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
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
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
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
A survey was carried out comparing the cost of living next to England's
main grounds, gaining exposure in both news and personal finance
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.