Faaez Samadi
Apr 27, 2016

Football sponsorship: Fans demand more than a logo on a shirt

Brands need to make meaningful connections with sports fans to derive the benefits of sponsorship, which are driven by analytics and top-level content, said a panel of experts at an even hosted by Campaign Asia-Pacific and Football Inc.

Chevrolet is the main sponsor of Manchester United
Chevrolet is the main sponsor of Manchester United

Compelling content and data-led marketing are the key drivers for brands looking to make the most of sports sponsorship deals in Asia as more fans turn to the digital space to interact with their clubs and each other.

Leading marketers from City Football Group and Chevrolet were speaking at an event hosted by Campaign Asia-Pacific's head of content Gary Scattergood to launch the Fan Index 2016.

The index is a comprehensive study from Football Inc, the football content division of Haymarket Media (Campaign's publisher), and YouGov that looks deeply into the loyalties, behaviours and brand interactions of football fans in nine markets worldwide, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. (You can download the executive summary here.)

Steve Worrall, director of marketing communications at General Motors, whose Chevrolet car brand is the main sponsor of Manchester United, said the “science of marketing” has exploded.

“When we have the main sponsorship, it becomes about how can we engage and connect," he said. "Paying for a logo on the shirt is still there, but that will fade over time.

“We meet every month with the likes of Google and Facebook, and discuss very detailed plans around how to target and re-target Manchester United fans. Key to that is having good, different content that others aren't providing.”

Worrall said Chevrolet chose to partner with Manchester United partly because of its huge following in Asia, where the US car brand is still relatively new.

“It’s the largest sports franchise in the world,” he said. “We want to generate awareness of Chevrolet first, then build an affinity over time and look to sell more vehicles.”

Damian Willoughby, vice president and APAC director of partnerships at City Football Group, said his company’s model—it owns three football clubs including Manchester City—allows brands to “leverage a global model but activate locally” in key Asian markets.

“There are nuances and characteristics in different markets across Asia,” he said. “We try to be value-additive for our fans in our partnerships with brands.

“Globalisation has had a major influence on sports marketing, while digital has changed how we interact with our fans, and how we drive value for our commercial partners. Developing a one-to-one relationship with our fans is the challenge.”

Willoughby said live events are a key part of CFG’s strategy to engage directly with fans, with Manchester City and other teams touring the region and interacting with locals at events.

Worrall said the same of Chevrolet, but noted that a successful event in one place does not mean it will work elsewhere.

He gave the example of hosting Manchester United viewing parties in Chevrolet dealerships. The idea was poorly received in some Asian markets, but hugely successful in the Middle East.

Andy Jackson, global brand director of Haymarket football property FourFourTwo and Football Inc, said brands have to create genuine connections with fans in Asia, who have high expectations. “Fans expect more from their sponsors than just paying money to put a logo on a shirt or name a stadium,” he said.

The Fan Index study showed an overwhelming distrust of fast-food and soft-drink brands sponsoring football, highlighting that there is “work to do” to win over fans, Jackson said. The key is changing the long-term perception of these brands within the football community.

“Brands need to really understand where they can play in football, and complement the fans’ enjoyment of the game,” he said.

“I personally hate the term ‘disruption’ in sport," he added. "I’m a football fan; I don’t want brands disrupting my enjoyment of the sport, I want a brand to complement it.”


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