OXFORD V CAMBRIDGE is an annual contest that represents one of sport’s most historic rivalries.
The men’s and women’s rowing crews of the two prestigious British universities clashed on the River Thames in London for the 162nd and 71st time, respectively, on March 27, with the 2016 Boat Race blazing a new trail for corporate sponsorship of major events.
In what was described by the parties involved as a world first, US banking and financial services group BNY Mellon and its UK subsidiary, Newton Investment Management, donated their title sponsorship of the meeting to Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Race’s official charity partner.
With the Cancer Research UK Boat Races running in 2016 and 2017, Anne-Marie McConnon, head of marketing for the EMEA region at BNY Mellon Investment Management, explained that the initiative sought to follow on from another first in 2015.
“As a group, we’ve been involved in sponsorship and have been committed to it for a number of years,” she told SportBusiness International. “The Boat Race has been the pinnacle of what we’ve been doing. As a race, it transcends the sporting calendar in that it’s an annual cultural event.
“When we had the opportunity to sponsor the race, we realised it was aligned to BNY Mellon and Newton’s corporate vision, but we also had the opportunity to influence its evolution through bringing the women to the Tideway, which we were successful in doing last year.”
Having previously carried the name of backoffice services group Xchanging as a title sponsor for a seven-year stretch, BNY Mellon took over the rights to the Boat Race under a five-year deal that commenced with the 2013 event.
Under the contract signed by BNY Mellon, the partnership with the Boat Race consolidated Newton’s sponsorship of the openweight Women’s Boat Clubs. This led to Newton bringing the Women’s Boat Race to the Thames in 2015 to compete on the same day and the same course as the men’s race.
“We felt we achieved a great deal by getting the women to the Tideway and we received a lot of positive feedback on the move,” McConnon said. “As companies, we’re really in a fortunate position of having access to one of the highlights of the British sporting calendar. We wanted to use these rights to effect change and do something really positive with them. For us it was much more than purely a badging exercise. We wanted to continue the good work that we’d done.”
Alex Legge, head of marketing for Newton Investment Management, added that Newton’s chief executive, Helena Morrissey, had discussed the “new model of corporate sponsorship” and added that “the role of big business in society is clear.”
Legge told SportBusiness International: “Having seen the gear change from bringing the women to the Tideway, it started to say something about us as organisations. Donating the sponsorship to Cancer Research was a first which has set off a wave of pride across the group.”
BNY Mellon and Newton are effectively handing over a brand association opportunity with an iconic fixture of the British sporting calendar that receives significant exposure on a global basis. Indeed, Newton has a longer association with the event, having taken up title sponsorship of the Women’s Race in 2011.
Commenting on the benefits of the partnership for the companies to date, Legge said: “Within Newton, and obviously we’ve been involved with the Boat Race longer than BNY Mellon, what we’ve seen is that it has raised the profile of our brand in the public arena.
“This is the largest and most significant of our sponsorships in this region. The fact it is televised so broadly, along with the numbers of people watching on the river banks, has successfully associated us with a fantastic sponsorship. Our clients have really rallied behind it and been able to see an extraordinary event that happens every year. Our employees have also engaged with it across both BNY Mellon and Newton.”
While reluctant to place a marker on the commercial value of the rights being donated to CRUK, McConnon added: “It’s not our policy to comment on the individual details of our sponsorship with the Boat Race Company, but what I can say is we believe this will really raise global awareness of CRUK.”
For the 2016 Race, a new identity was created to incorporate the famous dark blue of Oxford and light blue of Cambridge with CRUK’s magenta and blue colours.
The campaign grants CRUK substantial exposure, while BNY Mellon and Newton worked with the charity to support their fundraising activities, as well as implementing their own initiatives, with all fundraising in aid of Cancer Research UK.
McConnon believes the rights handed over to CRUK will enable the charity to tap into an opportunity on a scale hitherto unavailable to the organisation.
Regarding the benefits afforded to BNY Mellon and Newton, she added: “It’s well documented now that brands that have a higher purpose actually perform better. For example, it helps to attract and retain the best talent, while the research is out there that it leads to more engaged and satisfied customers.
“I believe it will help raise awareness of both of our organisations at a deeper level. What we are doing says something more meaningful about our brands than just putting our logo on the river. I believe this will set the bar for us as an organisation in terms of our sponsorship activities going forward.”
For Cancer Research UK, BNY Mellon and Newton’s initiative marks a swift upgrade in its association, having only served as the first official charity partner of the Boat Races since October.
Caro Evans, head of high value supporter partnerships at Cancer Research UK, told SportBusiness International: “Through the partnership we have managed to reach out to a new audience and bring a fresh fundraising challenge in the form of our mass rowing campaign, the Great Row, to our current supporter base.
“The partnership sits in line with our messaging around leading a healthy lifestyle and allows us to offer the general public more ways to stay fit and healthy whilst supporting the charity and the iconic Boat Races.
“Cancer Research UK will have numerous branding opportunities on race day, and this association with the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races will help increase global awareness of the charity and bring us closer to our goal of beating cancer sooner.” From a broader perspective, both BNY Mellon and Newton have thrown down the gauntlet for the sports sponsorship sector.
Sporting institutions have come up with innovative ways to assist charity partners in the past – perhaps most notably in 2006, when Unicef became the first ever name to appear on Barcelona’s shirts, with the Spanish Liga football club paying the children’s charity €1.5m per year as part of the deal. The agreement was recently renewed (see page 20).
However, it remains to be seen whether other businesses will follow the lead of the Boat Race title sponsors and adopt the same model of donating rights.
“We hope this partnership encourages other companies around the world to follow suit in terms of this kind of initiative,” Legge added. “Undoubtedly, this new model of corporate sponsorship has got resonance. There are numerous other financial services brands that are doing more in the responsible sponsorship space.
“We’ll review the work that we manage to do throughout 2016 and 2017, put it through the lens of other sponsorships, and determine the role of responsibility within them. Our hope is that we can make a genuine difference, which I’m sure other corporates will look to follow in time.”