Category Archives: Sponsorship

Comments on developments in the world of sponsorship.

Faster – Higher – Stronger: the only way forward for the IAAF now


Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the IoC, said that “organised sport can create moral and social strength”. He must be turning in his grave at this hour.

In the race to the bottom of sponsors’ esteem, the IAAF has surged into the lead, almost certainly overtaking FIFA for the least coveted title of “Sports Body with the Most Negative Image”.

Organised sport seems more and more to be a place where moral and social weakness hold sway.

Sponsors – effectively the bankers for international athletics competitions – stood by the sport through thick and thin, as it was rocked, down the years, by scandalous behaviour on the part of both athletes and their coaches.

There were always compensations. Major sponsors purchase more than just image enhancement and positive associations, of course, when they buy into and leverage a major sponsorship program. The ability to reach massive TV audiences worldwide will inevitably trump three or four days of negative headlines around a particular bad apple.

But here’s the rub: even viewing levels may be hit if organised athletics loses forever the precious credibility that draws the millions to their TV screens – credibility that has been fundamental to its mass appeal and thus a key driver of sponsorship investment.

The ‘back stories’ of individual athletes are bread and butter for media reporting on athletics competitions. But where suspicion exists that such stories are incomplete – partly fictional because of a cynical sub-plot, a conspiracy involving the use of banned drugs – media will shy away from giving such material the credence and focus that it has come to expect.

Many of the image associations for which brands pay so heavily have been fractured and tarnished so badly that some of the basic funding of athletics may be in jeopardy henceforth.

And ironically there can be very positive image benefits available to brands which terminate relationships with drug cheats, or indeed organisations which are seen to facilitate criminal activities.

The turnaround in athletics must be accomplished quickly; standards for compliance must be seen to be much higher than heretofore; and the IAAF must enforce new rules far more strongly.

Faster – Higher – Stronger: that’s the only way forward now for the IAAF and world athletics.

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Sainsbury’s finds a safer place to play with its sponsorship money


Sainsbury‘s has signed up as sponsor of ITV‘s Showcase Drama package, in a deal reportedly worth in excess of £10m.

The deal follows hot on the heels of their announcement last month of the early termination of their contract with British Athletics – there was a mid-term break clause that allowed them to do that.

The real world can sometimes be a dangerous place for sponsors to play. Sainsbury’s denied any connection between the current doping scandal which is tarnishing the reputation of a sport which had seemed so spotless and inspirational in the period immediately following the London Olympics.

And in any case they’d perhaps needed to impose some kind of Osbornian cuts on marketing expenditure following poor trading figures announced last May – their first full-year loss for ten years.

So, after the Games, the play’s the thing that Sainsbury’s will focus on.

Television drama is a lot more predictable than sport. Actors always stick to the script.



Image credit: Dave Croker [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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FIFA corruption investigations – implications for sponsorship of such associations with football?

There’s never a good time for an organisation to have six of its top officials arrested.

But for it to happen just two days before the election of a new President must be particularly inconvenient for FIFA. Aside from the individuals involved, some of whom have already pleaded guilty according to press reports, loyal supporters of the status quo within the hierarchy of world football must surely be as sick as what I understand should be called a “pandemonium” of parrots. Chickens may well be coming home to roost at a rate of knots; and those ostrich-like corruption-deniers may yet find that they have some rather large omelettes on their faces.


There was sure to be a deluge of adverse comment in next weekend’s press in any case, as Mr Blatter (no doubt) once more settled himself into the throne at the head of that somewhat less than fragrant institution. Although the organisation has been scrutinised intensely in the past, it has still managed to maintain a sufficiently robust veneer of respectability to prevent any actual PR disaster. Blatter is the great survivor – but it may not just be his position that is at risk here.

At best, the current situation may simply inflict even more damage on FIFA’s tottering reputation. But at worst this could even be the beginning of the end, as the whole edifice comes crashing down.

Sponsors are fundamental to the running of FIFA and, in particular, the World Cup. Without sufficient support from sponsors, the jewel in the crown of world football simply could not be staged, as FIFA freely admits on its website.

It would be so interesting to sit in on today’s editorial meeting at the BBC‘s Panorama programme. Their allegations in 2010, which also came out at a less-than-helpful time (just before the announcement of the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups), were ultimately not enough to strike a real body blow. But with both the Swiss and US police involved now in very high profile bribery investigations, it seems unlikely that FIFA can convince sponsors that it is – in its current form – a whiter-than-white organisation which has the kind of reputation which is still worth buying a piece of, whatever the viewing figures and merchandising opportunities.

Sponsorship feeds off associations. It follows success, passion, endeavour, clean living, glamour and achievement. But it heads for the hills at the mention of drugs, infidelity, racism, rape and corruption. The merest whiff of corrupt dealings can instantly transform a worldwide sponsorship package bought in good faith for tens or hundreds of millions into an infectious disease which is spread by the media and can quickly wreak havoc with a brand’s reputation.

Conversely, to be seen to immediately distance oneself from such developments can have a very powerful positive effect on a brand. Damage limitation of that kind, even if only a temporary measure, can prove a much more cost-effective strategy than toughing it out and trying to stay under the media radar.

Nonetheless, whilst the police start digging in the FIFA “garden” and checking out its cupboards for yet more skeletons, the media focus may well widen to include the organisation’s main funders – some of the planet’s biggest brands.

Image credit: Germany lifts the 2014 World Cup – by Agência Brasil ([1]) [CC BY 3.0 br (, via Wikimedia Commons

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Is Boris’s new cycle hire deal with Santander all it’s pumped up to be?

“As everyone knows, London buses, phone kiosks and post boxes are red”, said London Mayor Boris Johnson, welcoming yesterday’s news that Spanish banking giant Santander is to be the new sponsor of the capital’s bike hire scheme. “In Santander Cycles, we have a new red icon symbolising the Capital to Londoners, and the world”.

Santander Cycles Announcement - LondonSo: the right colour scheme for London’s bike hire scheme. Whether the re-painted bikes will become quite as iconic a symbol as Big Ben and Tower Bridge remains to be seen, of course; and some would argue that one of the main justifications for championing cycling rather than motorised transport is a green one. But there’s no doubt that, for the sponsor, the move is consistent with its strategy of playing on images of health (Jessica Ennis and Rory McIlroy) and speed (Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton).

Santander have been deeply involved in promoting the idea of a London Grand Prix, even producing a spectacular concept video for a circuit that would include a start grid on The Mall and a 192mph Santander Straight in the run up to Buckingham Palace. Any association with speed and efficiency, whether motorised or via pedal power, has got to be positive.

But if the scheme is such a great idea, why was it ditched by Barclays?

You will no doubt recall that that other bank were the first to get involved, as we reported back in July 2010.


The first year of the contract was dubbed “a huge success”, with Barclays’ high-ups so pleased that a further twelve months down the road they extended the sponsorship through to 2018.

But things began to go wrong. There were mutterings about the relationship between Boris Johnson and Barclays’ then-CEO Bob Diamond.

And November 2013 saw a sudden spate of fatal accidents involving cyclists and HGVs. Six fatalities in two weeks clearly raised concerns in the marketing department at Barclays.

It can’t have been a coincidence that the very next month Barclays announced that it was pulling out of sponsoring the bike hire scheme.

Now it is reassuring to know that the number of cyclists fatally injured per journey in the capital has decreased significantly over the past decade: by about a third, in fact between a baseline figure covering 2005-2009 and 2012, according to the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan. A lot of effort is being put into transforming the cycling experience in London via the development of the East-West and North-South Cycle Superhighways.

But there were 489 cyclist KSIs (KSI = “Killed or Seriously Injured”) on London’s roads in 2013, representing 21 per cent of all KSIs in London that year.

bigbangThere was a time when banks were seen as stuffy, highly conservative and risk-averse institutions. As someone who worked on the original re-positioning of the Lloyds Bank brand (too embarrassingly long ago for me to quote a date), I know that the ice slowly began to melt all around the City and in bank branches after that campaign. In 1986, Margaret Thatcher‘s government deregulated the financial markets as part of a global chain reaction that became known as the Big Bang. Risk-taking soon became de rigeur. Twenty-two years after the Big Bang came the financial melt-down of 2008.

So this Santander move is interesting. Just as riding a bike is all about balance, so is the framing of a sponsorship strategy. This new deal offers the new incumbent some great positives – high brand visibility for the Spanish institution as its red imagery is seen everyday all along the capital’s transport arteries; a valuable association with speed and efficiency, health and environmental benefits; and the provision of a welcome service that is available to all.

But there will always be an unquantifiable risk associated with road traffic in such a hugely busy urban environment.

And, as Barclays may well have concluded, events can impact suddenly on even the best-laid plans. The value of a sponsorship investment can go down, as well as up.



Picture credits: Bishopsgate, at the junction with Camomile Street and Wormwood Street, in the City of London, with Tower 42 and 99 Bishopsgate looming overhead – Wjfox2005
Other images: Santander, Barclays, Getty Images.

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“Store within a store”: could sponsorship help to inject more culture into the great sporting events?

The idea of having some kind of retail outlet at a sporting event is scarcely new. But a new survey hints at a major opportunity for arts organisations – and, extending that thought, maybe for sponsors too.

From upmarket cars, fashion items and sports equipment at golf tournaments to the club memorabilia office and the pie shop at the nation’s football grounds, there’s usually something on offer away from the main event, allowing fans to ogle the utterly unattainable, perhaps, or savour a flavoursome steak and kidney.

In the retail trade, the “store within a store” concept has become well-established in garden centres, department stores, airport terminals and the like.

culturestoryBut a new survey commissioned by Cultural Partnerships at King’s College London suggests that there may be considerable latent demand for cultural events to be included as part of more major sporting occasions. Whilst they might (or might not) offer physical goods for sale, it appears that the offer of artistic and cultural alternatives within an overall programme of sporting endeavours would have great appeal.

As Tessa Jowell, MP points out: “One of the reasons that the London 2012 Games were such an unforgettable triumph was the unique blend of culture and sport. Government, cultural and sporting bodies need to continue to work together, both nationally and internationally, to get the maximum benefit for as many people as possible from these major events, so that we look back at London 2012 and the Cultural Olympiad not only as a high point, but as the start of a much deeper engagement between the public, sport and the arts”.

The survey, which sought the views of over 8,000 people over two years, was released last week to coincide with an international conference which took place in London with major event organisers from the UK, Brazil and Japan.

It shows that almost three quarters of us (73%) think that towns and cities in the UK should continue to bid to stage major sporting and cultural events, and two thirds think it is the right thing for local authorities to pursue. Overall, more people say they have an interest in the arts (89%) than sport (83%), and over half of us (54%) believe that major sporting events are enhanced when culture is included in the programme.

There was particularly strong support for culture being included in the Commonwealth (67%) and Olympic Games (62%), and almost half of respondents (47%) believe that cultural events would enhance the FIFA World Cup. Many respondents also felt that culture should be included in other sporting events such as Wimbledon, World Athletics Championships, the Tour de France and the Rugby World Cup.

If this is the case – if this is what the public wants – there are surely many under-exploited opportunities for artistic organisations and sponsors to work together to develop new “arts within sport” ways of taking culture to the people. The inclusion of paying artistic clients – backed by sponsorship – within more sporting events would be a win-win situation for both sides and provide a range of exciting new sub-sectors for exploitation by sponsors.

Taste of London Carnival

Deborah Bull, Director, Cultural Partnerships at King’s College London, said: “We commissioned this survey because we wanted to learn more about what works when we combine the arts with major sporting events, and to understand people’s attitudes so that future international events can draw on the experience and legacy of London 2012.

“What we have learned is that there is enormous enthusiasm for towns and cities in the UK to continue hosting major events, and that people would like to see more art and culture incorporated into sporting events, from the FIFA World Cup to the Formula One Grand Prix“.

Street art, film, public art, festivals, carnivals and exhibitions top the list of the kinds of culture people would like to see included, according to the survey. Most of us would expect a mix of free and paid-for events, and would be willing to pay £10-£30 to attend. Around a quarter would travel over fifty miles to attend an event.

Other key findings:

• More people consider themselves an ‘arty person’ than a ‘sporty’ person (42% vs 37%).
• Most people (60%) attend some form of arts or cultural event at least once a year.
• Just over half (52%) feel that more money should be spent on the arts locally, and a similar number (54%) think that having arts and cultural spaces in their local area is important.
• The most popular types of cultural event attended are film (60%) public art displays and installations (44%), closely followed by exhibitions (43%), street art (43%) and theatre (43%).
• Amongst the key barriers to attending cultural events are high prices (43%), events taking place too far from home (33%), and lack of available free time (25%).

Now whether we will ever see an art exhibition staged next to the pie shop at our nearest Premier League ground is very doubtful. But whether there is an unmet need for more culture at other major sporting events seems beyond question.

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