The unique power of sponsoring
This month, adidas extended its partnership with Stonewall F.C. The club plays in the Middlesex County Football League Premier Division, more or less the 11th level of English football. Not a level at which matches get shown live on TV. In other words, this partnership is not about reach as far as adidas is concerned. What matters to them is the value of a club that makes a difference at a social level, one which generates unique stories.
Stonewall F.C. is a club run for and by the LGBT+ community. The club was established in 1991 to create a safe space for people to play football and be comfortable in their own skin. As far as adidas is concerned, Stonewall F.C. Is a great framework for showing how important values such as inclusion and equality are for the brand. No matter how insignificant the performance of Stonewall F.C. may be to English football, adidas's association with the club makes it possible for the brand to explain the values it stands for to the wider public. That is precisely what makes the sponsoring of sporting events a unique instrument: brands can use sponsoring to build up a genuine relationship with consumers.
When considering the effect of sponsoring, talk turns too frequently to how often the brand has been in the spotlight thanks to sponsoring. Of course, that does have something to do with reach, but not with the extent to which it is possible to capitalise on the unique value of sponsoring. Many sponsors continue to justify their sponsorships on figures such as reach, brand awareness, exposure and media value. But none of those figures show whether sponsoring was the key factor in strengthening the emotional connection with consumers. After all, what is the point of sponsoring if your sole concern is reaching an audience? In my opinion, reach shouldn't even be a consideration.
Sport is about emotion. It gives us goose pimples, moves us to tears, makes us jump for joy and swear in frustration. That, above all, is the unique power of sport sponsoring. I sincerely believe in the power of sport sponsoring, not least the unique capacity of sport to link emotions to brands that would otherwise perhaps be less appealing in the eyes of consumers. Sponsorships such as the relationship between adidas and Stonewall FC show that even with an account that doesn't draw vast crowds, it is still possible to capitalise on the unique value of sponsoring.
So that unique value is also what we should talk about when we talk about the success of sponsorships. Forget those raw figures for reach. The only real measure is whether, and to what extent, a sponsorship enhances the emotional connection with the target group.