FEATURE22 July 2014

Why sports sponsorship can still score

Features Leisure & Arts

As Glasgow prepares for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, Simon Hills of Sports Revolution discusses how to win at sports sponsorship.



For brands, this sporting summer that keeps on giving is of immense value. Marketing is at its most powerful when it is aspirational, inspirational and engaging. Top-drawer sport delivers these values in spades, making it prime marketing territory for brands that take the right approach.

And this approach is increasingly sophisticated. Sponsors know that sport has the reach and relevance to connect them with vast audiences of committed consumers. As a result, they are bringing the latest marketing thinking, and high expectations of results, to the table.

It wasn’t always like this. For many years, the sports marketing and sponsorship world operated on the ‘Chairman’s Wife’ principle. Namely, a sponsor allocated its budget according to where the Chairman and his wife most want to be seen — be it Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon or Cowes. Thankfully, this highly unscientific approach to sponsorship is mostly a thing of the past, although you do occasionally see examples that are little more than a corporate badging exercise.

Fan engagement

For me, the most relevant and effective sporting brand associations are those that remember one simple lesson: it’s all about the fans. Fan engagement has become the mantra of successful sports marketing and is something that we always put front and centre in every campaign. If you don’t understand what makes the fans tick, then even the most carefully planned sports sponsorship will fail.

Some time ago, we did some research into the motivations of sports fans. The answers were fascinating. We asked 100 sports fans about what really motivates them: only 13% mentioned the sport itself. The vast majority – 79% – said it was the coming together with others, the sense of community and a shared sense of belonging that motivated them the most.

Social media plays an essential role in this process. Fans don’t just want to belong, they want to shout about it, share it, and connect with others. This is why relevant real-time content has become such an important channel for any brand looking to engage sports fans. Anything that stimulates their conversation, and above all, adds value and enhances their experience, will be embraced.

“If you don’t understand what makes the fans tick, then even the most carefully planned sports sponsorship will fail”

Part of the conversation

The recent World Cup underlined this. As we explored in a web chat with our social media partner Snack Media last week, 72.4% of fans actively discussed the World Cup on social networks while watching the games on TV. Brands that successfully tap into this conversation can reap huge dividends. For example, moments after Luis Suarez sank his teeth into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, Snickers tweeted an image of a bar with the message: “More satisfying than Italian”. It was re-tweeted 49,000 times – even more than the now-famous tweet posted by biscuit brand Oreo when the lights went out at the Superbowl. That one has been re-tweeted nearly 16,000 times, boosting Oreo’s Twitter following by 8,000.

Stadium wi-fi

This power of social media and real-time content in fan engagement – and, in turn, successful sports marketing – is why we see such a big future for wi-fi being installed in sports stadia. As any sports fan knows, you can hardly get a mobile signal in most stadia, let along upload photos or video to social media. High-density wi-fi is the answer, and can act as a super-highway for huge volumes of fan-driven content. We have already installed such a system at Celtic Football Club’s ground, Celtic Park, which has been a huge hit with fans and sponsors, and recently won a Sports Technology Award for best Fan Technology. The wi-fi network will now be used by the Glasgow2014 organisers for the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, allowing fans to share their experience around the world.

This is what fan engagement is all about – adding value, enhancing the experience, and building a sense of belonging. The brands that performed best in Brazil, and will do so again in Glasgow this month, are those that follow this fan-led philosophy.

Simon Hills is commercial director at international sports marketing agency Sports Revolution.

1 Comment

10 years ago

Great article! We couldn't agree more. For years, sports franchises have been focused on selling season tickets and "putting butts in seats". True (and accurate) fan engagement, wherever they are, needs to be considered as part of any future sports franchise marketing plan.

Like Report