Is sport sponsorship a flawed strategy or a marketing masterpiece?

With all the controversy surrounding professional sports, and in particular football, why would any unrelated business want to get involved and associate their brand through sponsorship?

It’s a question that many have asked and attempted to answer, but an agreed conclusion has never really been reached and hence the debate rolls-on.

In some quarters, the risk of being caught up in high-profile scandals, or at the focal point of Journalists, TV and Radio ‘pundits’ intentionally trying to scare monger or create a perceived negative story, is just too much of a gamble.

Every day, radio stations, news channels and back pages of newspapers, that capture huge audiences are splattered with fresh talking points surrounding Management, Players and Fans from Football Clubs up and down the country. Some of which have the potential to rumble on, leaving their mark long-term and rarely are those discussion topics of a positive nature.

As with most cases when you align your business alongside an external party, you lose a certain degree of control, exposing yourself to all sorts of threats. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Footballing arena, due to the sheer attraction and appetite of observers to offer an opinion.

Historically there have been Drug, Sex and Race related cases, involving icons held in high esteem within the Sporting world, that due to their nature have brought about derogatory connotations to associated brands. Such activity has led to contractual discrepancies and a parting of ways between parties. We all know what happened with Tiger Woods, and the likes.

All of which begs the question of the benefits of such partnerships, and whether they’re really worthwhile. One company that firmly embraces sport sponsorship and the associated benefits is East Anglian based, Construction Company, Mick George Ltd.

The organisation is familiar with all sorts of connections that range from grass roots, to academy, right through to professional outfits. These aren’t just limited to the Football domain either, having delved in to Rugby, Ice Hockey, Cricket and Cheerleading, to mention just a few.

Whilst the echelons of Manchester United FC might be out of reach for the majority, thanks to agreements with super brands such as Chevrolet amounting to around £50m per annum, there are still plenty of opportunities, which Mick George Ltd have proven.

Having been official kit sponsors of Peterborough United FC and Cambridge United FC respectively, for the past three years, Northampton Town FC is the latest addition to the list, in the form of its Family Enclosure sponsorship arrangement.

When quizzed, Jon Stump, Finance Director at Mick George Ltd provided an intriguing insight in to the deep realms of sport sponsorship. The underlying theme that repeatedly reared its head was the premise of connecting with local communities and reaching out to wider, more diversified audiences.

There are countless ways to boost your companies’ brand, and whilst traditional methods are certainly not discounted at Mick George Ltd, they believe that maximising such channels is a must to disseminate messages surrounding the varying product and services the business provides.

Stump commented: ‘’For us, sports sponsorship was a logical conduit to utilise as a channel to market. When you look at the key objectives of any advertisement, this option ticked a lot of boxes. It offers unique benefits and networking opportunities, whilst differentiating from our competitors. Reaching out to a much broader audience, it targets all levels, from homeowners or tradesmen, to commercial and corporate business owners and other potential influencers.’’

As sport has become increasingly easy to access through a variety of online channels and TV coverage, so has the space on teams’ shirts, cars, bats, hats and rackets, that is being exploited by brands engaging with sports sponsorship, notwithstanding stadium or programme space.

Stump advised: ‘’there were many variables for consideration when we embarked on the sponsorships, but we concluded that the kit sponsorship was best placed to fulfil our main criteria. Although this element is the main benefit of the partnership, we are actively involved in so much more to support the deal and promote our business.’’

Supporter engagement is fundamental to the sponsorship activation strategy of Mick George Ltd and that is particularly evident pre, post and during match-day at Peterborough United, Cambridge United or Northampton Town FC. A concerted effort is made to provide support for each of the respective clubs, through a digital or physical presence.

Advertising channels for which the company invests, whether that be Social Media, Blogs, or Newspaper adverts, are a wash of club related ‘good luck’ messages, fan competitions or photography, rather than typical Sales communications that you would come to expect. And then there’s a typical match-day which includes, ‘Mick the Skip’ Mascot, the Mick George Cheerleaders and the ‘Skip Challenge’ for half time entertainment, not to mention a number of Hospitality offerings to supporters.

Beyond all of that, and possibly most vital is the ‘money can’t buy’ experiences that the business offers to fans, Away Days in a Limousine, Fan v Player challenges, and even playing on the pitch alongside former club legends.

None of this can distract from the fact that sponsorships are conventionally a mechanism for driving new business leads, but for Mick George Ltd there is far more to it, brand awareness and building a positive association with the overarching brand remains a primary goal.

Stump acknowledged: ‘’Undoubtedly, there are multiple benefits in terms of tangible visibility in front of mass spectatorship by strategically positioning our brand in prominent positions. But, over and above that, sport sponsorship is a chance to invest in the local community and support a cause that many of our employees, customers and business associates have an affinity or emotional connection with.

Indirectly the sponsorship impacts across the entire organisation. Association with professional and respected affiliates such as the Football clubs in question, endorses our ethos of high standards, helping to attract the right people when recruiting, or likewise, when we’re trying to win large contracts. Like club supporters, there is a feel good factor internally when any of the clubs we’re connected with are doing well.’’ Stump said.

But of course, as we’ve already acknowledged, such benefits come at a cost. Stump stated: ‘’It is important to approach with a goal in mind, rather than a specific budget. Unlike other marketing activity, on or offline, we calculate ROI in a different manner for this mechanism and linking direct sales is not the overriding measurement.’’

Jon, himself is an avid Football fan that follows his beloved Gunners around the country, as is fellow Director, Neil Johnson, a POSH supporter that has experienced the highs and lows over the years. Both of which have touched upon the highlights of the company’s lucrative sponsorship partnerships. ‘We have been very fortunate to experience many wonderful occasions in a relatively short period of time. These have included promotion, and some extremely rewarding F.A Cup contests against the countries elite, Manchester United and Chelsea, more recently. It is a proud moment when you see our brand literally side-by-side with Football Clubs and players that are operating on a global scale.’

At the outset of the deliberation, many of the issues surrounding sports sponsorship were highlighted. Having built a brand that has witnessed first-hand what’s involved, Mick George Ltd appears to have rebuffed those divergences with resounding positivity, which suggests they would recommend this strategy to others?

Stump commented: ‘’Football or Sport in general, is not for everyone. The key is choosing something you’re passionate about, is close to the heart of your team and customer base, as activation will be critical to the success of the sponsorship. It is imperative that time and resource is invested to reap the rewards, it’s not as easy as just joining forces with a glamorous football club and the rest taking care of itself.

Choose a dynamic sport with longevity and has broad appeal. And importantly, ensure the association is with a likeminded club that shares the aspiration of your business. As long as our current partnerships match our objectives, or similarly, any new opportunities arise to satisfy our future requirements, we will continue to explore sports sponsorship as a route to converse with our target markets’’.