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Sports sponsors face challenging year

News, 18 January 2016

LONDON: Sponsors of international sporting events may have to review their approach in the year ahead as both UEFA and the IAAF struggle to cope with allegations of corruption.

But brands are unlikely to pull out of their sponsorship of the UEFA European Championship in France or the Olympic Games in Brazil, given the huge audiences both are expected to attract.

"The real question is: has what the sponsor bought into materially changed?" said Andy Clilverd, commercial director at sports marketing agency Stadia Solutions.

"There will still be billions of people watching Euro 2016 and the Olympics as they're fantastic events and the sponsors will still get millions of impressions," he told Marketing Week.

Viewers might consider corruption among administrators – UEFA boss Michel Platini has been banned from all football-related activities for eight years – as being of a different order to that among athletes themselves, as is the case with the IAAF which stands accused of covering up doping scandals.

But advertisers – in the US, at least – appear unconcerned as NBC Sports reported it was on track to exceed the $1bn it had generated in 2012 during the London Olympics.

In any case, there are ways sponsors can address negative perceptions, Clilverd suggested: by focusing on positive aspects of their involvement, for example, such as investment in grassroots sport.

And while it is generally inadvisable for brands to get too involved in the internal affairs of a sport's governing body, nor can they totally ignore what is going on, according to Kelly Williams, managing director at media rights group Sports Revolution,

"They should put the focus on the fact that, as sponsors, they are there for the fans and that as part of that role they are getting their hands dirty by cleaning up the mess behind the scenes," she said.

"Otherwise, you just look like a 'superbrand' that's not making any decisions whatsoever."

She added that brands should have plans in place to address the worst eventuality. "You have to know your exit strategy," she stated.

Data sourced from Marketing Week, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff