Page 3: Sponsorship
Branding is a major part of any product strategy. In the financial services industry, developing a brand is about developing a name, offering products and features of high value, which customers can trust. Different brands vary in the amount of power they have. For example, customers are unlikely to choose a little known brand in a competitive market-place. Brand preference occurs when customers select certain brands over others and show a high degree of brand loyalty. Sponsorship is a good way of increasing brand awareness which, in turn, helps to generate preference and foster brand loyalty. Sponsorship is the material support of an event, activity or organisation by an unrelated donor. It reinforces awareness through the appropriate event whose target market and appeal is similar to that of the customer.
In the football industry, there are few instances where gate receipts and pitch advertising fees are sufficient to cover club costs. Financial support from many different sources is therefore necessary to guarantee the survival of many clubs.
In March 1996, Nationwide started its pursuit of the sponsorship of The Football League Championships. This decision was not taken lightly as, although Nationwide had sponsored other events, such as the Fairford Air Tattoo and AAA Athletics, it had never sponsored such a high profile event as the Football League. However, it was believed the time was right to integrate this new element into Nationwide’s marketing strategy. The existing sponsor, Endsleigh and another financial services company were also pitching for this coveted prize but after a series of negotiations, the deal was secured by Nationwide in May 1996. When the 1996/7 season kicked-off, Nationwide’s three year £5.25 million sponsorship of the game had begun.
In return for its investment, Nationwide receives extensive exposure. Over 60 Nationwide League games were televised live on Sky and ITV in the first season, with an audience of up to two million per game. Highlights of these and other games were also shown on ITV, in a programme called Nationwide Football League Extra, and there was national and regional press and radio coverage. Sponsorship included a shared identity logo for the Nationwide Football League and shared identity logos for each of the three divisions. Nationwide has four advertising boards at every League club ground and opportunities to promote the Nationwide name and services in every match programme. Nationwide also receives an entitlement to free tickets which it uses for hospitality and entertainment to support business generation.
In communication terms, Nationwide had negotiated a classic sponsorship strategy, but why did it choose football? Football has dramatically changed since the mid 1980s. The tragedy at Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor report, requiring all-seat stadia has been a catalyst in restoring the popularity of the nation’s favourite spectator sport. For the last eight seasons, match attendance has been consistently rising.
The profile of supporters is also changing. Football is not, as some may believe, the exclusive domain of young males. A trip to any League ground on matchday will confirm the attendance of children, whole families and even groups of female supporters, sharing their common love of a football team and reinforcing the club’s role as a focal point within local community life.
According to the Target Group Index (TGI), football sponsorship delivers a broad-based group of over 18 million active ‘enthusiasts’ who may be playing, spectating or watching on TV. Many more have a passing interest in the game, watching or listening to sports news reports and reading the sports pages in the press. For Nationwide, football sponsorship offered a tangible link with existing and potential customers through a leisure time activity.