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Mark Cornish | Football sponsorship market should go online

Mark Cornish, board advisor to Sponsor.Online, believes that football properties need to take advantage of their reach and move to a digital sponsorship marketplace.

Mark Cornish

Here’s a question for you. Why has the football sector been so resistant to buying and selling sponsorship online?

It’s a sport which, according to the European Sponsorship Association and Nielsen, accounts for 34 per cent of all major deals globally and the fact is that these represent just the tip of the iceberg.  The football landscape is vast, with thousands of professional teams, players and leagues across the globe. Recent developments in the Women’s professional game, esports football teams, and new infrastructure in the USA (USL), highlights the future growth of the game.

Yet, unless you are an elite football property with an international sales force and significant marketing budget, it’s a major challenge to be visible to brands and corporations who may be interested in your audience, sector and territory.

The reverse of course can also be said of the buyer, so let us not underestimate how time consuming it is for a potential sponsor to find the right partnership. Especially if that brand doesn’t happen to be based in your country but wishes to enter the market.

So, we have a situation where there is clear demand for football sponsorships, but that properties and sponsors are too often left groping in the dark in attempts to find each other.

We are not talking here  about the massive deals signed by the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid but at the other end of the market where sponsorship can be seen as more of a commodity so long as fundamental principles are met.

The solution, it appears, is for this part of the football sponsorship market to go online.  It’s not a hugely radical idea and other sectors, such as advertising, have been happily transacting billions of dollars each year in this way.

Given football properties have the advantage of reach, loyal, passionate fans and multiple inventory available to them, it would be logical to assume that the football sponsorship industry is losing out on market share because it is not being traded online.

Just because sponsorship assets such as branding shirts, perimeter/stadia signage and hospitality have traditionally been sold offline doesn’t mean that always has to be the way.

And it’s worth noting that the fastest growing elements of the sponsorship inventory are digital assets, from mobile apps to esports teams, which are highly attractive to brands, who want more targeted and measurable campaigns that engage fans and generate leads. These are naturally traded in a digital marketplace.

Previous attempts to launch online sponsorship trading platforms have met with mixed fortunes but the technology available has advanced significantly and experience suggests that moving some assets online will give football sponsorship in particular a significant boost.

The football sponsorship marketplace has historically been a closed environment, often difficult for a sponsor to navigate and know if they have got a good deal or not. Third parties and intermediaries have also played a role at the expense of both club and sponsor, when in fact a more open market approach could have made this process more efficient. I am also convinced that some deals just do not happen because the sponsor either cannot find what they are looking for, or do not trust the process in hand.

From my own experience of working with sponsors, I know that it is necessary to gather information from between five and 10 different sources to evaluate one sponsorship opportunity, let alone compare the market. A robust evaluation does not come cheap and requires the sponsor to invest time and money.

Moving to a digital sponsorship marketplace will not happen overnight, it is a journey. However, it is inevitable and in my opinion many sponsorship assets will be transacted through a digital platform in the future. This does not to suggest replacing offline as relationships are vital to success and activations require boots on the ground. But a digital marketplace will make the industry more visible, efficient, transparent and trusted, leading to more transactions and more share of marketing spend.

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