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ECB defends KP sponsorship of The Hundred, sports marketers add support

(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for ECB)

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has defended its partnership with snack brand KP, the Official Team Partner to new tournament, The Hundred.

It follows Thursday’s team unveiling where KP brands such as McCoy’s and Tyrrell’s featured prominently on the newly revealed kits for the competition.

As detailed by the BBC, health campaigners have criticised the deal with a ‘junk food’ brand, especially given that the tournament is being marketed to appeal to children and families.

SportBusiness Sponsorship understands that The ECB defence centres on the fact there has been a commitment to healthy living and a balanced diet incorporated within the agreement.

They are working with KP on their ‘Our Taste For Good’ commitment. This has seen saturated fat in the company’s products reduced by 80 per cent since 2005, it also aims to increase the amount of one hundred calorie or less products offered through its brands by 50 per cent before 2025.

An ECB spokesperson explained further to SportBusiness Sponsorship how The ECB would look to utilise the partnership. They said: “Our goal for cricket is to connect communities and improve lives by inspiring people to discover and share their passion for cricket.

“Across their portfolio of brands, KP has almost unprecedented reach into the lives of all of Britain’s diverse consumers and is keen to work with us to help grow the game of cricket.

“As part of our partnership we’ll get the opportunity to tap into their platform to engage with our core cricket fans, wider sports fans and families who we’re targeting as part of The Hundred.

“We agree it’s critical to promote this partnership responsibly and we’ll use our own platform and influencers to educate and promote health, activity and balance as a core message.”

Opinion among leading sports marketers and sponsorship commentators, canvassed by SportBusiness Sponsorship, has been supportive of the ECB.

Robin Clarke,  senior vice-president, international, for Endeavor Global Marketing, told SportBusiness Sponsorship that while he understood some of the concerns about a snack company portfolio play from a ‘healthy lifestyle’ aspect, it remains to be seen how the sponsorship will be activated by the brand and teams.

“FMCG brands and supermarket aisles remain are a very robust platform to drive messaging and engage varying audiences,” he said.

“If the brands and teams are smart and considered about how they activate, including offsetting healthy lifestyle concerns in that messaging, then I truly believe this could be just the partnership The Hundred needs.”

Dan Haddad, Octagon’s head of commercial strategy who advises the agency’s portfolio of brands on sponsorship rights acquisition, was similarly positive: “It was essential for the ECB to get a high-profile FMCG brand on board to support The Hundred and help support the competition’s core objective of going beyond cricket’s existing fanbase, and in particular, reach The Hundred’s priority audience of families.

“Assuming that KP meaningfully use the sponsorship as more than a media buy and embraces the IP and marketing assets, particularly in-store and on-product, the profile of brand perfectly suits the ECB’s strategy and should help the tournament’s chances of bringing new fans to the sport.

On the wider societal issue of child obesity, and the aligning of a competition targeted at families with a snack brand, Haddad said: ”There are some direct parallels that can be drawn with the Big Bash League in Australia that was created to address similar challenges facing the sport.

“KFC came on board as the competition’s title sponsor in the early stages and its promotion of the competition and marketing campaigns have been credited as being a contributing factor to the competition’s success. Therefore, you can understand why the ECB have decided the ‘risk’ is worth it.

“How this sponsorship will eventually be perceived after the initial backlash will very much depend on the activation. If KP use the sponsorship to create campaigns that successfully get more young people playing cricket, therefore supporting an active lifestyle then that would also represent a clear benefit.

“They have the power to do this, and also, the responsibility to do so. The ‘Just Play’ that underpins Mars’ sponsorship of the FA should be used as a benchmark and inspiration within this category”

Jeremy Edwards, director of content at the sponsorship activation intelligence company, Activative, also cited the precedent for such deals in cricket, with the KFC Big Bash sponsorship, but also the International Cricket Council’s five-year deal with Coca-Cola in 2019.

The sponsorship, he said, once again shines the sports sponsorship spotlight on the suitability of pairing high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar products through sports and athletics properties.

“On the surface there is legitimacy to the argument that these tie-ups lack authentic synergies and expose an element of hypocrisy between the sport’s objectives and values and the source of its revenue,” Edwards said.

“But it’s also fair to withhold any final judgement on the appropriateness of such partnerships until we see what the strategy, tactics and more importantly the results and effects of the activation actually are.

“Sports sponsors, like other company marketing strands, have an opportunity to use the partnerships to spearhead new approaches, to drive change, to reposition around fresh values, launch alternative products and to offer activations, experiences and utilities that help change fans’ lives, behaviours and habits. After all, that’s the unique power and opportunity of sponsorship. There is always a chance that this will be a core part of KP Snacks’ The Hundred strategy.”

Additional Reporting by Matthew Glendinning