Sponsorship retains appeal among advertisers

24 May 2010

LONDON: Companies like Heineken and Eurostar are continuing to invest in a variety of sponsorship opportunities, despite the pressure the economic downturn has exerted on marketing budgets.

Heineken, the brewer, sponsors a range of sporting events including the UEFA Champions League, the European football tournament, as well as lending its name to the Heineken Cup, the rugby equivalent.

"The brand is over 140 years old and we tend to say we have lived through quite some crises in the past and a brand like Heineken looks to the future and invests in the future," Hans Erik Tuijt, Heineken's manager of brand activation projects, said.

"That's why, crisis or no crisis, with that confidence and long term vision, sports sponsorship is almost a natural thing to do."

According to Tuijt, the enormous reach of properties like the Champions League is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of its viewers are actually drawn from outside Europe.

Moreover, the strong attachment consumers have with specific sports means this approach offers relative predictability in terms of audience penetration and engagement levels.

"If you chose quality events to be associated with, then I find [sponsorship] quite a limited risk," said Tuijt.

Eurostar, the train operator, has previously forged tie-ups with films such as the Da Vinci Code, and also recently signed on as an official partner of the 2012 Olympic Games, which will be held in London.

"There is a small risk that the Games don't run particularly well, but in all honesty we will have got all our benefits before that, so for us it is an incredibly low risk thing to do," Nick Mercer, Eurostar's commercial director, said.

"What we are trying to do is generate demand using the Games ... It is using the excitement and collateral you are able to get from a partnership to be able to do that."

Figures from Deloitte, the consultancy, have shown that shirt sponsorship revenues across the five biggest football leagues in Europe fell by just 2.6% to £449m ($655m; €515m) year-on-year in the season running from 2008 to 2009.

"In terms of sport, we talk about it being resilient rather than recession-proof and that has definitely come through," said Alan Switzer, of Deloitte's sports business group.

Even for a sport like basketball, which is considerably less popular in Europe than the US, demand has remained largely stable, according to the International Basketball Federation.

"We've seen an increase in asking for content. If you look at the rights for television or partners, it's stable," Patrick Baumann, the organisation's secretary general, said.

"The ability of different sports to reach a plethora of consumers ranging from interests in clothing and mobile phones to a cold beer makes the industry an invaluable company resource."

As previously reported, brand owners like Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev and McDonald's are all seeking to leverage their sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which begins next month.

Data sourced from Reuters; additional content by Warc staf