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State of the Sponsorship Industry: An SQN Perspective

State of the Sponsorship Industry: An SQN Perspective

Yesterday the European Sponsorship Association (ESA) released its 2020 Sponsorship Market Overview document. The release of the annual report, produced in collaboration with Nielsen Sports, was supported by an insightful webinar featuring input from ESA Chairman Andy Westlake, Head of Client Services at Nielsen Sports, Andy Milnes, and Head of Partnerships and Activation at the Premier League, Tom Greenwood. Full of brilliant insight including everything from top sponsorship trends through to evolving brand spend, we spoke to SQN Account Director Stuart Owen to discuss his thoughts on some of the key outcomes. 

Sustainability came out as the top sponsorship trend amongst industry professionals, is this a trend that SQN has noticed amongst its clients, and do you think it will become the main criteria for the success of a sponsorship in the future? 

“Without doubt sustainability has become an increasingly core focus of our clients’ sponsorship requirements, as well as their wider communication and storytelling needs. Brands have to be reactive to societal challenges and trends, and with millennials and Gen Z now putting the environmental good at the heart of their purchasing choices, brands must react to this. Sponsorships are one means by which brands can align with a sustainable message whilst also fulfilling their CSR requirements. More and more sponsors will use sustainability as a main criteria to measure the success of a partnership, but as this occurs, caution needs to be exercised; the same individuals who are more likely to buy from a sustainable brand are also those that are becoming wiser to the brands that are only doing it to tick a box. There must be a clear and believable link between the sustainable sponsorship and the brand story.” 

Are there any other of the key sponsorship trends that stand out to you, or are particularly prevalent within the work that you are doing with you clients? 

“All of the key sponsorship trends mentioned by ESA resonate with us and what we are looking to achieve with our clients through sponsorship. Fan engagement has now become an increasingly important element to sponsorship; great brands think about the whole fan experience, whether that’s in the stadium concourse, or for the casual fan watching from their sofa at home. The more that brands and rightsholders do to engage with their fans, the more data they can gather from them. It becomes an incredibly valuable asset as a brand can learn more about the lifestyle and purchasing habits of their audience, while rightsholders have a stronger proposition to take to the brands.” 

“From an SQN perspective, women in sport and esports are two sponsorship trends that have been at the forefront of our offering. Towards the end of 2019 SQN and Init Sports Management joined forces to create Init Esports with the goal of becoming one of the leading motorsports esports agencies in the world. Headed by three female founders, one of the key elements of the collaboration will be the promotion of more females into professional esports teams; offering a new and exciting sponsorship potential.” 

One of the noticeable outcomes of the ESA and Nielsen Sport research was the decrease in sponsorship term length over the past decade. Why do you think this might be, and should this be viewed as a positive or negative thing for the industry? 

“Sponsorship term lengths might be decreasing, but this does not take away the fact that deal sizes are larger than ever. The number of sponsorship deals above €10m have increased by 23% across Europe since 2010, whilst those below €1m have increased by a massive 67%. Although we always encourage brands to consider sponsorships as long term investments to truly get the most out of a deal, this doesn’t necessarily apply to all. With an increasing breadth of sponsorship formats and property variation, partnerships are now being viewed by some as part of short-term marketing campaigns. For B2C brands that need to promote a new product, a six month to one-year sponsorship fits in perfectly with that strategy. With increased data and market research, brands are also more aware of the means by which to best engage with their audience, which might not be achievable via one long-term sponsorship. A diverse portfolio of sponsorships over varying term periods can now be far more effective and appealing to some sponsors.” 

Although a long way behind football, are your surprised to see Formula 1 as the sport featuring the second highest sponsorship spend? Step forward a further 10 years, would you still expect it to be in this position? 

“Football accounted for 66% of the global sports sponsorship spend last year, which if you excuse the pun, is in a league of its own. Although Formula 1 doesn’t necessarily have the same number of sponsorship deals that perhaps other sports have, it does still demand a high sponsorship spend per deal. Over the last few years we’ve probably being going through somewhat of a turning point with Formula 1. TV audiences have dropped off, and brands have moved across to the more sustainable and green Formula E series. Yet, Formula 1 has stuck by its guns and believed in its product and driven a hard price. Over the next decade the sport will face stiff competition from the rise in cleaner and greener motorsport series’, but Formula 1 will have to react to that and make sure it can still offer brands an attractive platform for them to be part of. Right now Formula 1 has the heritage, the stories, the personalities to make it the number one motorsport series in the world, but what it can’t do at any point over the next decade is rest on its laurels; it needs to react and respond to the evolving world around it.”  

Finally, it is difficult to look any further right now than the current COVID-19 pandemic, but once the situation resolves itself, how do you think the sponsorship industry will respond? 

As we’re all fully aware, like many sectors the sponsorship industry is going through a difficult period during the current COVID-19 outbreak. As Andy Westlake correctly pointed out, 85% of the sponsorship industry is influenced by sport, and right now professional sport around the globe has come to a grinding halt. Although the traditional means by which brands gain large exposure and built their stories have come to a temporary pause, it doesn’t mean that sponsorship spend should be wasting away. Rightsholders, brands and agencies just need to become more creative. The audience hasn’t gone away, it still exists, and if anything, it is a far more captive audience hungry for entertainment and interaction with their team or sport. Brands need to make the most of this, and rightsholders need to keep them at their forefront of their minds with any form of digital interaction.” 

“When life returns back to normal, live sport will be one of the key things that people will crave. We take it for granted that week-in, week-out we can turn the TV on and there will be a multitude of sports to choose from across a vast number of channels. Now we might just treasure sport that little bit more, and if brands respond in the right manner, they can be part of that fan experience. If a sponsor aligns itself with the powerful fan emotions that sport can produce, then brand association and affiliation will be stronger than it’s ever been. If the storm is weathered now, there are potentially great times ahead for the sponsorship industry.”