ANALYSIS: Sponsorship PROs face FA changes - The Football Association last month reformed its sponsorship policy, with wide-ranging knock-on effects for the sponsorship PR sector, says Andy Allen

Don't expect the average football fan to spend too much time

pondering changes to the FA's sponsorship policy. For supporters it

makes little difference whether or not the FA Cup, for example, bears

the name of AXA in its full title.



But for the sports PR world, the implications of English football's

governing body deciding to halve its number of sponsors from ten to five

and scrap title sponsorship of the FA Cup and England team are very

significant indeed.



Sport Business finance editor Matthew Glendinning says the FA has timed

its move to capitalise on the FA's own repositioning: 'The body has

repositioned itself from a crusty governing body to a forward-thinking

organisation,' he says, pointing to its move to Soho from Lancaster Gate

and the appointment of Saatchi & Saatchi's Adam Crozier as CEO, as

evidence.



The fact the FA expects the list of sponsors to double the £20m

they currently provide each year - without title sponsorship levels of

exposure - will strike some as odd. PROs in the sector, though, already

wary of the legal pitfalls of exploitation PR in an age of strict rights

contracts, believe the shake-up makes good sense for all concerned.



By simplifying the FA's commercial structure, the move takes a step

towards clearing the legal minefield that surrounds the PR exploitation

of sponsorship.



Tim Crow, director of consulting at sponsorship and PR agency Karen

Earl, says that all too often ill-advised sponsors fail to negotiate

these pitfalls and find themselves unable to fully exploit the rights

they have expensively purchased.



Crow cites a case where his consultancy was advising Middle Eastern

airline Emirates on the possible sponsorship of Manchester United. It

became apparent during negotiations that the club's contracts with

players and the manager meant it could not stop the stars endorsing

other airlines as individuals rather than Manchester United players -

effectively ambushing Emirates' sponsorship.



Emirates, of course, did not sign the deal - the company is now the main

sponsor at rival Premier League club Chelsea. But while refusing to name

names, Crow believes other sponsors find they face similar problems once

the contract is already signed. It is not that clubs are unwilling to

offer a full package of rights, he adds, simply that player power - in

most sports, but most clearly in football - has undermined their ability

to do so.



'The FA has accepted that less is more and is concentrating on forming

broader and deeper relationships. There's no magic solution but the FA

is a yard ahead of other governing bodies we deal with, with regards to

this issue,' he says.



When Karen Earl worked with insurance giant Norwich Union to negotiate

sponsorship of UK athletics, a contract was created that obliged

athletes to acknowledge the firm's sponsorship at all events held under

the banner of Norwich Union GB Team. It meant, at least, that there was

no prospect of a star turning up in another sponsor's branded kit.



But not all PROs in sponsorship exploitation feel sponsors should be

taken by surprise by such eventualities. Rowan Andrews, MD of the

specialist Playmaker PR, insists that a good look at a contract should

make it quite clear where image rights begin and end.



For him the significance of the FA policy shift lies in the scrapping of

title sponsorship: 'It may well be the start of a trend to cut back on

title sponsorship,' he says. 'The rest of the sports world will be

watching very carefully to see how they manage it.'



Andrews believes PROs would be in a position to take advantage of such a

trend. Rather than relying on the obvious exposure of title sponsorship,

they will be forced to think more creatively about how to link their

brand and their role as sponsors of a sport and think more laterally

about how to expose that link.



'Now the pressure to be creative is much greater,' he says. 'If exposure

isn't being given on a plate, it's good news because PROs will need to

help sponsors find ways of leveraging brands and standing out.'



An example of the possibilities open to agencies might be the Playmaker

campaign for AXA, which tried to link financial services to

football.



A survey was carried out comparing the cost of living next to England's

main grounds, gaining exposure in both news and personal finance

pages.



Under the Champions League model, which the FA plans to adopt, a group

of leading firms share the exposure. The next generation of sponsors

will be linked to one area of the organisation - men's football,

women's, youth, community and elite - but each will have access to both

the FA Cup and to England.



Craigie Taylor International account director Andy Kenny insists that

sponsors will be enthusiastic about the bigger slice of rights

properties they will receive: 'It will be easier to stand out from the

clutter,' he says. 'But it will cost them more. They'll probably have to

do more hiring of agencies to make it work.' That will come as welcome

news to PROs in the sector.



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