The world's biggest brands are in sports marketing

Sean Jefferson, CEO Europe of MindShare Performance, WPP’s sports and entertainment marketing division, is a veteran of sports and entertainment-led brand marketing. He shared his views and experiences with the Economic Times on how the global sports and entertainment marketing landscape is changing. [Excerpts]

How would you define sports marketing — is it marketing sports (game or event) or consumer brands using sports as a media? It is both – the marketing of sport and the marketing of brands through sports – and a bit more. It can include non-consumer brands, for example, you might have a B2B brand that has a sports marketing programme. I would also add athletes to your definition of sports – individual endorsements and campaigns can be very powerful.

What exactly do you do for your client’s brands? Essentially, we help our clients build their brands and their businesses through sport, entertainment and partnerships. The aim is to influence consumer attitude and behaviour. But so much of sports marketing – especially sponsorship – can work tremendously well as a B2B platform. At Performance, our team of consultants, creatives and commissioning editors develop global sponsorship strategies for the likes of BP, negotiate and manage sponsorship and content campaigns for Ford (Champions League), manage the sponsorship activation of Vodafone’s sponsorships with Champions League and McLaren in Formula One, commission and distribute branded content for Unilever, develop and embed content for Nike. Again in football, for Castrol, we provide strategic sponsorship consultancy, negotiate the brand’s sponsorship of Euro 2008, manage the integration of the sponsorship into their operating companies, lead their other marketing communications agencies’ contributions to the sponsorship and integrate the sponsorship into communications planning.

Sports marketing is restricted to product endorsements and sponsorships in India. But internationally even content generation is becoming a part of sports marketing. Yes, across the globe, more companies are funding the creation, rather than the sponsorship, of content – a TV show, an event or a website. This is driven by a number of factors at a macro level – cost, clutter, control and cash. The cost of sponsoring major properties – the London 2012 Olympic deals are being done for £80-million – can be prohibitive. Sometimes a sponsorship offers presence in a highly cluttered environment – just watch a Formula One race or an Italian football match and count the brands. Creating content places you earlier (ahead) in the supply chain, you tend to be more in control of the published content, so should be able to communicate key messages more clearly. Lastly, cash, it can be more cost-effective to fund or co-fund content, than to sponsor a smaller portion of the end-product. But more importantly, content generation offers IP opportunities that can be monetised. While this may seem like a new development, and it is certainly a growing trend, it actually takes us back to the founding of commercial TV where many of the first shows were funded by the sponsors, hence the term soap opera.

Is sports & entertainment marketing becoming fundamental to brand management for increasing number of brands? It is very difficult to calculate how much is invested by brands in content overall as it is often bundled up in advertising, promotions or public relations spends, but if we look at sponsorship, the latest estimate from WPP is that at $33-billion sponsorship equates to about 8% of the global advertising market. However, that spend might not equate to the value and importance of sports and entertainment, notably to those brands that use it as a core component of their marketing efforts. Think of the world’s biggest brands, and you tend to see them in this space – Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Ford et al. Fundamentally, if the consumer and customer of the brand are very interested in a particular type of sport or entertainment, then so should the brand be and not just from an advertising point of view, but from a genuinely engaging, associative marketing perspective.