Ever increasing consumer popularity of mass participation sporting events provide an attractive proposition for brands. However, experts warn to only enter the sector for the right reasons.
Participants in mass-participation events need to believe a sponsor has a genuine connection if a partnership is to be successful, according to experts in the field. Events involving non-professional athletes are becoming increasing popular with brands eager to reach a large audience of active consumers. However, companies interested in entering the sector are advised not to do so for branding reasons alone. Speaking on a panel session at the Think! Sponsorship conference in London on Tuesday, Rick Jenner, the new director of strategy and insights at Limelight Sports, the UK-based mass participation sports engagement agency, said: “There has to be an authenticity… It’s not something that has to be forced.”
Giving the examples of the partnerships between vehicle brand Jeep and Tough Mudder, the series of extreme obstacle course races, and between UK supermarket chain Tesco and Race for Life, the series of women-only fundraising events organised by Cancer Research, Jenner told Sportcal: “There’s a natural fit between those brands and I’m sure the people who work at those brands, and if you have that then you’ve got the start of a good relationship.
“If you don’t have any connection or authenticity and you’re trying to move into this space, the people involved in it will see through it and it won’t be effective. It will feel forced and it will feel unnatural and the way that it’s executed won’t work and won’t be effective for your partners.
“It’s in everyone’s interests to make sure that there are an authenticity and a genuine desire to form those deep relationships that will be effective for both parties.”
Jenner joined Limelight, which owns cycling’s Race the World and V Series, an inter-company corporate challenge, and the London Duathlon, the run-bike-run competition, in February, and believes that it is “a very exciting time to be involved in participation sports.”
He added: “It’s set against the background of more people wanting to be active and governments and other bodies seeking to encourage that.”
There remain doubts over the potential of mass-participation events with the results of an MKTG survey announced at yesterday's conference showing that 43 percent of UK sponsorship industry professionals disagree or are unsure that they offer much greater opportunities for sponsors because of the ability to amplify through social channels.
However, Jenner believes the platform not be underestimated, pointing to the fact that 9,000 of the 40,000 participants in last Sunday's London Marathon are registered on Strava, the running and cycling social network.
There is also a trend towards more brand-owned events as sponsors seek to have greater control over the process.
Jenner said: “We’re certainly finding that more and more brands want to get involved, and actually create experiences for themselves, and not go directly to rights-holders, so what we do is work with those brands to understand their audiences and what they’re trying to achieve and help them understand the world we know very well.
“We do a lot of work with Nike. We activate a lot of their campaigns and even non-sporting brands want to take full ownership of the experience they deliver to customers, and we need to understand all the audiences they want to engage with through sport.”
Tough Mudder is hopeful of attracting new sponsors in the UK through a new television series on pay-television channel Sky called Mission Mudder that will feature six British Olympic athletes competing in its events, as it seeks greater awareness of the “inspirational stories” on offer.
Mat Bell, senior international commercial and event licensing director at Tough Mudder, who has a focus on the UK, said: “From a sponsorship perspective obviously there’s a natural element to that which is the increased eyeballs, which have interest for existing partners and also for new partners. But it’s how we can weave those partners in some of the stories.”
Returning to the theme of authenticity, he said: “Brands and rights-holders need to be careful in how they integrate commercial partners into those aspects because you can be seen as shallow or just badging, and that’s certainly not what we’re attempting to do.
“A prime example is our partner Jeep, which has been a partner for four years across our events series in the UK, and they’ve now taken on a significant investment in the Mission Mudder series. There’s a natural integration point with them around providing their vehicles into the broadcast content. Our courses are in muddy fields so a Jeep comes in handy to get around.”
Last week, Tough Mudder unveiled Lucozade Sport, the UK-based sports drink, as a sponsor for its events in the UK in 2017 and 2018. Merrell, the USA-based outdoor shoe brand, has been a presenting global sponsor of Tough Mudder since 2015.