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It’s time for brands in football to demonstrate the meaning of partnership

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Published in The Drum, June 2020

Football is rightly regarded as the financial powerhouse of the European sporting landscape. However, with leagues and competitions across the globe on hold and no confirmed return-date, the Covid-19 crisis has already had a profound impact on the game.

From official partners of Euro 2020 to secondary-level investments, plans are now up in the air. Partnerships are rapidly losing salience due to lack of exposure, while future events are in a state of prolonged doubt.

Clearly, we know football pales into insignificance within the context of a global pandemic. However, as legendary Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi stated football is "the most important of the unimportant things in life".

With no football on offer for the foreseeable, brands and rights-holders will be concerned. The annual Deloitte ‘Football Money League’ highlighted the top five clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and PSG) had 49% of their revenue coming from commercial deals.

We have already seen an example of a brand applying force majeure to terminate a high-profile relationship. French restaurant chain Bistro Regent withdrew its front of shirt sponsorship with Bordeaux, which was due to run until 2023. Some sectors will be more acutely impacted by the crisis than others and some brands will need to take drastic action at this time. However, if a brand can maintain an existing partnership in the face of Covid-19, it is worth doing so.

From both a brand and rights holder’s perspective, this is an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to the relationship. Football partnerships work because they tap a passion-point. By walking away now, brands can only damage their reputation amongst fans. They should be treating this as a moment to solidify the relationship and act as a true partner.

Naturally some brands will be wary of activating at this time. However, a recent Kantar study found that just 8% of people wanted brands to stop advertising all-together. What is clear is that brands need to careful about their tone of voice across all comms. The recent furloughing of Liverpool, Spurs and Newcastle non-playing staff demonstrated the public are sensitive to Covid-19 related issues around football. To act meaningfully brands will need to reflect on what they do well and how this is relevant in lock-down. Only then can brands start thinking about how to weave in the partnership narrative, and then communicate this thoughtfully.

We’ve all had to change our habits and behaviours during the Covid-19 crisis. Likewise, brands and rights holders have had adjust their services and offerings. Brands can play a role in supporting consumers adjustment to the ‘new normal’, from support in adapting to rapidly changing tech requirements, to helping with house-bound education and entertainment. It is largely dependent on the brand DNA, and where it is relevant to play a role.

Brands in football should be thinking about repurposing existing contractual assets, for example player and talent access. Is there a way these rights can be used remotely to reward customers or key workers? The most effective partners will be working collaboratively to forge solutions. While the bulk of exposure is driven through on-pitch activity, there are currently a huge number of footballers with very little to do. Brands should reach out to rights holders to understand what access is available while the main product is on hold. Brands can also use assets to give something back to the community and generate positive sentiment around the partnership.

This is not about capitalising on a crisis. It’s about identifying the issues created by the current outbreak to support communities and spread positivity at a time of unrest. The covid-19 crisis will pass and brands who have remained active and supportive of clubs, fans and key-workers may well be rewarded on the other side of this.

partnership football covid
photo credit lars-bo-nielsen-unsplash

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