There was no SPAR break for European Athletics ahead of the Indoor Championships in Glasgow last weekend, as the association signed a new deal to extend its partnership with SPAR International by eight years to 2027. Getting a brand to commit to such an extension is no mean feat, and both sides should be congratulated on this achievement. Perhaps the more impressive element is that by the end of this deal, SPAR will have been a European Athletics partner for 31 years!
SPAR is of course not the first brand to commit to such a long-term agreement. However, in this day and age when every element of a partnership comes under close scrutiny from those holding the purse strings, and with so many sponsorship properties available, it’s an impressive deal.
Commenting on the new sponsorship extension, European Athletics President Svein Arne Hansen said: “SPAR has been the principal sponsor of European Athletics since 1996 and has become synonymous with our sport in this period. We are very happy to continue our valued partnership.” Perhaps the most telling and relevant word from this quote is ‘synonymous’ – something that only truly comes into play through partnership longevity.
No brand should ever view a sponsorship as a short-term project: in fact it should be viewed as a never-ending relationship that will benefit the company for many years ahead. Thinking of the immediate picture, and only investing in a deal for the short term, will more than likely end in failure to meet the pre-set sponsorship aims and objectives.
As we touched upon in our previous blog on Rich Energy, successful sponsorships are not built overnight. Although rights holders require brands to fund their events, fans don’t require brands to aid their enjoyment of the sport that they are watching. Therefore, a partner needs to ease its way into the consciousness of the fan or viewer without taking away from their viewing experience. Gaining respect and positive awareness is a long-term game and requires a confident commitment.
Some of the most successful, creative and rewarding partnerships are found in long-term relationships. It takes time for fans to fully absorb and embrace a brand’s identity, but sponsorships that have longevity offer the greatest chance of this happening. Proper partnerships between brands and rights holders, as well as relationships with fans, are something that can’t be instantly obtained. They need time. Perhaps like no other sector, the sports industry values loyalty and allegiance, whether that’s fan loyalty to a sport or an allegiance to a team/athlete. Why should their attitude towards a sponsor be any different? Brands should be mindful of this.
If done correctly you can end up with an ever-lasting partnership that becomes engraved in people’s minds. At 117 years, Slazenger’s partnership with Wimbledon is often cited as the longest serving in sporting goods history. As a result of this, it is almost inconceivable to consider another tennis ball supplier; it is THE Wimbledon tennis ball.
Away from sports, the O2 Arena in London or simply ‘The O2’ has become etched in people’s minds – the Millennium Dome is but a mere memory. Throughout its 12-year tenure, O2 has become synonymous with music and entertainment and provided fans with experiences that will live with them forever. There’s that word ‘synonymous’ again.
As a warning shot though, longevity and contract extension doesn’t mean that a brand can sit back on their laurels and let the partnership do the work. Activation is never-ending. Fresh ideas and engaging content are imperative; as society changes with time, so does the purpose and messaging around a sponsorship. The hard work of becoming ingrained in a fan’s head may have been done, but ensuring the brand stays relevant and in-keeping with the wider objectives is an ongoing activity.
As the sponsorship sector evolves towards rights holders and brands sharing a richer two-way relationship, the emphasis should be about creating an ever-lasting partnership from the very beginning. Both sides need to work closely with each other, being flexible and reactive throughout the partnership, to ensure that they both fully benefit from the relationship. SPAR has certainly viewed its partnership with European Athletics as a long-term exercise, not a short-term tactical one. If both parties continue to work in unison then there shouldn’t be any reason for either to check out in the future.