Nathalie Nénon: Do you Speak Brand Sponsorship?

LS International

The FIFA World Cup has started on and the sponsorship circus is on. When brands try to get traction from their partnership with the elite football teams and the World Premium Football competition we can question the future of sponsorship in the new digital era.

A long time ago, when Gen Z’s parents just graduated, i.e. approximately 25 years ago, sponsorship was all about putting brand names on panel boards around the football pitch and on team jerseys. The objective was to raise brand awareness in a gamble that the TV audience will help recognise and memorize the name and/or logo.

Sport Marketing Sales agencies have continued to flourish by selling to medium-sized-wannabe-big companies the opportunity to have their name around the pitch of a national or European matches or other sporting events, comparing real advertising time with hazardous visibility raising more internal C-suite pride than consumer intention to buy. When it comes for big or major events, on site visibility has moved from prime argument for partnering to must-have but not-enough-to-have, a somewhat reinsurance for the potential sponsors.

The measurement of the so-called TV exposure is still a golden standard as a KPI and the bread and butter of some research companies in the sports industry, without demonstrating the impact of the sponsorship as delivering big numbers in terms of equivalent advertising’s time and valuation, which doesn’t provide any insight about the performance of the brand among the main target audience of the corporate sponsors[1].

With premium right holders driving the most of their revenue from broadcasters with a correlated effect to push the matches’ broadcasts from free to air TV to pay TV with sometimes very narrow audience, the power of the brands as event sponsors is shrinking and the potential influence of the TV brand exposure is a less and less sustainable argument. Although TV is still king in terms of media consumption for sporting events, sport is going digital and social. The youngest audience and young adults have been shifting from TV to digital devices – the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio have been the turning point and the FIFA World Cup 2014 suffered from a decline of TV audience of the youths for the first time ever due to a transfer of viewing to digital devices (Laptop, mobiles, tablets). The digital landscape has currently no recognised measurement standard similar to what exists for TV, which brings more uncertainty about the understanding of the impact for sponsors.

Mc Kinsey already pointed out in 2014: “Sponsorships have become an integral component of marketing strategy. Yet many companies still do not effectively quantify the impact of these expenditures, even for events requiring significant spending such as the World Cup. A systematic commitment to a menu of analytic approaches allows executives to identify sponsorships that create value as well as those that don’t live up to their names.”

Disrupting the sponsorship approach is now mandatory to hit brands’ objectives as it’s more

and more is all about consumer engagement, impact and return on investment[2].


Brands should focus on 5 key rules to get more impact and traction and none of them is about brand exposure during the games.

  • Exclusive territory of expression vs. exclusivity of product category: so far Coca Cola gets the exclusivity of communication for the product category soft drinks and water for the main contracts. Now to raise the interest of the consumers, brands should define a territory allowing them to demonstrate what they bring to them and their community. The territory can be shared with several corporate brands as long as the consumers get the message: sustainability can apply to energy carrier, water supplier, waste management company… It’s all about a convincing and acute story telling towards the company main target audience.
  • Exclusive contents vs. “same right for the same category of sponsors” policy. Since the late 80’s, sponsoring packages were the same among the sponsors of a set level. Now each brand needs to offer a unique experience to their customers and consumers to differentiate from their competitors and deliver a strong advantage against those which are not official sponsors and use the theme. This implies as well that the right holders (for example an International Sports Federation) carve out some media rights to allocate them to their sponsors such as behind the scenes stories, athletes’ preparation … We have all seen during the last winter Olympics athletes sharing directly on their social media depriving the sponsors from potential activation.
  • Preferred access to data and analytics. Very few organisations are able to nail down all their data in a same place (for example ticketing buyers, merchandising consumers, audience). So far the ticketing data of the last Olympics or FIFA World Cup don’t belong to their respective international organisation, preventing to share with their international sponsors a clear picture of the fans. Sponsors should access data and connect them with the own ones to elaborate sophisticated and efficient activation’s plan.
  • Co-creation of unique assets. One of the privileges of an official sponsor is to use and print the logo of the sponsored event or organisation on products. Millions of Coca Cola bottles have been carrying the logo of the FIFA World Cup, for example, all over the world. This doesn’t deliver any advantage neither to customers nor the company itself as such. Sponsorship will move to strategic alliances allowing the co-creation of new products and new services with a revenue sharing scheme for a mutual benefit of the right holders (more potential revenues if the strategy is correctly defined and implemented), the corporate company (more profit if the offer is very attractive and unique vs the competition or money saving if the sponsorship doesn’t prove to be successful), the consumers (better engagement with the co-branded product or service).
  • Definition of sponsorship purpose. A sponsorship deal is usually contracted for a set period of time and the corporate company is focusing on getting a return of investment during this set period of time. The subject of legacy is more and more of importance for the companies’ shareholders, staff and consumers. What should the sponsor achieve to make its world sustainably better? This element is now crucial for companies willing to partner with mega events such as the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup


Finally, and interestingly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) depriving their corporate sponsors from on-site advertising and brand exposure has been a precursor pushing them to invent new solutions to get recognised and interact with their customers and therefore earn a positive return on investment.