Sponsor identification issue could be problem moving forward

(Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Quick, without using Google, what brands are the main sponsors of the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil? Give up? That is fine, only 36 percent of Americans can correctly name one of the 14 sponsors and partners. The brands that were picked correctly the most were Coca-Cola (21 percent of respondents) and McDonalds (19 percent of respondents). The price for this type of relationship? As of a 2010 report only between $24 and $44 million annually which begs the question is sponsoring a global event such as the World Cup a good investment by brands?

When the most recognized brand is only identified by one out of five respondents, that is not a strong ROI. What’s worse is when a brand is an official sponsor, but the brand’s main competitor is viewed as a sponsor/partner as well. For example, Adidas, the official apparel sponsor of the World Cup, was identified by 16 percent of the survey’s respondents. Nike, a brand that sponsors many teams, but not the tournament itself, was identified as main partner by . . . you guessed it, 16 percent of respondents.

Both companies have spent large portions of their marketing budgets developing top notch, long form advertising content. Both have focused on digital and experiential marketing, and both are benefitting from the brand recognition the World Cup can provide, except Nike saved anywhere between $96 million and $176 million depending on the aforementioned annual partnership fees.

A big reason for the mis-identification of sponsors is because brands are becoming smarter and more strategic with guerrilla marketing. Nike has had experiential marketing and sponsored parties in Brazil and received the most social mentions out of any brand. Nike’s #RiskEverything campaign was built around this YouTube video.

Which let’s be honest, could remind people of the FIFA official intro below.

Another brand that is not an official sponsor, but has one of the better commercials is Beats by Dre.

The music, the soccer stars, the Brazilian backdrop, it all makes an effective case that Beats could be an official sponsor. So much so, that FIFA banned players from wearing Beats by Dre before games. Sony had to be happy that FIFA put its foot down, but is it worth it to renew with so much confusion?

There are benefits outside of brand recognition. Sponsors often get benefits at the events in the form of tickets, VIP access, and other concessions. Often times partners will use these benefits to develop further business and impress new and old clients. Sure Nike could purchase tickets, but the access would not be the same as the access afforded to Adidas. Sponsors also receive some halo effect from these prestigious events, almost the ability to brag that the company is THE OFFICIAL car, credit card, or drink of the event. Sometimes a monetary ROI isn’t really necessary.

There is also some good news in the data. Almost half of the respondents in the 18-34 demographic could identify an official sponsor. This could be because this demographic has shown higher interest in soccer, but could also be that this demographic is more engaged digitally, which sponsors are targeting more and more. In any case, the 18-34 demographic is extremely important, and brands have to be happy about making a connection.

This isn’t the first time sponsors of international events have been victimized by partnership confusion. It happened in the Olympics, NCAA Tournaments and previous World Cups. It will happen again in the future. As guerrilla marketing becomes more advanced and nuanced, it may be more difficult to get sponsors to pay a hefty fee.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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