European Games: Continental Strategy

How do you successfully market a sports event with no history to fans in both the host market and across an entire continent? Elisha Chauhan asked Baku 2015 European Games Head of Marketing Rob Smyth.

The prospect of leading the marketing for a completely new multi-sport event across Europe is not a task to be taken lightly, but when the host country only has a developing sporting culture, the challenge is all the more difficult.

Though there are case studies for marketing similar events to the European Games elsewhere in the world in the shape of the Pan-American, Asian and All-African Games, but local organising committee BEGOC (the Baku European Games operation committee)’s head of marketing Rob Smyth says the inaugural European Games needed an identity of its own.

Smyth, who previously spent almost eight years as marketing manager, both inside and outside of sport, for energy drinks giant Red Bull in the UK, says he started the Baku 2015 marketing plan by looking at what European viewers would identify with best – the athletes.

There was never a target for us to achieve in terms of sponsorship revenue and ticket sales

Prominent athlete ambassadors who are almost certain to participate in Baku 2015 were then chosen to engage sports fans from their native regions. The calibre of who could be picked was boosted by 12 of the 20 events at Baku 2015 being qualifiers for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio.

“In terms of building a plan totally from scratch, we firstly had to identify the talent that is going to be at the Games, using them for advertising campaigns and any media coverage,” Smyth told SportBusiness International.

“The winners of these Games will go down in the history books forever, regardless of what their final time or points are. That’s an amazing tool and message for all kinds of marketing.

“I also think a big story around the European Games is the mystique around Azerbaijan and the automatic interest that people have when you talk about the country. There’s something really magical about Azerbaijan, and people want to know what it will be like as a host and a place to visit.”

Eleven regions have been pinpointed by BEGOC to concentrate its marketing efforts: France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey and the UK. Minute-long advertisements have been run in these countries that spell out what the European Games are, as well as information about Baku.

“A quite a lot of research has been done in selecting these focus countries,” says Smyth. “They have a heritage in sport, an interest in most of the 20 sports included in the Games, provide direct travel to Baku, and have an interest from broadcast rights-holders [in their country].”

Home and Away

Baku 2015 will be broadcast to more than 100 countries around the world and a potential audience of more than one billion, which Smyth says is “phenomenal” bearing in mind the rights sales process only began 18 months ago. TV-rights packages sold have varied from country to country, but many include a guarantee of six-to-eight hours of live coverage a day, in addition to highlights.

Meanwhile, BEGOC has also partnered with a range of international and national companies in a two-tier sponsorship model that comprises top-tier official partners and second-tier official supporters. Sponsorship sales were headed by Charlie Wijeratna, the former commercial director of the 2012 London Olympic Games, who exited BEGOC last month to become chief commercial officer at English Premier League team Aston Villa.

The number of official partners was limited to eight, and materialised as a 50-50 split between international companies – BP, Coca-Cola, P&G and Tissot – and Azeri firms Azerbaijan Airlines, Kapital Bank, Nar and Socar.

They will focus activation on Europe and Baku’s surrounding Caucasus region. Second-tier partners – that include Smyth’s former employer Red Bull, in addition to McDonald’s, Nestle, Motorola Solutions and Tickethour – will mostly focus on domestic activations.

“There was no strategy to equally split the eight partners between local and international firms, it’s just the way it happened,” says Smyth. “A number of the international firms have an existing relationship with the EOC (European Olympic Committees), so those links made it a little bit easier to start negotiations on partnering the Games. 

“We reached out to a number of national companies regarding sponsorship, and the ones chosen have the strongest association with either the sports or Azerbaijan. I believe we’ve got the eight strongest partners we could have got, it just worked out to be an even split.

“There was never a target for us to achieve in terms of sponsorship revenue and ticket sales for the Games. Our sponsors solely aim to roll out a very good marketing plan to launch the new brand of the European Games.

“It’s a fortunate position to be in. However, reaching out to sponsors in four or eight years’ time for the next European Games will see increased revenue and targets.”

Sponsorship Goal

One central marketing strategy to boost Baku 2015’s awareness across Europe was a sponsorship of Spanish football side Atlético Madrid. The football club has been engaged in a strategic partnership with Azerbaijan since the 2012/13 season in a deal that has seen Atlético’s shirts emblazoned with the country’s tourism motto ‘Azerbaijan Land of Fire’.

Under Atlético’s deal with Baku 2015, the event’s logo has also appeared on kits since it was launched in November 2013. It will remain for all UEFA Champions League Games and selected La Liga games until the contract expires at the end of the 2014/15 season.

Atlético’s success in this season’s Champions League campaign, that saw it reach the quarter-finals, was a key attraction for the partnership says Smyth: “Due to Azerbaijan’s existing partnership with Atlético Madrid, it was a natural step to incorporate the Baku 2015 branding on the kits.

“Partnering up with one of the most successful European football clubs is always going to be an advantage for marketing the Games, and the amount of coverage that Baku 2015 received from the first game Atlético played was enough to justify the sponsorship.

“The sponsorship has been brilliant to capture one of the most passionate sports audiences. Through football you automatically reach the largest audience with an interest in sport.”


To continue reading SportBusiness International's European Games feature, please click on the links below:

Uniting Europe

Road to Baku

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