The Sydney Swans' $10m man Lance Franklin is as much of a sporting triumph as a publicity coup, according to sports sponsorship experts.
The nine-year deal, which will see Franklin wearing the red and white jersey until he is 35, is extraordinary and “quite courageous”, the head of GroupM’s SponsorCom Rob Smith said.
“He is an incredible athlete and superstar in the AFL, arguably transcending sport in this country,” Smith told B&T.
“It is great for sport in the city, the AFL and the Swans. It will have a very positive impact on the Swans’ commercial program, and not just sponsorship, but extending into membership and corporate hospitality.”
Andrew Condon, Sydney general manager and head of entertainment marketing at The Gemba Group, said “the beauty of this deal is that it legitimately addresses the performance of the team and the need for PR”.
Bringing on big names to help lift the profile of a team or code is nothing new, and the marquee player trend has definitely worked in Australia recently – think Del Piero and Yorke, to name a few, Octagon’s group commercial director Adam Hodge said.
In these cases “much of the cost – if not formally – then certainly informally, allocated to the marketing/PR budget rather than the football budget”.
But no player can be the ‘silver bullet’.
“The Swans will be acutely aware of the need to over invest in marketing and grass roots development in the Sydney market,” Condon added.
Part of Franklin’s move to Sydney was reportedly about seeking more anonymity and he may get it, at first.
Condon says his awareness in Sydney is around half of his awareness in Melbourne – 37% versus 72% according to The Gemba Group Research.
“Having said that the large amounts of marketing that will be focused on Franklin will quickly drive up his awareness and in turn reduce his anonymity.”
While the Swans already have a strong roster of loyal sponsors, Hodge believes brand that have not previously been associated with the AFL in Sydney will be enticed by Franklin’s “gen y image and appeal to mainstream audiences”.
“How this works with the traditional no nonsense brand that has been cultivated by the Swans will be a really interesting development, especially if Buddy has any off field indiscretions in his new home city – something the media will no doubt already be salivating about.”
The move to Sydney has transformed how the market views Franklin, no longer is he the footballer/celebrity he was in Melbourne but now a celebrity/footballer.
As a result, he is now “truly a national star” and is still relevant in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.
“If he is a bust on the field the ‘fall from grace’ will be swift. The Australian sporting public love to watch big personalities fail, so there is risk here for Lance and the club.”
For the sport itself, luring a superstar player away from the AFL’s ‘hub’ is “a validation of Sydney in the AFL world in a sense”.
Condon concurs: “The signing of Franklin should solidify the Swans position in both the Sydney market and importantly on the AFL premiership ladder.”
The boost to the Swans membership base should also be significant.
“From what I’ve read, membership at the Swans has largely plateaued in recent years, this is the opportunity to reach out to new members that would not necessarily be drawn to the AFL otherwise and or inspire past members to renew,” Hodge said.