Friday, January 21, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 21st January 2005

From the "Emirates Evening Post"

A common feature of most cricket stadiums around the world is the array of refreshment outlets around the ground. From samosas in Delhi to hot corn soup in Port of Spain there is usually a good choice of food and drink available to sustain spectators during a long day’s cricket. At the “Oval” in London there is a vending point called “Mario’s Lamb delights” from which Mario himself sells delicious lamb kebabs and well-filled lamb rolls to hungry customers. Between the innings at the ICC Champions Trophy final last year I made my way to Mario’s. His stand was there as usual, but a large blank sticker had been place over the word “Mario’s” on the fascia above his stand. All other references to Mario’s name had been similarly obscured. “What’s up Mario?” I said “Are you suffering from an identity crisis?” “No mate”, he replied, “It’s the ICC innit. They won’t let me display my brand.” And indeed, for that day only, the “Oval” had been transformed so that any brand name (even one as low key and innocuous as Mario’s) other than that of the ICC’s main sponsors had been obliterated. I recalled the same from the Cricket World Cup in 2003 where there was an almost totalitarian control of advertising at the stadia. If you had a bottle of the wrong brand cola in your bag it would be confiscated and woe betides any spectator who wore a “Things go better with…” T shirt!

Sponsors pay a lot for the privilege of having their brands on display at sporting events and in a way one can understand the wishes of the ICC and other sporting administrators to deliver the maximum value to the brands which pay. But there are limits - and the ICC has become almost paranoid in its determination to pander to the sponsors. But then anyone who doubts that all of the ICC’s decision making is driven by commercial considerations has not understood the realities of the world of international cricket that the ICC is striving to create. If you want to know more then do read Nasser Hussain’s excellent autobiography “Playing with Fire” in which the ICC’s amorality over Zimbabwe, their failure fully to get to grips with match fixing and corruption in the sport and their naked pursuit of commercial advantage is well-described by someone who was at the centre of international cricket for a long time.

In many ways sponsors have transformed sport and the much better incomes that sportsmen have, and the much better facilities at grounds these days, are in part attributable to the funds that sponsors provide. When it is done well sponsorship can add a lot to the game. When it is done badly it can be intrusive and even (worst of all) it can actually impact upon the sport adversely. One of the smartest companies when it comes to sponsorship is Emirates Airlines which seems to get it right most of the time. For Emirates there is a clear strategy to get brand name recognition through such sponsorships as that of the umpires who stand at international cricket matches. The “Fly Emirates” slogan is visible on the umpires’ shirts and there will be few watchers of the sport on TV who have not seen the message. A similar strategy has been followed as shirt sponsor of Chelsea Football Club (a bargain given Chelsea’s success this year) and in the securing of the naming rights of Arsenal’s new stadium (the “Emirates Stadium”. The key thing here is that Emirates see their brand recognition sponsorship as a part of their overall communications plans and that they also produce quality advertising with “reasons to buy” messages. As a sponsor of the Ferrari Formula 1 team Shell has been similarly successful and smart. The key point about an oil company’s sponsorship of F1 is that it is more than a badging or a brand name recognition game. Although, of course, Shell pays a lot for the privilege of sponsoring Ferrari there is much more to I than that. Shell technicians work with Ferrari engineers to get the maximum performance from the fuel and lubricants that Shell provides. Then Shell exploits this in advertising - “Why Shell’s partnership with Ferrari improves their products for the ordinary motorist”. It’s a good positioning to take and Shell does it well.