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I am a huge cricket fan, always have been, but I think it’s fair to say that the magic of Test Match Special and the technicalities of the Super Over aren’t conversations that I’d normally expect to translate very well into the workplace. 

It’s not really a sport for everyone, is it?

There’s a need for sponsorship strategies to evolve to more authentically connect and engage with the passions that exist around sport.

But recently I seemed to enter a parallel universe... everyone’s talking about cricket? What the heck was going on?

After the pure drama of July 14's sporting schedule, where 18 million of us flicked between the Wimbledon Men's Final and the Cricket World Cup Final, the power of sport as a cultural passion point was clear to see.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a passion point that brands have long recognised and gravitate around, with sports sponsorship an important mainstay of many a marketing strategy. Brands like Carlsberg, O2 and NatWest have found continued success through sporting sponsorships going back 20+ years.

Above: Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.


When you look at these sponsorships, brand placement has been a key part of the package - from the advertising hoardings, to naming rights, talent endorsements to a logo on the shirt of your audience’s favourite team, these have been the key goals and negotiating battlegrounds of a sponsorship deal.

And while these are still legitimate and practical ways to drive awareness and reach, there’s a need for sponsorship strategies to evolve to more authentically connect and engage with the passions that exist around sport.

Brands are now universally expected to provide value above and beyond the product that they sell.

This point couldn’t have been better exemplified than in Paddy Power’s current Save Our Shirt campaign, where in one of the most convincing football hoaxes i’ve ever seen, they announced the seemingly counter-logical act of taking their logo off the shirts of football teams they are sponsoring. The result is a campaign that’s generating huge PR and shows Paddy Power bringing value to football fans in a way that only they could.

Paddy Power – Save Our Shirt

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Above: PaddyPower's recent Save Our Shirt campaign. 


This is important because brands are now universally expected to provide value above and beyond the product that they sell (Havas’s 2019 Meaningful Brands study showing this to be true for 64% Baby Boomers, 84% Millennials and 87% Gen Z), and this means value can’t just be the remit of the product teams, it needs to come from marketing too.

It requires a conscious shift away from the long-standing and well-established ad land strategy of ‘badging’ culture.

Although marketing teams haven’t traditionally been geared around creating audience value, sports sponsorship represents a relatively easy win, and a great opportunity to make this shift. It’s entry to a pre-existing cultural party, where you can have a positive impact on peoples' passions and build the type of relationship your audience is increasingly demanding of you.

But it requires a conscious shift away from the long-standing and well-established ad land strategy of ‘badging’ culture. An evolution that must see brands move away from talking, to actually doing; drawing on a content-led approach and taking a more active role in shaping and adding value to the sport that’s been invested in.

At Just So we think of it as a three stage strategic process.

Carling – #MadeLocal introduces: Black Country Fusion FC (Documentary)

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Above: Carling's documentary about Black Country Fusion FC, an LGBT+ Sunday League football team.


It starts with taking the time to understand what is important in the sports culture you want to be a part of - what do fans care about? What are the problems that need solving? 

Once this is understood, it’s then a matter of identifying what role your brand can genuinely play that adds value or solves the problem. 

Finally, it’s using the principles of content marketing to engage your audience and drive interest around this.

Barclays’ recent deal to become the first ever title sponsor of the Women’s Super League, seems to show this approach to shaping culture.

When talking about the deal, Barclays Group CEO, Jes Staley, commented, “What sport does in terms of building confidence and character in people is great. You’re making a big social contribution in addition to the joy of watching athletics.”

Outlining the partnership in this way, Barclays show an understanding of what’s important in the sport, and with a deal that provides funding from grassroots to elite level over three years, there’s a clear intention to improve women’s football in the UK.

By taking this approach, the foundations are in place, and the stage is set for marketing to take over and deliver campaigns and initiatives that deliver on this strategy.

If more brands connect sponsorship and marketing teams in this way, and make the shift from thinking of sports sponsorship as a way to buy their way into their audiences’ passions, they will unlock opportunities to address burgeoning issues of brand trust and credibility, driving brand love through a genuine cultural relevance and credibility. 

Let the games begin. 

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