Kevin Roberts | Celebrating the best in football sponsorship and helping the market grow

On December 29, 2019, many of the world football’s leading players, coaches, agents, administrators and referees will gather in Dubai for the Globe Soccer Awards.

As it has been for more than a decade, it promises to be a glittering occasion with football’s finest paying tribute to the individuals whose contributions have helped shaped the world’s most popular and powerful sport during the past 12 months.

Over the years many of the greatest names in world football have graced the Awards. Messi, Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo are among those who have collected the coveted best Player Award – in fact Ronaldo has claimed the honour five times.

But while the Globe Soccer Awards – which are seen on television around the world – have become an important date on the international football calendar they have, until now, focused exclusively on excellence on the field rather than the businesses which help sustain and grown the sport.

That changes this year when the Best Partnership of the Year by SportBusiness makes its debut on the Globe Soccer programme. The award is designed to reflect the role of both parties in creating successful sponsorships, with the award presented to both the winning clubs and brands. It recognises deal-making, innovation, creativity and best practice in partnerships against key criteria including the length of partnership and its enduring appeal, creativity in activation to engage with key audiences and results against stated objectives.

Six excellent partnerships have been selected for the award long-list and reviewing them provides a fascinating reminder of just how much the practice of sponsorship has changed over the years and the impact this has had on the business of football.

For many years sponsorship in football was pretty much a branding and hospitality exercise with any attempt at measurement confined to gauging exposure and attributing advertising equivalent values. That still happens but from the vantage point of the end of 2019 it is beginning to feel more and more like the dark ages.

In a highly competitive environment sponsorship is one of the revenue streams which clubs themselves can control and grow and revenue is a major determinant of success. Consequently, it is becoming an increasingly important element of the financial make-up of leading clubs with Barcelona earning €304m and Manchester United €288m in the last year from their portfolio of deals.

Football sponsorship is becoming increasingly sophisticated both in terms of the clubs’ own brand-building and marketing outlook and the way that partners activate their rights. Clubs’ sponsorship portfolios cover a diverse range of business and industry sectors and are, increasingly, broken down to meet the needs of brands by country or region.

And the blunderbuss of exposure, while still important, is no longer the only game in town. Advances in digital technology have opened up a new world of opportunity for brands to connect with their customers more directly and more personally through the conduit of the clubs.

As football sponsorship has become more sophisticated the environment has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate for those on both sides of any partnership. With some clubs having 50 or so deals in place it is a big ask to understand the market, to identify opportunities and to discover the rights fees for individual deals to provide a reliable negotiating benchmark.

It was against that background that our team developed SportBusiness Soccer, an innovative and invaluable digital tool that delivers an unparalleled depth and breadth of data on the sponsorship deals of every club in the top leagues in England, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Sportbusiness Soccer is a game changer in football sponsorship because it delivers data and analysis which facilitates sound decision making based on a real understanding of market pricing and trends. That’s something which those operating in other industries may take for granted but which has been sorely missing in a marketing discipline which continues to develop at pace.

It is a major contribution to the evolution of an important sector of the sports business and one which will help ensure that clubs maximise their potential and do the best deals at the best prices, enabling them to build enduring and highly effective partnerships.

There’s every reason to expect that partnerships selected for future editions of the Best Partnership of the Year by SportBusiness will have been built on the solid foundations of data delivered by SportBusiness Soccer.

But that’s for the future. Right now the focus is on Globe Soccer 2019 and the first Best Partnership of the Year by SportBusiness. Look out for the announcement of the final three due next week after consideration by the expert panel.

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