Allianz is no newcomer to sports sponsorship with presence in some of the world’s biggest sporting landscapes. As their Paralympic commitments come to fruition with this summer’s games in Rio, SportBusiness International looks at the relationship between the insurance giant and disability sport.
Some sponsorship pitches are easier to ignore than others. So a letter from a nation’s president asking them to take a look at a sports event is an instruction that most CEOs would take seriously.
It was just such a letter, from the then president of Germany, which resulted in the CEO of global insurance giant Allianz heading out to the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, and sowing the seeds of a long-standing and constantly-evolving partnership.
“Our business is all about helping people to get back on track when they encounter issues and that is what made us think about the fit between Paralympic sport and Allianz,” explains the company’s head of brand, Dr Christian Deuringer. “As a vehicle for us, Paralympic sport made a lot of sense. We were looking at our brand strategy and our brand essence is helping people to move on and up in life. That is why we are here.”
— Allianz (@Allianz) September 12, 2016
Such was the fit that Allianz became a partner of the IPC in the same year, becoming its first international partner in 2011. Now the company is set to sign up for a further four years when its current agreement concludes. In addition to its relationship with the IPC itself, the company has individual relationships with 14 National Paralympic Committees around the world.
Allianz is a global force in financial services, but is probably best known for its insurance services. The company claims some 85 million customers in 70 countries and employs 142,000 people worldwide. Its last full-year results show revenues of €122bn and a profit of more than €10bn.
It is a company and a brand which has long understood the role of sponsorship in promoting its businesses and building relationships, something which is reflected in a portfolio which embraces sport and culture. In sport Allianz has built a ‘family of stadiums’, with naming rights at the Allianz Arena in its home town of Munich, the former Sydney Football Stadium, the Allianz Riviera in Nice – which hosted matches during Euro 2016 – and Allianz Park, home of the current English and European rugby champion Saracens. The company also partners the Mercedes Formula One team – in a relationship it uses to promote road safety worldwide – and both amateur and professional golf. Beyond sport it has partnerships with New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the renowned classical pianist Lang Lang. It’s a sophisticated operation in which every relationship has a specific set of objectives. So where does Paralympic sport fit into the picture?
“It brings something different,” explains Dr Deuringer. “When people talk about sponsorship, it is usually about media value, but that is not what this is all about. The value really starts within our organisation and internal engagement is our top priority. When you listen to the stories of Paralympians, they are so powerful and inspiring, and we have an internal ambassador programme at different levels of the business. This is not something which is secondary, but a priority. We work with Paralympic athletes as motivational speakers and the perception internally is that this engagement is tremendous.”
There is, he suggests, a different tone to the relationship between the company and its Paralympic athletes.
“We find that the athletes who are part of our ambassador programme are extremely positive and humble, and really appreciative of the relationship with us,” he says. “In addition to our relationship with the IPC, we partner the German National Paralympic Committee and while we have contributed money to them and it hasn’t really been that much, the response we have received has been amazing.”
As an international partner rather than a worldwide partner of the Paralympic Games itself, one might expect Allianz to be sitting out Rio 2016 because of the restrictions on the way they are permitted to communicate their involvement. However, the world has been left in little doubt over the strength of the relationship thanks to a global social media campaign linking the brand with Paralympic sport, while three Allianz employees will be travelling to Rio to take part in the Paralympic Games torch-bearer programme.
“Marketing is 50 per cent intuition and 50 per cent data, and you have to think about which platforms are best for delivering particular results,” Dr Deuringer says. “Our relationship with the IPC has never been about getting the logo out there. It is about working with the personalities, which can be demanding, but pays off. Our philosophy is to be active partners. We share the IPC’s view about how to drive things forward and work with them to be a part of that. Over the next four years we want to be part of developing Paralympic sports, expanding the global presence and helping create opportunities for athletes in areas such as careers.”
So what is it that makes Paralympic sport different? “If you look at the big sponsorship platforms, there are always risks, such as bad behaviour. But that is the price you pay for the media interest that these sports properties generate. You have to take a grown-up attitude to the risks,” Dr Deuringer says. And while ‘bad behaviour,’ in the shape of doping allegations, cast a cloud over the build-up to Rio 2016, Dr Deuringer is confident that the IPC took the right decision when it banned Russian competitors.
“I always appreciate strong attitudes and we trust the International Paralympic Committee and that they had the information they needed to take the decision,” he says.
Allianz may have sponsorship relationships with higher-profile properties, some of which may be seen as more glamorous and which produce more media coverage, but there seems to be something very special about its links to the world of Paralympic sport. For all the inevitable pragmatism around sponsorship, the relationship with the IPC and the NPCs resonates differently.
“It is a very personal sort of bond,” says Dr Deuringer. “How can it not be when you see the level of dedication of the athletes and the inspiration that delivers day-to-day?”