Can sport survive without sponsorship?


TEAM: Deep South Media and AFC Business, the commercial arm of Premier League club AFC Bournemouth, have renewed their partnership for a third year. Pictured are Deep South colleagues at the Cherries’ Vitality Stadium. Gemma Thorne is third from left.

To celebrate our third season partnering with AFC Business, the commercial arm of Premier League club AFC Bournemouth, we invited two of our team members to write about the relationship between business and sport. It has been really interesting gaining the insight of Gemma Thorne and Abbie Bradford, work placement students from Bournemouth University. In the first of three weekly posts, Gemma and Abbie discuss the issue of sponsorship. Here are their thoughts:  

Like many things, sport and sponsorship go hand in hand, and their interdependent relationship is what drives our sporting world to be as thrilling, exciting and advanced as it is today.

Sponsorship may be behind the commercialisation of sport, but it has enabled progression and development for various sporting teams across the globe.

By funding athletes, businesses are providing clubs and individuals with the chance to grow and focus on improvement and skill without the pressing worry of money. Meanwhile, these brands get a vast number of opportunities that can increase their visibility, attract new customers, push sales and increase brand loyalty.

When fans identify themselves with one specific team, the sponsoring brands gain a huge long-term competitive advantage. They’re addressing an audience with loyalty to a team, which can often turn to loyalty to what the team is associated with.

The mutual benefit achieved by both parties is what contributes to making sport sponsorships so successful. From nationwide screenings to live streams to kits, when the word ‘Umbro’ or ‘Puma’ can’t help but catch your eye, it’s hard not to absorb. That’s what makes this marketing device so unique.

Credibility and reputation of a sporting team or athlete are often on the line when securing a sponsorship deal. Without a sponsor, it’s easy to overlook an up and coming team if they don’t have a reputable brand logo stamped on their kit.

But what happened before sponsorship was such a big part of the sporting world?

Of course, clubs and individuals may still thrive from TV deals, transfers, ticket sales and merchandise. But without billions of pounds being invested into our favourite football clubs, tennis players and events, our experience of sport would be very different.

Opportunities to grow and develop would be sparse due to lack of secure funding and there would be little opportunity for elite progression, with less money being continually invested into the industry.

Not only does it affect the big players, it affects our youth too. Without local clubs being supported by local businesses through sponsorship, our next generation of athletes may not reach the same level that we can expect today, and our local independent businesses may not be thriving in the way they are too.

Sponsorship is a tool that helped lift sporting events from just a hobby to a spectacle from which our nation takes pride in.

There is, however, the question of how effective the current ways are in terms of return on investment for these sponsors. In recent years, suggestions have been made to whether a more conversational and creative way of sponsorship should oust the traditional methods.

The change in the way we watch and experience sport due to the rapid nature of technological advancements may too be hindering the success of a sponsor in gaining new customers and achieving attention from those they otherwise may not have had.

Advert breaks, watching on catch up and games only being shown on paid-for TV services all contribute to how a brand may gain less exposure than many years ago.

The rise of smartphone usage in recent years has also meant that a lot of us are now checking scores and game progression on apps such as BBC Sport, instead of sitting down and watching the whole game through.

We also should consider the possibility that perhaps the public are too familiar with the major brands to be influenced or phased by seeing their logo striped across a sleeve. Or are we, no longer passive consumers, now actively choosing what we like to engage with and what we want to buy based on our own preferences?

So, sport can survive without sponsorship – no absence of funding can get rid of a player’s talent, a coach’s passion or the roar from the stands. The developing world is just helping this industry to enhance and excite sport for the foreseeable future, in ways that make your team who they are today.

Next week’s post on the relationship between business and sport will consider how business helps to drive participation in youth sport.