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Sponsorship and marketing newsletter 28/10: Instagram gets creative as Nielsen makes an impact

SportsPro deputy editor Sam Carp's fortnightly briefing bringing you up to speed with all things sports sponsorship and marketing.

29 October 2021 Sam Carp

Details have emerged of some new tools being tested by Instagram that should make it easier for creators to find sponsors and monetise their content. You can find the full details in a blog post on the Facebook-owned platform’s website, but I’ve summarised them below:

  • Creators can add participating brands they’re interested in working with, which gives them priority when brands are searching for endorsers
  • A new ‘partnership messages’ folder will be added within Instagram DMs where sponsors and creators can manage their branded content partnerships
  • Data and unique filters are now available for brands to discover creators best suited to their campaigns

It remains to be seen whether this could have any applications for sports, but it isn’t difficult to imagine it being a useful way for athletes in action sports, for example, to quickly team up with endemic brands to promote their products through sponsored posts.

It might also eventually come in handy for digital-native college athletes, who of course are now able to make money from their name, image and likeness (NIL). According to a recent study by social publishing platform Opendorse, there was a four-fold increase in student athletes who received or disclosed a deal from August to September, while brands and fans spent twice as much on NIL transactions in that period. Previously published data showed that some NIL deals can be worth as little as hundreds of dollars, which is likely what some sponsors would be willing to pay a college athlete to promote them on Instagram.

There were more interesting developments on the NIL front this week as Nielsen unveiled a new measurement tool that will arm universities with data to demonstrate the marketing value of their athletics programme to potential recruits. The Duke University men’s basketball team is the first to sign up to use the Nielsen Impact Score, which compares programmes based on national exposure, local market impact and social media engagement. This could be a potentially significant development in the nascent NIL era, as it could ultimately lead to athletes choosing schools based on their potential to win them more valuable endorsement deals.

It feels strange to think that it was only a few months ago that student-athletes were still being held back by archaic rules. Now, when it comes to opportunities, it seems that they’re spoilt for choice.

A load of PIF

Since we last spoke, you might have noticed that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has been able to push through its takeover of Premier League side Newcastle United, much to the ire of pretty much anyone with a moral compass.

The expectation now is that struggling Newcastle will go on a spending spree fuelled by their ownership and an influx of sponsorship deals from companies linked to their new backers paying over the odds. Not, however, if the other Premier League clubs have anything to do about it.

Last week The Athletic shared some juicy details from what sounded like an explosive meeting where 18 of the 20 top-flight clubs voted to temporarily block teams from agreeing sponsorship deals with companies that have pre-existing business relationships with their owners. Questioning the legality of the move, the proposal was opposed only by Newcastle and Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City, whose main sponsor is state airline Etihad.

While I’m all for implementing measures designed to retain a semblance of competition in a league already dominated by a small group of ‘super clubs’, it’s worth asking a couple of things. First, where was all the acrimony when former owner Mike Ashley slapped Sports Direct branding all over St James’ Park? Moreover, City aside, there are other clubs in the league who currently have partnerships with companies linked to their owners. Crystal Palace, for example, hold a sleeve sponsorship deal with Facebank, which is owned by John Textor, who invested a reported UK£87.5 million in the club over the summer.

Second, where is the line drawn between the PIF and the Saudi state when it comes to related businesses? If the Premier League has deemed that the PIF – with just the six government ministers on its board – is in fact independent from Saudi rule, then one would assume it won’t be too difficult for Newcastle’s new owners to find a way around any longer-lasting restrictions that might be imposed on them. Indeed, The Telegraph is already reporting that a Saudi Arabian airline is ‘one of the frontrunners’ to become the team’s new shirt sponsor. Now where have we seen that before?

If something like that does come to fruition, I do wonder if we might see some Newcastle supporters adopt a similar stance to Bayern Munich fans, who filed a motion this week calling on the club to end its association with Qatar Airways ‘at the earliest possible date’.

The motion, which is online here, will be discussed at Bayern’s annual general meeting and accuses the Bundesliga champions of ‘actively helping to distract’ from Qatar’s human rights violations by allowing the state-owned airline to sponsor them.

Of course, the Bundesliga’s ownership rules are different to those in the Premier League, allowing fans to have more of a say, but that shouldn’t stop supporters in the northeast of England from asking questions when and where they can.

(Another) spending spree incoming?

One of the more prolific sponsors of 2021 has been cryptocurrency platform FTX, which last week announced a US$420 million funding round the company says values it at some US$25 billion.

A press release detailing the latest round, which lured blue-chip investors like BlackRock and Sequoia, was coy on precisely where the money will be spent, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see at least a little bit more go towards sports sponsorships.

One of FTX’s more recent deals saw it become a global partner of the International Cricket Council (ICC), but perhaps most intriguing is the way it appears to be activating these sponsorships. According to Anthony Pompliano, the company gave US$500 in crypto to every person sitting in one section of the arena during the Miami Heat’s season-opener at the newly named FTX Arena. All they had to do to access their prize was, of course, download the FTX app.

Then, when asked about the company’s decision to splurge on a Super Bowl ad, FTX chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried delivered the quote of the week, telling CoinDesk: “We actually wanted to buy the Super Bowl itself but they don’t yet accept cryptocurrency. So we’re settling for buying ad time.”

Regulatory scrutiny into the sector might be intensifying, but in the meantime crypto companies like FTX are continuing to move full steam ahead into sports as a means of building credibility.

Top dealers

The National Basketball Association (NBA) celebrated the start of its 75th season with a slew of new and extended partnership announcements, including its first cryptocurrency sponsorship pact with Coinbase and a new deal to promote Google’s Pixel devices. Recent weeks have also seen extensions for American ExpressTissot and Kia, the latter of which is entering its 15th year as the official automotive partner of the NBA.

Five deals you might have missed

Three things I’ve been reading

  1. This is the first opportunity I’ve had to plug SportsPro’s latest NBA commercial guide in this newsletter, so head over here to find all the sponsors and broadcasters, along with some new insights from SponsorPulse.
  2. The list of the world’s 50 most marketable properties is now live, completing this year’s SportsPro 50MM series, which for a second year running also includes global rankings for athletes and brands.
  3. What is a Premier League soccer fan in 2021? That was the question asked by The Athletic’s Philip Buckingham, whose piece also has learnings for other sports.
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