Where sport meets business: sponsorships
At first glance, sport and business seem like polar opposites- sport centred around competitive entertainment and skill, and business around commercial gains. However, if you peel back a layer, the connections between the two become clear.
One of sport and business’ most fundamental similarities is people. People make up the foundation of business, from customers and industry contacts to the organisation staff.
Sport’s relationship with people follows the same foundations, but from a business perspective sport is in one of the most unique positions available - it is universal. This universal status allows sporting entities to transcend cultural and geographical boundaries and seamlessly engage with audiences around the world.
It is through this engagement where business and sport can join forces, and organisations can utilise the universal power of sport to communicate.
Different forms of sports sponsorship
Visibility and reach
In some ways the world has never been smaller, digital and social media have enabled more communication channels than ever before, but in this, many businesses struggle to find the right channel and message to engage the over-stimulated audiences.
Sports entities such as teams, athletes and leagues provide an answer to this, providing a key platform to communicate and connect with an engaged audience.
Today, these audiences amount to millions, sometimes billions of people, as leagues such as the Premier League attract a cumulative audience of over three billion (Nielsen).
Wanting to replicate and learn from sport’s mass appeal, sponsoring businesses place their brand in prime position for this mass audience.
Whether their brand is emblazoned across the shirt, embedded into the action on the side of the pitch or positioned front and centre as the face of the stadium, it will reach millions of engaged eyeballs - in the stadium, through broadcasters, on online platforms and across social media.
The online and social media presence of sport is particularly important to sponsoring businesses as these platforms enable the brand featured content to be consumed long after the sporting event took place - this in turn multiplies the brand visibility at no greater expense to the business.
Viewers - Premier League
Viewers - 2020 Olympic Games
Viewers - Formula 1
Sport's global TV audiences
Sources: (Nielsen, 2022), (International Olympic Committee, 2021), (Formula 1, 2021)
Team and athlete endorsement
As well as the immense visibility and reach which sporting entities generate, one of their greatest advantages is their innate ability to create emotional engagement.
It is this emotional engagement which sets sponsorships in sport apart from almost all other forms of advertising and sponsoring initiatives. Traditional advertising platforms such as TV can attain similar reach figures to sport, but can’t compete with sports fans’ engagement.
Typically, the biggest drivers of this engagement are sports teams and their athletes. As sponsors, businesses harness this deep-rooted engagement and build strong connections between their brand and the team and its athletes - often leading to unbreakable brand associations ingrained into sporting successes.
The true strength in these connections lie within the longevity of fans’ engagement. With most sports fans following a team or athlete for the entirety of their life, sponsoring businesses become synonymous with the team or athlete and often find their brand embedded into the everyday language used around the sponsored entity.
Partnership and campaign activation
Although athlete sponsorships, perimeter advertising and shirt sponsorships tend to be the first thing that people think about when discussing sponsorships in sport, a lot of the work that sponsoring businesses do with sports entities goes far beyond this.
Partnership and campaign activations function as one of the most important tools in sponsoring businesses’ marketing mix. As a sponsor within sport, businesses receive extensive rights to exclusive team, league and athlete properties.
These rights can include: brand and IP rights, events and experience packages for customers and employees, promotional collaboration and access to digital and social channels, as well as exclusive access to players.
Gaining access to these rights provides sponsors with unique storytelling opportunities, which typically help drive high levels of engagement. By activating their partnership in this manner, sponsors create relevant content for their target audience - maximising engagement and calling upon fans’ deep-rooted passion and support for the club, athlete or league.
Many sponsors also choose partnership and campaign activations as key platforms to drive engagement and awareness to their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. Sponsoring organisations such as Mitsubishi use sport as a bridge between different parts of society and the business world, calling on sport’s universal nature to give back to communities.
Partnership activation success stories
Painters against Thomas Müller – a shining challenge for Caparol
Xylem and City Football Group - A partnership with a purpose
Asos tastes esports fandom with Fnatic front of shirt sponsorship
More Than A Game: Giving Back To The Community Through Football
The future of sports sponsorships
Is there really nothing that lasts forever?
Most major organisations will employ a person, team or sometimes an entire department to try to answer questions like this and forecast future business happenings.
Sport is a difficult one to forecast, as one of its biggest allures is its unpredictability. As unpredictable as sport may be, one thing which can be said with almost 100% certainty is that whatever the future might bring, people will watch and follow sport.
Sport’s mass appeal has always been evident, even going back over 2,700 years ago to Ancient Greece when over 50,000 spectators would travel from across the Greek world to watch the Olympic Games.
As we’ve seen above, this appeal has since blossomed beyond any travelling constraints, and leagues, competitions and athletes find themselves in a position today where they can attract billions of interested audiences from every corner of the world.
As these audiences continue to grow and follow sport, in all its different shapes and sizes, there will always be a place for sponsorships.