With just over a week to go until he takes centre stage at the Ministry of Sports Marketing conference, Charlie Wylie (pictured above), managing partner of sports and entertainment at MKTG in the UK, delves into the art of brands creating business value through sports sponsorships in an interview with B&T.
What can we expect from your presentation at the upcoming Ministry of Sports Marketing event?
I am on a mission to make the sponsorship world more accountable and to help brands demonstrate the value that sponsorship can unlock for them.
My presentation focuses on how brands can demonstrate the business value of sponsorship. I will talk through some examples of people who are doing it well and show how objectives and measurement are as important as activation to deliver demonstrative results.
Are some brands more suited to sports sponsorship than others? Is it more the domain of certain brand types like telcos to give themselves more of a personality?
The best sports sponsorship matches start with the audience and their passions. Once you understand your audience and what their passions are, you can start to build a role and permission in this space. As long as a brand comes at a partnership with these key tenets in mind, they can flourish in the sport and sponsorship space.
It is undoubtedly easier for some brands to assimilate themselves with sports, especially when they are endemic to the sport in question such as apparel brands. However, they still need to build a compelling permission and role in the sport in order to properly engage with fans. Non-endemic brands do have more of a challenge, but the great advantage of a properly activated sponsorship campaign is that it can deliver against so many different business objectives.
Which brands are doing well when it comes to sports sponsorship?
I recently judged the 2016 European Sponsorship Association’s Excellence Awards and the Best Newcomer To Sponsorship award was won by Lidl in Ireland for its partnership with the Ladies Gaelic Football team. This was a campaign that identified a fantastic opportunity for Lidl to differentiate themselves from the competition and create real impact in the community. They invested heavily in activation and delivered a truly best-in-class leveraging campaign that always linked back to their core objectives. The results were hugely impressive and shone a light on how fully integrated sponsorships can deliver great results for a wide range of brands.
It’s kind of ironic that alcohol and fast food brands have a decent presence in the sports marketing landscape? Should they be allowed to continue sponsoring sports teams? Do you see this trend changing in the future?
Alcohol and fast food brands do provide a large amount of sponsorship for major events throughout the world. In some cases, such as Johnnie Walker and its sponsorship of McLaren F1, the messaging has been a ‘force for good’ in terms of raising the profile of responsible drinking. If the partnership is done in the right way and within certain parameters, then it is fine. The balance and mix of an ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out’ message can work well for many FMCG brands. So as long as they continue to be a force for good, I do not think they should be precluded from sponsorship.
When it goes pear-shaped for sports teams and players off the field, what’s the best strategy for brands: cut ties or stand by them?
There is a not a ‘one size fits all’ approach here. If a brand has planned properly and outlined their objectives clearly then the decision becomes whether the cause/issue has a detrimental effect on the potential outcome/results. If this is the case, then there would be a cause for termination.
Smart brands will have considered the potential risks before entering into the partnership in the first place and be covered by termination or rebate clauses depending on the situation. Those brands that have considered the risks will be much better prepared to face them with clear, concise and timely communication as to their standpoint, but often these situations are left to the imagination rather than tackled head on.
Sponsor dollars in women’s sport still seems to be hard to come by, not just in Australia, but overseas. Do you see this changing in the near future?
It definitely will. One of the key challenges that needs to be tackled is how you raise the profile of women’s sport and sports stars. A heightened profile will create interest, aspiration and ‘talkability’. These are the qualities that brands look for when searching for a sport or personality to partner with.
There are two areas that need to be addressed simultaneously. Firstly, we need to ensure the right format/competition is being championed and the coverage is comprehensive. The innovative approach taken in cricket, and especially the Women’s Big Bash League, has really made other countries sit up and take note on how you create talkability and coverage for a women’s league.
Secondly, we need to ensure we are opening up the routes to entry for females who want to be part of a sport. One of the great initiatives in the UK has been the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign which looks to normalise exercise and sport for women. It has been a huge success in breaking down some of the barriers at a grassroots level. The ‘Girls Make Your Move’ campaign in Australia, which MKTG has been a part of, has seen similar results too.
When this entry point opening is coupled with aspirational and inspirational sports stars playing elite sport, you can really see the dial shifting in terms of perception and participation. This will then increase the commercial investment in the sport as brands and broadcasters look to associate themselves with these positive messages.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt in the UK that are pertinent to Aussie sports marketers?
I will talk about this at length in my keynote at the Ministry of Sports Marketing, but the key thing for any marketing program is to add value to a brand and help to drive a brand’s business objectives. Sponsorship should be no different. Whilst the sports sponsorship industry is still relatively young compared to the overall advertising industry, it still needs to be more results focused. Having proper objectives and metrics in place, especially in an ever-increasingly procurement-led, decision-making model, allows sponsorships to prove their worth.
It’s also critical for brands to realise what makes sport so important to so many people – the thrill of competitiveness and competition, the desire to be better, to stand out, to be taking part, or to win. Understanding how you channel these emotions and sentiments should be at the heart of an activations campaign and drive the connection between a brand and its sponsorship opportunities. It is the relevance, power and impact of this connection and its ability to create a differentiated positioning that will drive success for any participating sponsor.
Globally, what’s biggest challenge brands face when it comes to sponsoring sport going forward?
Fans digest sport in so many different ways now. Previously, it might have been on TV and in the paper, and now the channels and routes to a fan are increasing by the week. Fans are also demanding more immersive and engaging experiences than ever before. It is no longer a passive sofa-sitting audience – they want to be part of the action, be behind the scenes and actually experience more.
Sport sponsorship gives brands access and stories that engage their audience in ways the brand alone could not. The challenge is how brands use these in a compelling and relevant way to meet their objectives whilst keeping abreast of this ever-changing marketplace.