ANALYSIS: Sponsors fight for a sporting chance

This summer promises more big sporting events backed by more sponsors than ever. But some believe there is a danger of saturation with smaller players unable to get a look in

This summer promises more big sporting events backed by more sponsors

than ever. But some believe there is a danger of saturation with smaller

players unable to get a look in

While Gazza, Damon Hill, Mike Atherton and Sally Gunnell limber up for

what has been dubbed ‘the summer of sport’ the race for the best TV

slots and column inches is already well underway for UK sponsorship and

PR firms.

Wimbledon, the FA Cup Final, Rugby Super League, the Grand Prix, Atlanta

Olympics, the cricket season and European football championships Euro

’96 have provided a record-breaking number of sponsorship deals.

The latter alone has signed up a whopping 25 companies and 20 firms are

associated with the Atlanta Olympics.

The sheer numbers of sponsors involved in these events is, however,

causing concern among some in the PR industry. They warn of sponsorship

‘saturation’ whereby consumers are unable to recall one brand among


‘The market is completely saturated,’ says Chris Meredith, marketing and

events director at sports sponsorship and PR agency The First Artist


‘It stems from greed to have as many commercial parties as possible.

Events should have a maximum of four or five sponsors with exclusive

rights to the logo,’ advises Meredith.

John Collard, MD of sports PR company Collard & Company disagrees that

event managers have too many backers but admits that if you are not one

of the chosen sponsors things can be tough.

‘It is an issue to the extent which major sporting events dominate the

calendar, making it hard to get a look in,’ says Collard. Like others

responsible for big brands Collard & Co is now starting work on next

year’s sponsorships. The agency is hoping to get Olympic coverage for

its client Adidas with a series of programmes produced 18 months ago.

The series looks at between eight and ten Adidas branded Olympians and

their preparations for the big contest, like 400m sprinter Du’aine


But despite the long-term planning Collard insists ‘There is always room

for a spectacular story.’

Selling that story, however, promises to be twice as hard over the next

four months when journalists are inundated with releases and phone

calls. Predictions of how sports journalists will cover the next few

months’ conflicting sporting events are outlined in a report compiled by

Lynne Franks entitled: ‘The Summer of Sport’.

Its author, consultant Gaby Jesson collected 10,000 press cuttings on

past sporting events looking for clues to the coverage of this year’s


‘Most PR programmes have been put to bed,’ says Jesson but adds there is

always space for ‘last minute reactive opportunities,’

Some surprising results were revealed by the report. Sunday Telegraph

sports writer Paul Newman said the paper will only focus on the

Olympics, stating ‘People are talking about Euro ’96, but just because

it’s in England doesn’t make it that special.’

The Daily Express sports editor David Emery said it would be a ‘toss up’

between the Olympics and Euro ’96 while the Mail on Sunday and Evening

Standard features editors predicted that Wimbledon would spill over into

feature pages.

GQ staff writer Tom Barber promised coverage on Euro ’96 ‘because it’s

bloke-oriented and football’s fashionable right now’.

For this reason women’s magazines should not be overlooked in the

stampede for national newspaper coverage.

‘We may cover something on Wimbledon. It’s based over here and it’s a

bit sexy,’ said Company’s editorial assistant Vanessa Thompson.

TV is another mixed bag. The report found that news programmes are

generally reactive but GMTV and ITV intend to cover all events including

Ascot and polo. Good bets are discussion programmes and competition

offers for kids’ TV although slots are filling fast.

Sponsorship opportunities still exist on radio if you can find the right

one. Fifteen years ago only the BBC covered sport. Now, aside from its

38 local stations, five national stations and five networks there are

160-plus independent radio stations, many with dedicated sports


‘Competitions are generally the way in,’ says Peter Stevens from GLR’s

sports desk. ‘There are still three more programmes of regular football

season play-offs before Euro ’96. There is plenty of time.’

But Steve McKenlay, associate sports editor of the Sun which is planning

pull-outs on Euro ’96, warns PR agencies should listen to a few tips

before mailing the releases.

‘We get inundated with stuff, 90 per cent of which is hopeless,’ says

McKenlay. ‘The mistake they make is to do ring rounds and send everyone

a press release with a football player saying ‘Euro ’96 will be great’.

We know that. We want to be given something we couldn’t otherwise get,’

he adds.

‘You have to give them something they are struggling to discover,’

agrees Meredith.

The First Artist Corporation, which also manages players such as Chelsea

FC’s Ruud Gullit, is able to feed reporters the odd juicy story and so

build a give-and-take relationship.

But, says Meredith, this takes time. ‘Its about continual

familiarisation. Use all the angles you have. If the sport you are

promoting is a minority one like ice hockey find the journalist with a

specialist interest in American sports and talk to him about the game.

‘Know your market,’ advises Meredith. ‘So when you want a favour you

pull more weight than any other Tom, Dick or Harry.’

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