Brands, Bands, Fans: What Music & Sport Can Learn From Each Other

Sport is way ahead of music when it comes to brand investment. It’s at least ten times bigger worldwide and the gap is growing. From a niche play only 40 years ago, sports marketing has boomed.This hasn’t happened by accident.

Sport set out to make it happen, and has done so brilliantly. With the fall in revenues from traditional sources, in particular record sales, the music industry has never needed brands more than today, not just as replacement income but also for marketing support. So what can music learn from how sport has so successfully attracted brand partners and budgets – and what can sport learn from music?

What Music Can Learn From Sport?

1. Sport has made brands a fundamental part of how it presents itself – broadcasts, events, leagues, teams, stadiums, players. This has done many things, but in particular it has normalised sport’s relationship with brands, in a way that is still evolving in music, and made sports fans more accepting of brands in sports than they are in music – although this is now changing for millennials who accept brands operating in the music space.

2. Sport has used the media to make itself and its brand partners impossible to miss. Globally, sport is ‘always on’ – and always on screen. Music, by contrast, rarely gets a look in and has nowhere near the exposure.

3. Sport has made itself easy to buy. Although, like music, sport is a complex ecosystem of rights, it’s alleviated the problem by commercialising its assets specifically with brands in mind, bundling rights and minimising buying points. Music is still wrestling with the problem of being much more complex, and much more difficult for brands to buy.

4. Sport thinks long term. Most big brand partnerships in sport are built around multi-year agreements – usually over a minimum of three years, although even longer deals are not uncommon – enabling brands to plan long term strategies with all the benefits that brings to both sport and the brand. In contrast, music deals tend to generally be short-term tactical hit and runs which scratch the surface of what is possible and often result in low ROI and poor experiences.

5. Sport can be a powerful ally: when sport and music come together, the results are often amazing. Adidas’s collaboration with Run-DMC. The Super Bowl halftime show. Coke’s 2010 World Cup collaboration with K’naan. And – as our recent #TalkinRevolution music marketing panel event at Spotify demonstrated - the natural synergies which happen when brands bring artists and sports stars together. The potential is huge and the possibilities are endless.

What Sport Can Learn From Music?

1. Although sports marketing budgets dwarf those in music, music offers brands the same mass reach and arguably even greater emotion. This emotion is what drives the relationship between brands, bands and fans, inspiring product demand and marketing pull. Sport gets this, but can take lessons from music’s much greater focus on creating credible brand partnerships and avoiding over-commercialisation, which we also talked about at our #TalkinRevolution event.

2. Music can be a powerful ally for sport, generating both connectivity and emotional engagement. Think of the Three Tenors and Italia 90, and probably most effectively of all, the Three Lions, which became the soundtrack of Euro 96 and still resonates today.

3. Music is brilliant at marketing to the young, as Engine’s Cassandra Report consistently demonstrates. Millennials, for whom music is a bigger passion than sport, embrace brands who provide them with music experiences, especially online. In contrast, the audience for most major sports, which are heavily reliant on TV, is ageing. Music is inherently viral online, fuelling many of the biggest social platforms. By leaning into music, sport can dramatically increase its reach and engagement – especially with the young.

4. Music is still under-exploited by sport. Traditionally the music industry has led talent and content decisions, often with poor results – most recently UEFA agreeing to use Alicia Keys for the Champions League Final. Wrong act, wrong demographic. Sport should get on the front foot and insist on better, insight-driven choices.

5. Sport is terrified of risk. Music embraces it. Yes, risk needs to be minimised, but risk can be good. No risk usually results in less or no interest. Building on this ‘edge’ creates stand out and differentiation. Look no further than Nike and Red Bull, for both of whom risk has been central to their sports strategies for years.

In summary, music clearly has much to learn from sport’s advanced commercial strategies. But conversely sport can learn from the edginess, risk and social glue that music creates. More joint ventures, and better execution, can create huge synergies for brands, bands and fans. Sport and music just need to lean in to each other more. The only limit is the power of our imagination. Let’s make it happen!

This is an enlarged version of a piece originally written by Arnon Woolfson and Tim Crow for Music Week.

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.

Sports Fans, Social Media and the Millennial Myth

The world’s biggest brands tirelessly strive to deliver rich, digital, sports marketing experiences that stimulate fan conversation, ignite fan interaction and create new fan communities. But, is this what the millennial sports fan really wants? Our ‘Social Sports Fan’ research strongly suggests not. We present a much simpler perspective on what motivates global millennial sports fans to use social media. We expose some perhaps inconvenient truths for an industry more inclined towards ‘new ideas’ than ‘good ideas’ – those built on the solid consumer insights we all know feed the most exciting and effective campaigns. The headlines: - It is not interactivity and rich content experiences that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s real-time content, immediately and easily accessed. - It is not the most official and trustworthy content that millennial sports fans want. It’s a wide breadth of perspectives – they don’t care where their content comes from. - It is not recognition and reinforcement of their identity that millennial sports fans want from social. It’s much more ‘to me’ than ‘from me’. We explore the above and much more in depth. We discover that younger millennials behave quite differently to older millennials. They do want to share their opinion. They do want to use social as a means of expressing who they are.

Our aim is to help brands and rights holders come up for air and see through the relentless development of new social platforms, communities, products, apps and widgets…to focus on what sports fans really want from social media. Our mission is to champion a smarter breed of content. To cut through the crap and deliver the kind of results that can be achieved when the superpowers of sport and social come together. Enjoy the read…
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Standard Life Investments and The Lions: the big cat is out of the bag!

The big cat is out of the bag: on January 11 Synergy helped Standard Life Investments announce their agreement to become the Principal Partner of the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

After months of hard work, initially in supporting Standard Life Investments negotiate the partnership, then into campaign planning, the launch featured five legendary Lions as brand ambassadors, whose stature reflected Standard Life Investments’ world class positioning.

The launch was staged at The Gherkin, the iconic London base of Standard Life Investments, and generated impressive results:

As part of the launch we produced this spine-tingling film evoking the Lions’ unique heritage and highlighting the shared values and ambitions of the two new partners – enjoy.

To complement the Lions partnership, Standard Life Investments’ is also a Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup – a unique, prestigious and highly effective combination that delivers powerfully and precisely to the needs of the business and the brand.

Roll on Hazeltine 2016 and and New Zealand 2017!

A Year To Remember: Synergy’s 2015

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

1. Winning Sport Industry Agency of the Year

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


2. Front and Centre at Rugby World Cup 2015

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


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

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

4. Celebrating Capital One’s Little Legends

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

5. Taking SynergyLive To The Next Level

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

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

6. Filming Another Royal Salute Story of Power and Grace

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

7. Making The MARTINI Terrazza The Talk Of The Town

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

8. Keeping Sport On The Election Agenda

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

9. Discovering Different With Nikon

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


10. Taking A Shirt Launch To New Heights

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

11. And Finally…Opening Synergy Stateside

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

Breaking the Model

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambush and Amateurism: How Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Began

The closer we get to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which Synergy is working on for four of the tournament’s sponsors and one of ITV’s broadcast sponsors, the more I’ve been reminded of the very different commercial background to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, the first time the RWC was staged in England, and the huge impact the tournament had on rugby and sports marketing in the UK. So, being (I suspect) one of a fairly small group of people to have worked on both RWC 1991 and 2015, here’s my take on the formative years of RWC sponsorship.

Ahead of RWC 2015, the eighth Rugby World Cup, we have a very good idea of what the tournament’s going to be like off the field – consumer behaviour, media coverage, brand activations, and so on. But ahead of the 1991 tournament, the Rugby World Cup was an unknown quantity for UK marketers.

It was by far the biggest sporting event to have been staged in the UK since the 1966 World Cup, so it was our first taste of a world event for merely twenty-five years.

The first Rugby World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, hadn’t really cut through here at all: rugby was a much smaller sport than it is now – pro rugby was still eight years away – and the Antipodean time-zone meant that pre-Sky, pre-satellite media coverage in the UK was after the fact, and light.

There were no meaningful sponsorship benchmarks: only a handful of companies had signed up to sponsor RWC 1987, almost all of them Japanese brands motivated solely by strong TV coverage of the tournament in Japan. One, KDD, paid more than the others and effectively became the tournament’s title sponsor. And as we shall see, in 1991 another Japanese brand repeated the trick.

A 1987 Rugby World Cup Final ticket. Note the KDD branding.

These were also evolutionary times for sports marketing in the UK. Although the industry was growing fast, the supply of opportunities was still limited, rights holders were old-school and commercially under-skilled (not least in rugby), and among brands, sports marketing was very much a minority activity.

The result of all that was that many of the operating principles we take for granted today just didn’t apply ahead of RWC 1991.

And the biggest difference was how RWC 1991 event and broadcast sponsorships were sold.

Today, it’s well-established practice for rights holders to sell their event sponsorships well in advance, and give their major sponsors a contractual first option to buy sponsorship of the event’s TV coverage. World Rugby been exemplary in this respect, and as a result one of the Worldwide Partners, Land Rover, has exercised their contractual option to become a co-sponsor of ITV’s RWC coverage. Similarly, our client SSE was only able to buy the other ITV broadcast sponsor position after the other RWC Worldwide Partners passed on the opportunity and it went to the open market.

All very orderly. But there was nothing like that in place for RWC 1991. Back then, the ITV broadcast sponsorship was open to all from the off, and taken to market at the same time as the event sponsorships. The broadcast sponsorship sold relatively quickly, whereas most of the event sponsorships were eventually sold at the last minute.

Compared to today, it was chaotic.

Two events above all led to this happening.

The first was the organising committee’s mysterious decision to award the tournament’s commercial rights lock, stock and barrel to a (now long-defunct) company called CPMA. This proved to be disastrous in many ways, not least in relation to sponsorship. CPMA priced each RWC event sponsorship at a deluded £2m, got knocked back by the market, and never recovered. Although Heinz (then run by former Irish rugby international Tony O’Reilly) signed up in 1990 for £1million, there were no other takers, and as a result CPMA inevitably became a price-taker reduced to doing last-minute deals: seven of the eight RWC 1991 event sponsors signed up in the six months prior to the tournament (I was on the buying side of two of these deals) for an average of around £300,000 each, including three in the last month.

The second was ITV’s coup in 1989 of winning the exclusive UK TV rights to RWC 1991, with a bid of £3million which the BBC could not, or would not, match: great business for ITV when you consider that the tournament was a big TV hit (over 13 million watched the England-Australia Final on ITV) and that this success paved the way for ITV to retain the rights to the RWC to this day. And even before the 1991 tournament started, ITV knew they were certain to make a profit when Sony bought the RWC broadcast sponsorship for £2million – two-thirds of what ITV paid for the rights.

This also turned out to be very good business for Sony, as David Pearson, Sony’s UK MD at the time, later recalled:

‘Various [Rugby World Cup] opportunities were presented to Sony including [being] one of eight named sponsors of the competition itself. However, what I felt was of much more interest was the opportunity to become the unique sponsor of the [ITV] broadcast rights…I decided to only sponsor the broadcasting and leave the event sponsorship to others…I believed that far more people would watch the matches on TV than in the stadia and I did not like the idea of sharing sponsorship with seven other parties. So it proved. The majority of people believed that Sony had actually been the event sponsor, giving rise to allegations by the official event sponsors that Sony had ambushed the competition. But that was false. We had chosen legitimately from the choices put to us by the agency representing the World Cup organisers and [ITV].’

I couldn’t agree more: Sony did nothing wrong. They took a brave decision on a new tournament and a new advertising format – paying, let’s not forget, far more than any of the event sponsors – and reaped the rewards. Ambush it may have been, but it was an officially-sanctioned and enabled ambush: the responsibility was wholly CPMA’s owing to their mismanagement of the commercial rights.

As to the ‘allegations by the official event sponsors’, my strong impression at the time was that most of this was driven by Heinz, who were particularly aggrieved: not only had they been undercut by CPMA’s fire-sale of the other event sponsorships, but they’d also seen the main benefit of being the first sponsor to sign up – the highest level of brand association with the tournament – blown away by Sony. (It’s perhaps not entirely coincidental that Heinz has eschewed major sponsorship ever since).

So all in all a painful lesson for the RWC, and a wake-up call for sports rights holders and brands everywhere about how sponsorships should be bought and sold around major events.

But I don’t want to leave you with a negative impression of RWC 1991 on or off the field: quite the opposite. The tournament was a huge success and left behind some very significant legacies.

It turbo-charged the UK sports marketing industry, accelerating its skills and giving it its first experience of activating the multi-sponsor major event model which was becoming the worldwide norm. Without that experience, for example, I have no doubt that five years later Euro 1996 would not have have been the huge success that it was off the field for sponsors in the UK.

But above all RWC 1991 was a watershed moment for rugby’s profile, which took off and never looked back. Quite simply, the tournament electrified the country. Everybody was talking about it, everybody was watching it, and especially in the week of the Final, it was everywhere – back pages, front pages and everything in between. It was glorious.

Here’s hoping for more of the same over the next couple of months. Good luck to everyone involved with RWC 2015.