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.
Below is the first of these reports, with the next two to follow in the coming days. Make sure to keep an eye on our Twitter account for the latest in our 2016 review.
Superior Activation Strategies
In this year of all years we have reviewed four activations which delivered in 2016.
Unsurprisingly as is so often found in sponsorship, sport flew the flag in terms of standout sponsor activations. Disappointingly, activations in other areas failed to hit the same heights.
To illustrate this point, below are two charts highlighting the sponsorships shortlisted for the 2017 European Sponsorship Association Excellence Awards and the winners of the 2016 Irish Sponsorship Awards. As can be seen below, sport represents more than 60% of both awards programmes.
- Lidl – Ladies Football
2016 started with a bang in the shape of the multiple award winning launch of Lidl’s sponsorship of the LGFA and the Ladies National Football League, which kicked off with the provocative “Ladyball” concept.
This campaign stood out for several reasons. Firstly, it was evident that Lidl worked hand in hand with the LGFA to design a powerful 360 activation for their sponsorship.
Secondly Lidl’s brave decision to create an entire campaign – bolstered by a reported adspend of €1.6 million on media channels (Source: Nielsen Ad Dynamix) – around a platform which traditionally would be viewed as having low reach, was lauded by many marketers that we spoke to as a brave, but clever move. This is illustrated by the sponsorship being shortlisted in the European Sponsorship Association Excellence Awards.
While interest levels among the public and the industry in women’s sport in Ireland has steadily grown in the past five years – with Liberty Insurance’s work on Camogie, the phenomenon that is Katie Taylor, and the advances made in the game of Women’s rugby, due much of the credit – it is not untoward to say that spend, reach and indeed national interest in women’s sport, never mind the LGFA, was at a relatively low level prior to the #SeriousSupport campaign.
From a commercial perspective, a heavy above the line campaign was buoyed with in-store competitions in support of local post primary schools and Ladies Gaelic Football clubs which crucially brought the sponsorship into the community. This for possibly the first time, gave Lidl a crucial platform for differentiation against its key competitor Aldi, as well as a channel to convey its local credentials.
Attendance at the Ladies Football Championship Final increased year on year to 34,445 but perhaps the most significant increase was in TV viewership, with a 100% increase YoY, from 104,000 to 207,790 (adults aged 15+) with the share of audience viewing increasing from 11% in 2015 to 27% for the 2016 final.
For comparison purposes the SSE FA Women’s Cup is a high-profile competition which receives national coverage in the UK, but still falls short of the attendance for the Ladies Football Championship final:
- 2016 Ladies Football Championship Final: 34,445
- 2016 Ladies FA Cup Final: 32,912
Lidl’s spend of €1.6m (Source: Nielsen Ad Dynamix) in media, represents only a proportion of the budget allocated to activating its sponsorship – with experiential, production, PR and rights holder fees all in addition to the €1.6m adspend, it is highly likely that this is the largest amount of money ever invested in support of women’s sport in Ireland.
- Bord Gáis – Energy Student Theatre Awards (BGESTA)
Bord Gáis operates in a highly competitive sector, one which is driven by churn. Therefore, creating loyalty among its customer base is a key objective of most sponsorships that an energy brand engages in.
Internationally there is no better example of this than the British Gas sponsorship of SwimBritian. This award winning sponsorship helped move British Gas from 3rd to 1st choice energy provider in the UK, enabling the brand acquire 500,000 extra customers in 2009 alone. Between 2009 and 2015, when the partnership came to its conclusion, British Gas helped over 100,000 children learn to swim, provided 1.5 million free swims and supported elite athletes on the world stage. Crucially research conducted by British Gas showed that fans and participants of swimming were much more likely to consider British Gas. Bord Gáis decision to develop a platform supporting student theatre, having been title sponsors of the Irish Book Awards since 2010 is a logical progression of its sponsorship of the Arts in Ireland, and is designed to drive affinity. It also serves to elevate the naming rights deal struck with the Bord Gáis Theatre.
Families with children are likely to be an important market for Bord Gáis, so a sponsorship crafted around children is a sensible way to reach key decision makers in the home.
The third annual Bord Gáis Student Theatre Awards took place in May 2016. This platform has evolved into the biggest school’s participation programme in Ireland and firmly established Bord Gáis as a proud supporter of the Arts.
Bord Gáis has elevated what could be viewed as a niche platform into a truly engaging programme with national reach, generating 2,888 entries from 1,500 schools across the country in 2016. Bord Gáis cleverly crafted its message to appeal to a younger audience. The activation of the sponsorship existed primarily on social, with fun video content. Collaborating with influencers to both promote (bloggers itscherrysue, Darragh Doyle, snapchat star James Patrice) and judge (Actress & writer Amy Huberman, Strictly Come Dancing star Tristan MacManus) the competition generated credible content that Bord Gáis seeded out across social channels.
This sponsorship, which was judged the winner of the “Best Arts & Cultural Sponsorship” at the 2016 Irish Sponsorship Awards, and has been shortlisted in the “Arts & Culture Sponsorship Awards” in the 2017 ESA Excellence Awards has experienced huge growth year on year.
- Spar & The Team of Gary Breen’s
While the excitement around Euro 2016 provided brands with an opportunity to engage football fans, only tournament sponsors are entitled to associate with the tournament itself. This created a challenge for official FAI sponsors looking to leverage their association with the team playing in the competition. SPAR was one such example – official partners of the FAI but not the competition.
The money invested by sponsors for the right to associate with either the Irish team or Euro 2016 serves to create an opportunity to engage football fans. The trick has always been maximising this opportunity with an activation strategy which connects, something SPAR did masterfully in Summer 2016. Their promotion to send “A Team of Gary Breens” to France to support the boys in green, along with the former Irish international himself, met their primary objective of driving footfall to stores.
Livewire research showed that post-tournament, 24% of people aware of the sponsorship were more likely to shop at the convenience retailer as a result of their sponsorship of the team. The activation ran in-store, alongside a broadcast partnership with Off The Ball on Newstalk. The campaign was activated both on-air and online through display, native content and a number of giveaways (incl. a signed team jersey), culminating in an outside broadcast event in J.T. Pim’s in Dublin city centre
SPAR was keen to engage a core audience of sports fans from around the country, while granting the opportunity to communicate key brand messages on a national scale. SPAR wanted to communicate with fans of Irish soccer and Off The Ball was unequivocally the ideal platform to do this.
- Littlewoods & GAA
The end of the year brought the launch of a partnership that may have been a surprise to some.
This was one of the biggest, and hotly contested sponsorship deals brokered in 2016. We see Littlewoods’ investment being €2.5 to €3 million over the next three years, with the deal running through to 2019.
Livewire’s research for this report showed that advertisers believe that the GAA arena is quite cluttered, with many brands in similar categories fighting to create resonance. Without fail, all marketers we spoke to referenced AIB as clear winners in this space.
Littlewoods has become sponsor of the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship and the Camogie National League, as well as Go Games (a small sided hurling and football programme). While this sponsorship is in its infancy, there are insights to be taken from the brand’s approach thus far.
The initial coverage of the launch has already highlighted that, by collaborating with a retailer operating primarily in fashion, the GAA is already being mentioned in new spaces, with coverage on sites including Her.ie and Evoke.ie reaching a community of fashion and style enthusiasts. The savvy timing of a pre-Christmas launch makes ultimate sense for Littlewoods as a retailer competing with bricks and mortar department stores.
Sports sponsorships involving fashion retailers in this market are relatively rare. Elverys are a manufacturer of sports clothing rather than a retailer, Dublin GAA and Arnotts had a rich 18-year partnership with the sponsorship driving home the Arnotts objective of driving their identity as a pillar of Dublin.
At the start of 2016 Livewire felt that a select few Irish sponsors were already mastering activation, and seeing the benefits of same. Unfortunately, the scale and quality of such activations by these leading brands in sport sponsorship remains the exception rather than the rule. Certainly, activations in areas including music and the arts haven’t been as remarkable in their progress – notable exceptions in the music world includes Heineken and Electric Ireland. However, it feels as though the adage of “if it ain’t broke…” is alive and well when it comes to sponsorship of music properties including the ever popular festival formats. Activations that were seen as cutting edge a few years ago are still touring the festival scene. Thus, we implore sponsors to break new ground in 2017. In particular, there is a major opportunity for sponsors in music to add value to festival fans in a new way, for example by taking advantage of tech and social innovations. Cashless festivals anyone!?
As our report has highlighted, VR (virtual reality) was a key feature of a number of the year’s standout activation strategies. VR has real potential to enhance sponsor activation and we expect to see a major expansion in the use of VR and AI by sponsors in 2017.