Picture: istock
Picture: istock

Relevance is everything when it comes to sports sponsorship. The more relevant the sponsorship, the greater likelihood that the brand will connect and engage with the consumers it aims to reach. Sports fans have changed, and brands involved in sponsorship must adapt or die.

At a recent CoNext Sponsorship Forum, hosted by Andrew Ross, MD of Chaos Theory, an expert panel discussed and debated the future of sports sponsorships and analysed the development of the Mzansi Super League (MSL) T20 cricket tournament in terms of the challenges and opportunities associated with putting together a game that is relevant to today’s sports fans.

Knowing your audience is the key to success, said Ros Golden, an independent analyst and former marketing director for Cricket SA (CSA).

Change is essential in cricket, said Ross. “According to research done on the modern consumer by Meaningful Brands 2017, sports fans demand attention, they have opinions and they want to contribute to the conversation. Most importantly, they care about connecting with brands less than ever before.”

Less than 20% of consumers believe brands noticeably improve their quality of life, while 60% of the content produced by brands is deemed irrelevant and of poor quality and doesn’t forge connections, he added. 

In fact, consumers would not care if 75% of the brands they are familiar with disappeared entirely, as they would simply use something else. Influencers, he said, are falling in popularity and giving way to advocacy.

Taking this into account, Clive Eksteen, CSA’s commercial director, said the cricket landscape was ripe for change. Social media and technology have changed sports fans, who no longer have the desire or the time to watch a five-day test match or even a one-day international. Quite simply, if it can’t be played in 60-90 minutes, it doesn’t work, he said.

Eksteen argued this changes the future of all sporting codes, which are competing for the same audiences and spend. He predicted the death of one-size-fits-all broadcasting, saying the future lies in technology: holographics, artificial intelligence, integrated sports complexes and the like. It is in this landscape that brands need to figure out what the next big thing will be – and capitalise on it, he said.

The big take-out

Knowing the audience and what sports fans need, together with getting the basics right, will be key to keeping sponsorship alive in SA.

Putting together the MSL was challenging and took a great deal of bravery from all stakeholders, Eksteen said. The mere diversity of the needs of SA cricket fans made agreeing on something as simple as music a battle. “Not to mention the fine balance required between retaining older cricket fans who do not believe that T20 games are real cricket, and introducing young blood, both in the form of players and spectators.”

Creating a cricket format from scratch is a dream and a challenge for any marketer, said Golden. “I think the lesson in today’s landscape is simply to get the basics right. Don’t give consumers reasons not to come to live sporting events – make sure hygiene issues such as safety, toilets and parking are not a deterrent. And remember that old fans are the ones that put bums on seats, while attracting new fans with relevant formats, technology and Wi-Fi is what keeps the future of the game alive.”

Ultimately, SA does not have the infrastructure opportunities that Steve Elworthy, tournament director of the 2019 Cricket World Cup, detailed in his presentation about this year’s tournament in England and Wales. “We have to work with what we have, be realistic about the industry and make sport easy for spectators to consume,” Golden said.