In early 2016 Livewire held the view that the year ahead would be an exceptionally busy year for sponsors, driven by a “summer of sport”, due to Ireland’s involvement in Euro 2016, the Olympic Games, as well as annual stalwarts including the GAA Championships. Add to this an ever growing music and cultural festival scene, the landscape was likely to be both cluttered yet potentially exciting. In January we pointed to three trends to watch for the year ahead:
- Superior activation strategies
- Immersive media sponsorships
- Sponsors looking for more from rights holders
For this report Livewire spoke to a select number of sponsors, rights holders and media owners to ask their views on the sponsorship campaigns which stood in 2016. We also asked them what is on their sponsorship Christmas wish list for 2017 and what they would like to see sponsors and rights holders do more of next year. The feedback is included in the report.
So, how did our predictions for key trends in 2016 fare? The answer lies in three separate reports in which we have analysed the above trends.
Sponsors Looking For More From Rights Holders
In early 2016 we pointed to an emerging trend of sponsors looking for more from rights holders. As brands increasingly recognise the role which sponsorship can play in addressing business needs, this has led to brands looking closely at the rights they own, or seek to buy, to ensure that they can be fully leveraged. At the same time there is an increased expectation from sponsors of robust evaluation, sophisticated data and fan analysis from rights holders.
When speaking with sponsors and rights holders, many were quick to acclaim the work created by AIB, Vodafone and Heineken in 2016. The following explores these campaigns in a little more detail. We have also examined the role which a rights holder has in answering the needs from sponsors as well as how sponsors can benefit despite ongoing scandals in the world of sport.
AIB & GAA
Within the Irish market, you do not have to look far to see how successful this sponsor rights holder collaboration has worked this year. AIB’s award winning sponsorship of both the Club Championship and the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship has proven that a dynamic and mutually beneficial relationship can lead to enormous success for both sponsor and rights holder.
AIB has brought many positive elements into its relationship with the GAA, including strong strategic thinking based on a rich consumer insight and marketing expertise.
There is no doubt that the Club Championship in particular has benefited from this support. Meanwhile AIB benefits by being synonymous with a competition whose profile increases yearly. And a competition which places the bank in the heartland of the GAA community.
This close relationship between sponsor and rights holder allowed AIB to produce authentic, relevant and welcome content which added to the fan experience throughout the season. This included “The Toughest Trade” AFP TV programme on RTE, a spectacular 360 virtual reality video of Dublin fans on Hill 16 and a heavy social media presence supporting #TheToughest.
AIB has truly become a positive agent for the Club Championship.
Role Of The Rights Holder
In terms of developing the sponsor rights holder relationship, a number of rights holders this year have embraced the opportunity to understand their sponsorship family better through sponsor conferences. The purpose of such a strategy is not only to bring the sponsor family together and openly discuss the successes, challenges, and future plans for the rights holder, but also for the sponsors to mingle and develop their relationships, possibly enhancing future collaborations. In our view, this is a smart way for a rights holder to develop relationships with its sponsor base, to encourage further buy in from sponsors and to encourage sponsors to be more proactive and collaborate with the rights holder earlier in the season to plan for the year ahead.
As an extension to this sponsor led approach, we have seen some rights holders introduce innovative concepts around data and fan analysis. The GAA recently launched a membership and loyalty programme titled “Go Raibh Maith Agat”. The programme provides members with an opportunity to earn points when attending games and allows its sponsors to offer exclusive deals and discounts. This adds value to the fan experience, but most importantly it allows the GAA to collate information obtained through the use of the membership card and provide its sponsors with valuable insights into consumer behaviour and trends which they previously may not have had access too.
Vodafone & IRFU
Vodafone and the IRFU were certainly a force to be reckoned with in 2016. Mutual understanding of both the rights holder’s and sponsor’s objectives allowed these two stakeholders to raise the profile of both Irish rugby as well as Vodafone’s core values and services. This award winning partnership is a prime example of where both the rights holder and sponsor have gone the extra mile and demonstrated a deep understanding of each other’s capabilities, values, and commercial opportunities. This collaborative approach reached a crescendo when Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago in November, but this was just the cherry on top of a hugely successful 2016.
This campaign was particularly rich in the level of behind the scenes content provided. However, this content would never have materialised if it wasn’t for the strong level of trust built up between Vodafone, the commercial team of the IRFU and the management of the Irish rugby team. Creating trust between sponsor and rights holder will be essential for the creation of valued behind the scenes content in 2017. An excellent example of this was Vodafone’s AFP TV programme “Irish Rugby, What We Did Last Summer”.
Other excellent campaign activations included the “Jersey Swap”, and exclusive prizes including Vodafone’s “Best Seats in the House”. This sponsor’s proactive and demanding approach has brought a new level of Irish rugby engagement, for both sponsor and fan.
And it must be noted that the IRFU has collaborated with their sponsor like every rights holder should i.e. through good understanding and clarity of objectives, an openness to new and innovative initiatives (e.g. “Irish Rugby, What We Did Last Summer”) and a willingness to go that extra mile for its sponsor.
Despite the fact that the campaign was only launched this summer, the #TeamOfUs campaign triumphed at the Irish Sponsorship Awards – winning “Best Use of Social Media” and “Best Use of PR).
Live Nation & Heineken Sound Atlas
Away from the world of sport, 2016 saw Heineken bring a melting pot of musicians, artists, chefs, dancers, writers, and all kinds of creative people to Heineken Sound Atlas at Electric Picnic. This collaboration with rights holder Live Nation, highlighted the success sponsors can obtain when they seek more from the rights holder. Again, an early approach with the rights holder allowed Heineken to establish its objectives, activity roadmap and buy in from Live Nation. Through a dominant location and presence, by providing innovative concepts which added value to fans, (e.g. Heineken Cold Rooms) and onsite trade to customers, it is no surprise that the brand was seen as the best sponsor at Electric Picnic, an increase from 36% to 50% from 2015 to 2016 (Source: Electric Picnic Onsite Research). Heineken’s collaborative approach with Live Nation allowed the brand to extend its story telling platform, engage the key target demographic of 18-24 year olds and build on commercial trade impact. Meanwhile “Heineken Sound Atlas” is truly engaging music fans by giving them the opportunity to explore and discover the most exciting live music scenes from around the globe.
After years of fruitful collaboration between sponsor and rights holder, it is difficult to envisage this premier music event without Heineken and its many innovative activations. For Livewire this is the tell-tale sign of a perfect partnership.
Scandal and Challenges
2016 will long be remembered as a year beset by sporting scandals and controversies. One high profile example was American swimmer’s Ryan Lochte’s false robbery report during the Rio Olympics which resulted in the swimmer swiftly losing four key sponsors – including Speedo and Ralph Lauren.
Meanwhile, Skins, the Australian owned sports manufacturer, was lauded for its treatment of the curious case of ultra-runner Robert Young. In May 2016 Young attempted his greatest challenge – the Trans America Record, 3,423.5 miles, usually attempted at 46 days of around 60 miles per day. Young completed almost 2,000 miles before collapsing with exhaustion – but worse was to come. He was accused from many sides of cheating – which is where this story really captured our interest.
Rather than endorsing, or cutting ties with their athlete, Skins instead employed two independent experts, and tasked them with the sole challenge of finding the truth. This report was released in October, and categorically showed, despite his protestations, that Young had indeed cheated on many of his runs.
A strong and trusting relationship between rights holders and their sponsors will allow for a more educated approach to handling such delicate scenarios – something that can absolutely be said of Skins interrogation of their sponsorship of Robert Young.
In the current climate, this can be viewed as a refreshing approach – and when compared with the sponsors involved with cycling and Team Sky, and indeed tennis and Maria Sharapova, it would be difficult to argue that a lot of rights holders and sponsors could learn from this experience.
Unsurprisingly when we asked our sponsors, rights holders and media owners to nominate the sponsorship campaigns which stood out for them in 2016, the consensus here were campaigns which showed clear evidence of both brands and rights holders working in unison. Both sponsors and rights holders referred to smart usage of assets, a clarity of objective based on good consumer insight and strong through-the-line execution via stakeholder collaboration. We believe that the examples we have outlined will act as beacons to the industry.
However, a real benefit from sponsors working more closely with rights holders will be in the form of data. The recently launched GAA membership/loyalty programme is an interesting development and could prove to be hugely beneficial for the rights holder and its sponsors alike. Brands are investing increasing levels of resources in order to understand their consumer base while rights holders are eager to understand who is attending matches, buying subscriptions etc. in order to communicate and sell to these fans more effectively. Closer collaboration between sponsors and rights holders will help to fulfill this data potential.