When the players of Kettering Town FC became the first British football team to walk on to a pitch with a company brand name printed on their shirts in January 1976, little did they know that they were opening the floodgates for a multimillion-pound industry. If it hadn't been for the tenacity of the club's chief executive, Derek Dougan, the outcome might have been very different.
Dougan dared to challenge the Football Association's 1972 ban on shirt sponsorship and secured a lucrative deal with a local tyre firm. When the FA threatened a heavy fine, he was forced to back down initially, but he didn't give up. The striker-turned-businessman pointed out that European clubs such as Bayern Munich had been attracting sponsorship for some years and he joined forces with Derby County and Bolton Wanderers to persuade the FA to change its rules. Their proposal was eventually accepted and in 1979 Liverpool hit the headlines on becoming the first professional club to be sponsored--this time by the rather more high-profile Hitachi--and really started the commercial ball rolling.
Today it's hard to watch a major sporting event or see a top athlete compete without subconsciously connecting them with a brand name. Sponsorship has undoubtedly become a driving force in the global sporting industry, but, as it's being increasingly harnessed by the corporate world--particularly the financial sector--it's also starting to have a significant impact on the arts and the charity sector, as well as more grass-roots activities in local communities.
There is no denying that this form of marketing can provide a significant feelgood factor for both the sponsoring company and the sponsored "property". If the relationship works well, it becomes a symbiosis from which both sides can reap huge benefits. But, while many deals might enhance a firms's credibility or raise its profile above that of the competition, the big question is: how can you assure yourself that sponsorship is actually improving your bottom line? As with any form of marketing, the answer depends on a number of factors, including what type of deal you are seeking, what you want to get out of it and how much money you're prepared to commit.
"There's no holy grail when it comes to working out the return on investment," says Eddie May, a director at PR agency Threepipe, which recently set up a sports sponsorship department. "Evaluation works on a number of levels, but it can be seen most clearly in areas where you can track marketing activity. This is becoming common in the financial services sector, where a lot of sales are online. Whatever methods you choose, if you start with clear objectives and put in the right measures, you can get a strong feeling as to whether it's working or not."
Sponsorship strategies are becoming increasingly sophisticated, according to May, and potential sponsors should consider a number of key points before taking the plunge. "Long gone are the days when sponsorship was simple...