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Commercial Partnership – Happy Marriage or Quick Fling?

November 4th, 2012

Reading about Newcastle fans celebrating outside St James’ Park after finally being allowed to call the famous old stadium by it’s original name once again, reminded me how like relationships, sponsorships are.  This marriage presumably started with great intentions on both sides with a love so strong that even the sacred St James Park name was traded.  But after just one year, the two parties are going their separate ways, with media and the fans left to query whether it was all just about money?

In contrast, I recently researched the length of the IOC’s TOP Partners and discovered that both Coca Cola and Omega celebrated their Diamond IOC Anniversaries over 20 years ago, and no less than 6 TOP Partners have been going steady with Lausanne through better or worse for more than 25 years.

So why the enormous contrast in the length of sponsorship relationships, and does it matter?

Well from the property’s standpoint, it takes an awfully long time to woo a new partner, typically anything from 1-4 years, so it makes no sense to have to be constantly chasing replacements.  Sponsors are actually rather faithful once they get hitched, probably because having put so much effort into deciding on a particular sporting spouse. They tend to work quite hard at the relationship if it is working and the property is innovating and adding value.  This is not just through steadily increasing rights fees, but also through their activation which grows the property.  The sponsor’s stakeholders don’t want the partnership to stop after the first contractual period, as nobody wants to be associated with a failure.

But what do fans and other stakeholders think if they see a “serial monogamy” of sponsors?  I think it creates an impression of instability which weakens the property’s brand, and the fans struggle to engage with brands which appear to be exploiting their beloved sport or club.  Specifically, media and supporters are right to be skeptical about naming deals which could unravel.  Whereas over time, a genuine engagement can be built between the sponsor and the fans, if based on an honest commitment.

Having said all this, there are plenty of brands looking for more instant gratification, be that through visibility for their logo or access to money can’t buy tickets, and there are many properties which welcome their custom.  They probably do little to build any brand affinity in the short term, but these shorter relationships are actually one of the best ways for a sponsor and a property to get to know each other, and very many of the longest running sports partnerships actually started with a “short fling”.  Just don’t rush into changing your name!

Image Credit: wcupmartin6