Despite being a small country compared to its European neighbours, the Netherlands has a vibrant sports marketing and sponsorship industry with global ambitions.
“There is a professionalism in the sports marketing industry in the Netherlands that can match any large market globally,” Frank Kolsteeg told SportBusines International. He is founder of GROUND4, a Netherlands-based consultancy with a remit of ‘growing life, improving partnerships’ in the industry.
Kolsteeg has been involved in sports sponsorship in the country for 20 years both from a rights-holder and brand perspective with roles at FC Utrecht, Eredivisie Media & Marketing, AEGON and more recently AEG, the leading sports, entertainment and venue operator in the world.
“There’s a mentality of ‘let’s go for it’ strengthened by our culture of sport in the country,” he said.
“The industry has definitely grown up over the last couple of decades and that has been boosted by the high level of education in the country through great qualifications in the sports marketing field. We have people here who know what they are doing to great effect.” Barbara Peeters, managing director of Infront Netherlands, is just as confident about the sports marketing industry in her country.
“The sports marketing industry is getting more dynamic in Holland because despite us being just a small market in terms of square miles and inhabitants, we are quite a strong market in terms of sports,” she said.
“Sport is anchored in our DNA and in our socio-cultural behaviour. We have lots and lots of recreational sports clubs spread throughout the Netherlands.”
Peeters believes that the market has further been stimulated by local governments helping to bring major events to the country.
“There are many great sporting events coming to Holland and I believe it has much to do with our very large fanbase,” she said. “There is a big passion around sports and ‘Team Orange’.
“In general the sports marketing business here has become more dynamic and flexible. There is a general ambition, not only among brands but also among government and other sports organisations, to be creative and flexible and produce great events to show the world that we really are a market contender.
We offer strong emotion, impressive fanbases and lots of volunteers willing to help out
“Top sports federations and organisations are really supportive as well as the NOC*NSF (Netherlands Olympic Committee and Netherlands Sports Federation). Some of the money outside of sponsorship is definitely coming from these sources. The local city governments are willing to contribute and create impactful events, which is great for the country and its sports landscape.”
As the Dutch subsidiary of Infront Sports & Media, Infront Netherlands’ biggest mandate is its relationship with the International Skating Union (ISU). Thanks to its recent acquisition of Peeters' former agency Referee Sportsmarketing,
Infront is also now the marketing partner for speed skating, the number two sport in the Netherlands after football. Infront owns all the marketing rights for the ISU World Cup and the ISU European and World Championships Speed Skating.
“We are also involved with the ISU as a consultant regarding the promotion of speed skating events and engagement with fanbases other than those already in the Netherlands,” Peeters added.
“We are helping the ISU and local organisers to promote speed skating worldwide in their quest to grow the sport more extensively outside the Dutch market. Recently we have also branched out into helping the ISU find title sponsors for speed skating as well as short track.”
Infront Netherlands also holds a contract with the Royal Dutch Skating Association (KNSB). “We went from being a full service sales and event partner [in 1987] to now being operationally responsible for all speed skating events organised by them in Holland.” Peeters adds: “The core business of the former company (Referee Sportsmarketing) was speed skating and we broadened our portfolio there with the professional cycling Team LottoNL-Jumbo (formerly Team Belki ) in 2013 which has now also become a speed skating team, thus turning into an annual proposition [for sponsors].
“We also do some work in swimming. However, our core business was and is speed skating, which is one of the main reasons we were acquired by Infront.”
Peeters believes that the Dutch market has much to offer sponsors and brands.
“The country offers strong emotion, impressive fanbases and always lots of volunteers willing to help out as well as very flexible and professional organisers. Sponsorship is no longer focused just on exposure on national television, there is definitely more of a 360 approach with digital media becoming increasingly important. Among Dutch rightsholders, there is a lot of willingness to adapt to what a brand is looking for.”
Peeters believes that Dutch IT company KPN is a great example of a sponsor that has undertaken a 360 approach across all aspects of their organisation.
“They are main sponsor of the Royal Dutch Skating Association (KNSB) as well as Official Partner of all ISU speed skating events since 2010 and it has been an amazing ride for them,” she says. Kolsteeg believes that there is less of a focus on sponsorships and more on partnerships in the Dutch market,” she said.
This ‘orange feeling’ is something that any brand can use to its advantage
“Sponsors are investing more time – ironically sometimes for less money – in what they can bring to audiences in terms of added value and engagement. Sponsors are also increasingly creating their own events in the country and long-term relationships with communities, which is very positive.”
Currently there are many opportunities in the Dutch market for brands according to Peeters, not only in terms of domestically oriented sports, but also in sports that have a strong international impact.
“The ISU title sponsorships in speed skating and short track are obviously very strong in the ‘orange feeling’ is something that any brand can use to its advantage Dutch market, but definitely have a geographical footprint outside the Netherlands as well,” she added.
“Also there are opportunities for brands to be involved with some of the less mainstream sports in the country such as gymnastics, swimming, water sports, BMX and darts. The latter is a great example of how the success of national stars – in this case former world champions Raymond van Barneveld and Michael van Gerwen – grows the popularity of the sport in a country – which of course becomes attractive for sponsors.”
When it comes to characteristics and strengths within the Dutch sports marketing community, there is a general feeling of prioritising sports as well as high ambitions among very well equipped organisers, according to Peeters.
“We offer creativity and flexibility and there is a great background of sports in our DNA,” she said. This ‘orange feeling’ is something that any brand can use to its advantage. If you are a brand wanting to get a foothold in the Dutch sports industry then there are definitely opportunities in many sports.”
As well as being a hotbed of domestic activity for sponsorships, the Netherlands can boast several homegrown high-profile brands that have achieved success on a global scale.
Both Kolsteeg and Peeters reference Heineken as the best example of a Dutch brand that has showcased itself on the global stage through its sponsorship of the Uefa Champions League.
“Heineken has definitely led the way abroad,” Peeters said. “Royal Dutch Shell and Philips have both done well too. It is really hard coming from a small country such as ours to have a global approach and really integrate this well into a whole campaign.
“Yet in the case of football, Heineken has found a way to link its campaign to each one of its core markets and enliven it as an integrated part of the organisation’s communications. This is what makes the Heineken brand so strong. No matter where you see Heineken in the world it will have the same identity. Sport has been an integral part of that.”
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