Everyone’s a winner
Brands have much to gain from sports sponsorship
Dublin star Brian Fenton at the launch of Dublin GAA’s new jersey at AIG’s head office in Dublin in October. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Earlier this year, US insurance company AIG extended its sponsorship of Dublin GAA for five more years in a deal that includes men’s and women’s football, hurling and camogie teams across all age groups.
As well as associating itself with sporting success, the sponsorship has helped imprint what was a largely unknown brand on the Irish consumer psyche.
“AIG would have been known here as a corporate B2B [business-to-business] brand but we had zero awareness among the public,” says John Gillick, the company’s sponsorship manager. A move into the consumer market required it to raise its profile, fast.
Getting its logo on the Dublin jersey has proven a great way of doing just that, not least because the initial sponsorship deal coincided with a spate of sustained success for the county. The Dublin men won their third successive All Ireland final this year, while the women’s team won against Mayo last year.
“We look at sponsorship as a way to build a brand and support business growth. Sponsorship is an instantaneous way to raise awareness of, and provide a platform for, your brand,” he says.
The right sponsorship deal should bring a degree of trust and credibility for a brand. Backing Dublin does just that. But getting your logo on someone’s jersey is only the start.
To make it work, “You then have to ‘activate’ your sponsorship, by backing it up with digital and social media content, providing exclusive access to players, and insights into players’ daily lives. We also do a lot of work at club level, because it’s all about connecting with fans and with the public right across Dublin, which is a key market for AIG,” says Gillick.
Ensuring the women’s teams were included in the deal was very important for the company, says Gillick, who believes that for too long they have played “second fiddle” to the men’s teams.
As well as gaining by positive association, the brand benefits from public interest in sporting success. “People aren’t interested in reading about AIG but they are interested in finding out about the teams,” he says.
It’s about more even than marketing, however. It’s also about corporate and social responsibility (CSR) – being a good corporate citizen. The Dublin GAA sponsorship complements AIG’s Heroes campaign, a CSR initiative which helps support local grassroots communities, using sport as a way to build self-confidence and social skills in youngsters.
As part of that initiative, the company provides GAA equipment to primary schools and brings well-known players such as Philly McMahon and Hannah O’Neill to meet children and promote the benefits of sport. “It’s about using our sponsorship asset to go into the communities to work with them,” says Gillick.
There are multiple brand benefits to be gained when entering into a formal sponsorship agreement. “If harnessed correctly, the role of sponsorship in terms of what it can do for a brand’s overall corporate reputation can be a potent discipline within an organisation’s overall marketing mix,” says Aisling Dodgson, head of treasury at financial services company Investec.
“Aligning our brand with the right properties and ambassadors provides the perfecting opportunity for Investec to engage our audiences in a disruptive and positive manner outside of our traditional communications.”
Securing the right sponsorship partnerships also enables Investec to express its corporate values to a much wider audience, far beyond its existing stakeholders and customer base.
“In addition to raising our brand awareness and providing a platform for our leadership team to elevate our corporate profile, we also utilise our partnerships to support worthy causes and societal issues. Our most recent partnership with 20x20 is an excellent case study that highlights how Investec is driving real change in women’s sport,” Dodgson says.
It is also working with brand ambassador Stephanie Meadow, the golfer, “as well as with leading national sports governing bodies to call for 20 per cent more media coverage for women’s sport, 20 per cent more attendance levels and 20 per cent more participation levels by 2020,” she says.
That initiative is a perfect example of the ways in which clever use of sponsorship can drive real and positive societal change. “There is a clear connection between good corporate citizenship and sponsorship. However, our view is that while funding is hugely valuable, including in sport, it isn’t the only benefit business can bring to the table,” says Karina Howley, head of citizenship at KPMG in Ireland.
“Using the skills and experience of your own people is also hugely important and skills-based volunteering should be an integral part of any CSR or corporate citizenship strategy.”