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Marketing Matters

Sponsoring In the Sports World

For nearly as long as sports have been around, advertising and marketing have been part of the game day experience. In 1927, Cubs Park in Chicago was renamed Wrigley Field when William Wrigley of chewing gum riches purchased the team. In 1930, Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field debuted its Schaefer Beer scoreboard in right field—in an early bit of interactive flair, the scoreboard’s “h” lit up after a hit, the “e” after an error was committed. Decades later, in 1973, German football team Eintract Braunschweig sold the space on the front of their team’s shirts to Jägermeister, setting off an international trend that has spread across the world and into other sports. Now, the Clasicos between Real Madrid and Barcelona take place in La Liga Santander—named after the bank group, not the city.

What do companies get out of sponsoring major sporting events, leagues, teams, and stadiums? “We want to engage people,” said Giles Morgan, Global Head of Sponsorship and Events for HSBC, one of the keynote speakers at this week’s All That Matters Conference in Singapore. “Any associative platforms—that can be sports or art or music—is simply a metaphor for companies to reposition themselves through the medium of something else that humanizes them.” Associating your brand with events that fans already have such a built-in passion for gives the brand a chance to “create an affinity”.

But what does good sports sponsorship look like? Is it all merely about just slapping your corporate name in front of an event? If so, more companies would be doing it. According to Morgan, for a good sports sponsorship to pay off for the brand, there needs to be alignment with the company’s overall business objectives. “As business objectives change for companies, as they all do, so sponsorship must change with them,” he says. “When you think of our golf portfolio, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that we are after certain demographics in certain countries, and [we] appeal through the prism of golf which has its own sets of values and tradition of fair play. HSBC is going through changes, and probably the most exciting part of my job is you have to adapt the portfolio to suit what the business is trying to achieve.”

One inherent advantage that comes with sponsoring major sporting events is access to the athletes, many of whom aren’t just major celebrities but highly influential on social networks. Some athletes offer an incredible reach—Cristiano Ronaldo has 111 million Instagram followers—while some use their social media accounts more informally to engage with fans, like Philadelphia 76ers forward Joel Embiid.

“The most powerful part of sport is about the humans that play and compete,” Morgan says. “And the value of athletes who have really strong Instagram accounts and are understood by the fan, not only at a personal level, will do much better because they’ll be more valuable to potential sponsors. It allows them to come to life because Instagram in particular is such a wonderful way for people to demonstrate what they are, who they are, what they are like.”

For Morgan, the best thing teams, leagues, and sponsors can do is make sure that everything is geared towards improving the fan experience. The sports themselves have changed over the years to become more fan-friendly, so those who are supporting the events should follow suit, keeping the fan at the forefront of all activations. “If you get it all about the consumer, then the sponsors will follow, and if the sponsors and people follow, the broadcasts will follow, and you’ve created a virtuous circle,” Morgan says.

He even wants golf to modernize, urging players to “get on with it and hit the ball.” Urging golfers to play more quickly and amidst noisy distractions might be tough, but the advice he offered may be valuable for all involved in sports and sponsorship.

“Shed pomposity and get on with the fans.”

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