For UK sports fans wanting more variety in the live sport they can attend, this year looks certain to please. The NFL is staging its first regular-season American football game here, the Tour de France is to host an official stage of the race in the UK and, albeit slightly further afield, in Valencia, Spain, yachting's America's Cup is making its way back into European waters after a 150-year hiatus.
The events will provide a plethora of branding opportunities, but whether there will be the consumer appetite to sustain advertiser interest is quite another matter.
In October, the NFL has arranged for the Miami Dolphins to take on the New York Giants at Wembley. The level of interest is promising; according to NFL UK, fan numbers here have risen 300% in the past few years, and more than 500,000 ticket requests were submitted for the game within the first 72 hours.
There have been abortive attempts to bolster interest in American football here before. Memories of the now-defunct World League and a lack of UK interest in what has become NFL Europa may deter some brands from the current activity.
'Sub-brands will never have the same power as the main brand,' admits NFL UK marketing director Gareth Davies. 'But when you think of the American Bowl pre-season matches held at Wembley in the 80s they were very successful.'
The International Series, as the NFL event will be known, offers sponsors the chance to build associations with the sport over an extended period. As was the case this year, London will bid against cities in Germany, Canada and Mexico to host one regular game a season in each of the next four years. The most prestigious opportunity will be a multimillion-pound title sponsorship, which will span all the games. The NFL is also likely to announce another two category-exclusive partnership opportunities.
A predicted global TV audience of more than 100m for the game may go some way toward whetting brands' appetites, with the event to be broadcast by BSkyB in the UK. In addition, the NFL plans to follow up a joint venture it ran with MTV last year, comprising a series of themed NFL programmes, by seeking broadcast partners for similar projects during the pre-match build-up.
There are limits to the deals that can be struck, however. The NFL already has exclusive deals with brands including kit sponsor Reebok that extend to transatlantic activity, closing some commercial windows. Yet chances for brands to get involved, in the vein of Coors' sponsorship of Sky's NFL coverage in the UK, will present themselves.
Moreover, the NFL is said to be weighing up the possibility of selling perimeter advertising at the Wembley game, an option not available in the US. If the game features a half-time show, it too could attract a sponsor. Brands could also seek to tie up with associated events, such as big-screen showings of the game in Trafalgar Square and elsewhere in the UK.
However, Tom Silk, managing director of sports marketing agency Velocity UK, does not believe the long-term prospects for the NFL in the UK are good. 'Will UK consumers look beyond the cheerleaders and razzmatazz and buy into the skill and strategy of the wider game?' he asks. 'The stop-start nature of US sports and coaches calling the shots from high up in the stadium do not offer a natural fit to the psyche of UK sports fans.'
The Tour de France and America's Cup, meanwhile, could enable partners to reach a more targeted audience than the NFL game.
In June the UK will host the first competitive stage of the Tour de France to be held outside France. Sponsorship for the stage - Le Grand Depart - is ring-fenced by organisers, but there are other branding opportunities. Transport for London, for example, has confirmed that it is to set up a 'People's Village' as well as giant screens and activities in Hyde Park. All will offer commercial opportunities, including title sponsorship.
The week before Le Grand Depart, British Cycling, the sport's governing body, is hosting an event in which 5000 cyclists will take the Tour de France route. The body has already secured category-exclusive partners, including The Independent, and is seeking others.
The European return of the America's Cup is also big news. Although the UK's Origin team, led by Sir Keith Mills, was not ready to take part in this year's event, prospective sponsors will still be keeping tabs on the outcome; the winning team's nationality determines the location of the next race. So, if Emirates Team New Zealand wins, the next event would take place in a different time zone, which would be a disaster for UK sponsors, says Peter Daire, commercial manager at sponsorship specialist Sky Alive.
The Origin team is committed to the next two America's Cups and could make its debut in 2009 if calls to reduce the event cycle from four years to two are heeded. Should Origin triumph in 2009, the regatta could come to the UK in 2011, probably at London 2012's Olympic sailing venue Portland Harbour.
Daire believes the brands best-placed to sponsor an America's Cup team are either those associated with precision or technical excellence, in a similar vein to Formula One sponsorship, or those targeting an upmarket audience. The principal sponsor for the 32nd America's Cup is Louis Vuitton, with brands such as Prada sponsoring teams.
While the public's eyes will inevitably be on the winners of these events, marketers will remain firmly focused on the audience, the reach of partnership deals and return on investment.
DATA FILE - CROSS-BOUNDARY SPORTING EVENTS
The NFL's annual revenue exceeds £3.5bn. Ninety eight per cent of people who watch the NFL on TV have never been to a game. The Super Bowl has a global audience of more than 800m; US advertisers spend $86,000 (£43,000) a second for a TV ad.
TOUR DE FRANCE
The Tour de France is broadcast in 184 countries by 76 TV channels. Each year 12m-15m spectators from 60 countries line the route, 65% of whom are male. Riders will cover 211 miles in the UK - eight in London, and 203 from London to Canterbury.
Yachting's America's Cup returns to Europe for the first time in more than 150 years, following the victory of Swiss team Alinghi in 2003 - the location is chosen according to the previous event's winner. Louis Vuitton has been the main sponsor since 1983.
This article was first published on Marketing