with a value-based view on whether the deal would be worth it.

According to adidas CEO, Herbert Hainer, it has.

However, in a recent interview with German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, Hainer appeared to place equal emphasis on United’s style of play, saying “Business with Man United is going very well, we sell more shirts than expected. We are satisfied….even if the current playing style of Man United is not exactly what we want to see.”

And, sure enough, it’s Hainer’s comments on the United playing style which have hit the headlines…with many football fans agreeing with him.

But as adidas CEO, responsible for maximising value for shareholders, aren’t Hainer’s remarks concerning the £ value added to adidas’ bottom line more interesting? Is it not more remarkable that a £750m deal, regarded by many sports marketing experts at the time to be too expensive, is in fact outperforming sales expectations? As I’m sure Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal would insist, sports marketers and newspapers should focus on the value-based facts and figures like:

- “… we sell more shirts than expected” (Herbert Hainer, adidas CEO)

- “Many adidas retail partners have reported a 200% increase in day one sales vs. last year’s kit launch” (Steve Marks, adidas’ Director Of Sports Marketing for Manchester United)

- Sales of the club’s shirts broke the existing Megastore record by almost 50% (Manchester United)

Though Hainer’s single comment on the United playing style hit the headlines, the adidas CEO is clearly keeping his eyes on the prize – profit. Whilst adidas’ Manchester United kit sales are off to a strong start, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Only with time and effective measurement will we know whether adidas have created lasting value for their shareholders over the full 10-year term.

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.

A year like no other: Synergy’s 2014

As another year comes to an end, now seems a suitable time to reflect on a whirlwind 12 months for Synergy.

Here we outline some of our most innovative work in 2014, what the wider implications are for the industry, and what other campaigns have caught our eye and set the benchmark for what will undoubtedly be another busy and exciting year:


What we did:

2014 kicked off slightly early for some of the team at Synergy, who were at Twickenham activating IG’s inaugural sponsorship of The Big Game. Through the ‘Big Game, Bright Lights’ campaign, we looked to capitalise on the down-time that half-time offers and re-invigorate the crowd for the second half. By innovatively using Twickenham’s LED inventory, fans experienced an audio-visual spectacular that connected IG’s brand with Harlequins and gave fans the chance to win some amazing prizes.

Industry insight:

Half-time at sports games have often felt like a necessary evil for sports fans in the UK; a short break to allow the players to recover and fans to visit the facilities. The Pepsi Half-time show at the SuperBowl in February emphasised that US sport is still the benchmark for half-time entertainment, but IG’s work at Twickenham showed that, with a clear insight and innovative use of standard sponsorship inventory, the half-time break may no longer simply be used as an excuse to get the drinks in.


What we did:

The RBS 6 Nations tends to dominate the sporting agenda in February, and is often when Synergy is at its most active. As part of the RBS 6 Nations activation, Synergy helped to produce a series of films based on defining moments from the tournament. These films truly encapsulated the values of sportsmanship, perseverance and teamwork that the brand and the fans love about The Championship.

Industry insight:

Capturing sport’s inherent ‘truths’ like this, and amplifying them to produce content of interest, based on real insight, is a gift that fans want to receive. Guinness also managed this feat, with their films in honour of Jonny Wilkinson, Shane Williams and Bill McLaren, whilst Barclays’s impressively moving Premier League film captured the essence of the match day experience that makes football so special for fans, and so valued by brands.


What we did:

The Capital One Cup Final in March saw the climax of Capital One’s season-long campaign focused on ‘supporting the supporters’. As part of the Final activity, Capital One looked to maximise the audience of the final by offering free Now TV passes to those not lucky enough to have access to Sky Sports. This was a big gesture that delivered true value to football fans, who would otherwise have missed the first final of the 2013/14 season.

Industry insight:

Extending the true excitement of an event beyond those lucky enough to attend is a challenge facing a number of brands and rightsholders. However, alongside Capital One’s work, there have been a number of other examples in 2014 of brands bringing events closer to non-ticket-holders. Two that we particularly enjoyed were The National Theatre’s continued commitment to its National Theatre Live programme, which involves live screenings of theatre shows at local cinemas, and Manchester United’s partnership with Google+ that allowed fans around the world to ‘be’ at Old Trafford by appearing live on the pitch-side perimeter boards.


What we did:

In order to kick off MasterCard’s partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy created a photo moment on the Thames involving All Blacks legend Dan Carter kicking conversions over Tower Bridge. As emphasised on the Synergy blog, a good photo idea has to be reinforced with insight and good management in order to be successful. Both of these boxes were emphatically ticked here, with the resultant images capturing the imagination of the national media and providing one of the most compelling sports PR shots in recent memory.

Industry insight:

Other striking PR shots that grabbed our attention this year included the Yorkshire Building Society dying 150 sheep yellow in honour of the Tour de France and Puma’s water projection on The Thames to launch the new Arsenal kit. Once again, these examples looked fresh and innovative and therefore excited the media and fans alike.

What we did:

BUPA’s ‘My First Step’ campaign looked to get more people running by emphasising the ease with which people could start, or re-start, training. As part of the planning, BUPA and Synergy found that 60% of UK adults believed that their bodies would not be up to running once they reached 60, a myth BUPA looked to dispel as part of the campaign. 63 year-old non-runner Jennie Bond was recruited as an ambassador, as we followed her training journey that culminated in her completing the BUPA London 10,000 event.

Industry insight:

Consumer insight is clearly crucial for a successful sponsorship campaign, with the best examples based on thorough planning. Whilst the success of the ‘My First Step’ campaign was built on a relevant and robust consumer insight, we make no excuses for including another piece of Synergy work from 2014 that emphasised the importance of understanding a target audience. Ahead of Round 4 of the Capital One Cup, Capital One gave Brian Clough-style green jumpers to Nottingham Forest’s away fans at Tottenham as a tribute to their legendary manager. The story and images received widespread acclaim and, whilst the execution was impressive, the success of the story was thanks to the team’s insight around the 10th anniversary of Clough’s death and his unforgettable status within the game.


What we did:

June at Synergy signalled the launch of Coca-Cola’s ParkLives project. Following many months of in-depth planning and research, the aim of getting more people more active more often was brought to life through this bespoke programme in partnership with local councils, which provides free activity classes for local people in local parks in cities across the UK.

Industry insight:

The planning for the ParkLives campaign re-iterated that self-created programmes can often be the best way for brands to achieve their CSR goals, rather than simply buying an off-the-shelf proposition. Another great example of this in 2014 was Western Union’s ‘Pass’ programme around the brand’s UEFA Europa League sponsorship. Each successful pass made during the competition signified a contribution of financial support for quality education of young people around the world.


What we did:

The SSE team at Synergy were up in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the culmination of the brand’s GoGlasgow campaign. One of our many roles up in Scotland was managing SSE’s experiential activity on Glasgow Green, which allowed fans to capture a unique photo of themselves supporting their nation. Importantly this activity linked seamlessly into SSE’s wider campaign and fed into a digital leaderboard that acted as a real-time tracker on the conversations around the Games.

Industry insight:

Whilst by no means a new trend, by linking the experiential activity to the wider campaign and creating a strong digital output, the reach of SSE’s footprint went far beyond those lucky people at the Glasgow Green live site, and therefore generated significant engagement levels. Another really simple idea that we loved from this year was Nescafé’s activity in Croatia that again blended the online and offline world simply and effectively to create a fun and shareable experience.


What we did:

A couple of crazy days in late August saw Synergy manage the media launches for both the Guinness Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership 2014/15 rugby seasons, and give journalists, staff and fans unique access to two of the biggest club rugby competitions in Europe. The Guinness launch focused on staff engagement at Diageo’s global HQ in London, which gave employees the chance to quiz the Pro 12 captains; whilst Aviva’s event at Twickenham harnessed the Twitter reach of several of the players by creating the first ever ‘Captains selfie’ which provided fans with a fun, new viewpoint of the launch.

Industry insight:

One of the obvious benefits of sponsorship as a marketing tool is the ability for a brand to give their target audience behind-the-scenes access to something about which they care passionately. Whilst not specifically a launch, The FA’s use of the trophy to promote the sense of adventure around the upcoming third round of The FA Cup is a heart-warming example of a rightsholder giving fans unique access to something special (in this case, young fans being able to take the trophy on a series of their own adventures).


What we did:

2014 has been a massive year for Martini and Synergy, as we have helped take the iconic stripes back to the Formula 1 grid through the title partnership of Williams Martini Racing. In September, at Martini’s home race at Monza, a massive pan-European trade promotion reached its climax, with consumers and trade partners having the chance to experience an exclusive Italian weekend. This included rooftop parties, power boating on Lake Como and, of course, access to the Italian Grand Prix itself, and Synergy were on-hand to ensure this massive operation ran smoothly.

Industry insight:

Global sponsorships don’t get much bigger that a Formula 1 car deal, and Martini have used their sponsorship effectively to create unique promotions that engage with their target audiences. We also loved Coca-Cola’s huge FIFA World Cup on-pack promotion – offering consumers the chance to win one of a million footballs. For a brand that is committed to helping people get more active, this was a bold statement of intent. The additional element of a 10p donation to StreetGames for every purchase showed a brand that is embracing the Social Era and also reiterated that sponsorship, shopper marketing and CSR can work brilliantly together when applied correctly.


What we did:

October was all about The 2014 Ryder Cup, and the BMW and SLI teams at Synergy used their sponsorships in very different ways to achieve their objectives. BMW focused on generating sales leads and bringing fans closer to the action, with all activity centring on the #DriveYourTeam hashtag, whilst SLI used the tournament to demonstrate their ‘World Class As Standard ‘proposition. Two unique content strategies helped to achieve these objectives, with BMW focusing on using Twitter to create relevant and reactive golf content for fans and SLI creating long-form video content with ambassadors Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange to connect the World Class attributes of The Ryder Cup with Standard Life Investments.

Industry insight:

As we all know, a single sporting platform can be approached in very different ways, and a third brand (this time a non-sponsor) who once again used The Ryder Cup as a prime PR opportunity was Paddy Power, and we loved their approach, using a tongue-in-cheek appearance from Nigel Farage to extol the virtues of Europe coming together.


What we did:

The QBE Internationals are always a busy time in Synergy’s calendar and this year we were busy creating fantastic social content for our new client, and England kit manufacturer, Canterbury. Using Canterbury’s innovative new shirt fabric as our literal canvas and creating messaging that linked the product with the team, we were able to put an innovative spin on real-time messaging and put the shirt at the heart of Canterbury’s content.

Industry insight:

As the fan appetite for real-time content continues to grow, the evolving challenge for brands is how to get serious cut-through from their communications. We therefore also liked Virgin Media’s real-time newsroom during the Commonwealth Games, which created fun, amusing and – most importantly – differentiated sponsor content throughout the Games.


What we did:

December has seen another milestone reached for Synergy, as the first instalment in a series of Royal Salute videos inspired by the world of horsemanship, reached over a million views on YouTube (across four geo-tagged edits for different markets). This visually stunning video beautifully encapsulates the bond between man and horse, and is perfectly in keeping with a luxury brand with a strong heritage in polo.

Industry insight:

We have thought about some of the other content we have enjoyed in 2014 and in no particular order, three of our favourites include:

Beats By Dre – The Game Before The Game

The ultimate ambusher pulled off a masterstroke – brilliantly framing the key moment before a game (the moment when Beats headphones have an obvious and key role for the players) with a little help from among others – Neymar (and his dad), Fabregas, Van Persie, Lebron, Serena and even the two stars of the World Cup final – Schweinsteiger and Gotze. The presence of the pantomime villain Suarez didn’t even detract from it!

Nike Football – The Last Game

We loved how Nike brought out the personalities of their superstars and used animation in a fresh and interesting way, helping them to get around the obvious problems of bringing together a wealth of their talent for a shoot. The medium also opened the door brilliantly to the unique #AskZlatan real-time content series.

Always #LikeAGirl

A very different video – and one that doesn’t rely on any talent costs or high production values – but in an incredibly focused, simple and beautiful way reinforces Always’ commitment to empowering girls globally.

What do all of these videos have in common? All four of them are (in very different ways) tapping into something of genuine interest and relevance – whether a moment or a movement – and therefore people in their millions have actively chosen to watch, talk about and share them.

For Synergy, 2014 has unquestionably been a year to savour in sponsorship – here’s to another great year for the industry in 2015.

adidas & Manchester United: Will It Be Worth It?

Since Manchester United confirmed the record-breaking £750m adidas kit deal in July, are we really any clearer on whether the 10 year deal is good value for the German sportswear giant?

On the face of it, the wave of commentary post-announcement has given sports fans across the world a comprehensive account of the costs and benefits. If we believe the benefits outweigh the costs – as adidas and many fans do – then the deal would represent value for money. The key considerations look something like this:

• Costs: £750m rights fee over 10 years, products supplied and outfit of all the club’s teams
• Benefits: increased brand awareness, enhanced favourability vs. Nike, direct revenue from shirts and dual branded merchandise

However, something is missing.

Do we know the £ value adidas expect from increased awareness? Do we know the £ value adidas expect from increased shirts sales? Do we know the £ value adidas expect to return to shareholders? Nike decided against extending the contract (2013 value £38m), claiming the terms “did not represent good value for Nike’s shareholders“, so if we really want to understand adidas’ record-breaking deal we need to understand how it’ll make them money. Put another way, we need to understand the pathways through which adidas will generate value and what they are worth.

Pathway #1: Brand awareness

adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer is right when he says “[the deal] will help us to further strengthen our position in key markets around the world“. Manchester United is one of the most popular teams in the world with a claimed global community of 659m followers, and is increasingly prominent in the Far East and US.

So what is this worth?

Outside in, we cannot demonstrate Synergy’s tailored approach to measurement. What we can do, is apply some logic against a hypothetical scenario. So, if we imagine that 2% of United followers are unaware of the adidas brand, adidas is reaching over 13m more people because of the sponsorship. If we assume 20% of those are open to buying United / adidas branded merchandise and that 20% of those actually do, then adidas have 520,000 new customers (13.2m x 20% x 20%). If we assume each of them generates £50 profit for adidas per year, the total 10-year value created is £260m.

Pathway #2: Brand Favourability

Among those already aware of the adidas brand, the deal increases relative conversion rates down the sales funnel. Put another way, some of the 659m United followers will move away from Nike towards their new team sponsor, especially if Manchester United can turn followers into addressable individuals for their sponsors. Doing so would add further weight to the not unrealistic assumption that, given the size of the Manchester United fan base, the deal will give adidas a significant competitive over Nike.

So what is this worth?

As before, with a few inputs and assumptions we can estimate Pathway £ value. From the outside in it’s tough to determine – so we’ll leave this as a thought exercise for now – but some simple logic can go a long way.

Pathway #3: Direct revenue

As part of the agreement, adidas will supply product to Manchester United and outfit all of the club’s teams. In addition, adidas will have the exclusive right to distribute dual-branded merchandising products worldwide.

So what is this worth?

If we take Mr Hainer’s estimates as accurate, we expect “total sales to reach £1.5bn during the duration of our partnership”. Remember, however, that revenue is not the same as value. The value each of the c.1.5m annual shirt sales from 2009/10 – 2013/14, for example, has a profit margin. The higher that margin the more valuable the “direct revenue” pathway to adidas.

Only when we consider the £ value created by all pathways can we truly know whether adidas’ £750m expense will create value for shareholders. Sports fans don’t need a rigorous cost-benefit analysis to debate deal value – most will understand the dent in adidas’ wallet comes with huge potential upside. But for brands and rightsholders worldwide, understanding of £ value created across Pathways to Value should be a pre-requisite to any sponsorship deal.

Only with time and effective measurement will we know whether adidas have created value for their shareholders.


UEFA Champions League


Deliver MasterCard’s ‘Priceless’ positioning and add media reach and depth to MasterCard’s UEFA Champions League partnership by taking the story of the MasterCard mascots into the media in the lead-up to the UEFA Champions League Final.



Walking out onto the pitch at the Champions League Final is a ‘Priceless’ experience for the mascots, so we treat them like stars. This has included creating a ‘Champions League Mascot Training Camp’ with Deco, featuring little lookalikes of global stars such as Ronaldo and Rooney, with Deco coaching the mascots how to shake hands, how to line up, how to behave for the cameras and more, and Michael Ballack presenting the mascots with their kits for the Final on stage at a press conference for the world’s media.


By re-imagining a traditional asset we have turned it into a newsworthy story which delivers MasterCard-owned media coverage across multiple countries year-on-year as well as fun, shareable content that racks up hundreds of thousands of views.