October 19, 2015

Sports sponsorship: the prospects… and perils

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Byline: Lesley Parker for UTS Business School

More money is being spent on sponsoring sport than ever before but those corporate dollars are now going to fewer sports, a panel discussion on sponsorship and sport has heard.

“There is definitely very strong demand,” leading sports marketer Andrew Condon told the sports breakfast hosted by UTS Business School at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “More money is being spent – brands are seeing an incredibly compelling opportunity to get involved. But it’s just going to fewer sports.”

That’s probably a combination of the appeal of some sports, the challenge for others to find an audience, and sometimes the capacity of a sports organisation to manage sponsorship activities, he said.

Condon is a Director of the Gemba Group. As its Head of Sport and Entertainment Marketing he has helped brands such as Toyota, Telstra, Qantas, IAG, Foxtel and Commonwealth Bank of Australia manage their investment in this area.

Condon was joined on the breakfast panel by Luke Bould, who came to Football Federation Australia (FFA) as Head of Commercial in 2014 from a similar role at Cricket Australia, and by Associate Professor Francois Carrillat of the Marketing Discipline Group at UTS Business School, who researches corporate sponsorship and consumer behaviour.

Panellists Andrew Condon, Assoc Prof Francois Carrillat and Luke Bould, with moderator Sam Squiers. Image Credit: Kevin Cheung

Panellists Andrew Condon, Assoc Prof Francois Carrillat and Luke Bould, with moderator Sam Squiers. Image Credit: Kevin Cheung

Award-winning sports reporter and UTS alumnus Sam Squiers moderated the discussion, which was the third in a series of sports breakfasts. Earlier events have looked at life after elite sport and the pressure on athletes to be role models 24/7.

This latest discussion considered issues such as the value of sponsorship; the risks involved when a business ties itself to a player, team or league; and the complexities of promoting women’s sport.

‘[There is] greater sophistication
from brands in what they expect
and how they evaluate sports properties’

Bould told the breakfast that in a highly competitive market sports had to spell out their value to a potential sponsor.

“One of the biggest mistakes … is to write a proposal that tells a sponsor how they can help the sport, when it’s about how the sport can help the sponsor grow their business,” he said.

“What’s gone on in the past 10 years is greater sophistication from brands in what they expect and how they evaluate sports properties.”

While the A-League isn’t the No.1 sport in Australia, “for under 39-year-olds, [football] is right up there from the passion point of view,” he said, and it offers Australian brands an Asian audience, for instance.

Associate Professor Carrillat is interested in how sponsorship of sports, events, individuals and causes influences consumers’ perceptions of brands and corporations.

Asked about the differences between sponsoring a player, a team or a sport, he said sponsoring an individual was the most risky of the three because at the end of the day you were associating yourself with someone who could win or lose – or misbehave.

“But personality and charisma can carry individual athletes a long way,” he said, and higher risk can also mean higher reward for a sponsor.

‘Personality and charisma can
carry individual athletes a long way’

His research has uncovered nuances in the way consumers react to sports celebrity scandals, for instance being more negative if they regard an incident as a serious moral failure, not just a legal one.

Associate Professor Carrillat has also investigated the impact on listed companies when scandal strikes, showing that sponsors are better off if they remain silent.

As well as being a presenter for Nine Network Australia, Sam Squiers is founder of the Women in Sport website Sportette and she asked the panel whether women’s sport was an untapped market for sponsors.

Condon said the answer to why women’s sport didn’t attract as much sponsorship wasn’t a simple one, but that “we have to stop selling female sport on reach. It won’t compete commercially on reach alone, so we need to sell it on its key strength….the female audience is a high value audience to many brands, given that women are most often the key decision makers, on up to 75 per cent, of household budgets.”

Ultimately, good sponsorships require patience and continuity, the panellists said. And they are about authenticity.

“[Cricketer Shane Warne] is the same bloke day in and day out,” Condon said. “The brands that buy into that, they know what they are going to get.”


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