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Crypto sponsors must prove they are serious about sport or risk going the same way as betting

In the latest sponsorship and marketing newsletter, deputy editor Sam Carp also questions the aesthetics of supersized LED displays and looks at the proliferation of purpose-driven sports marketing agencies

14 April 2022 Sam Carp

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What has huge volatility, the potential to lose you a fair bit of money, and probably shouldn’t be advertised to impressionable youngsters?

Betting, according to the UK’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which last week announced plans to ban gambling adverts from featuring influencers, including high-profile athletes, in a move which will not only place further restrictive measures on betting firms, but might also leave those companies wondering what value is left for them in sports sponsorship amid the British government’s ongoing review.

Indeed, that announcement was preceded by 20 English Football League (EFL) and non-league clubs calling on the government to push ahead with a ban of betting brands on soccer shirts. The writing increasingly feels like it’s on the wall.

Now I suspect that some of you might have answered the original question with cryptocurrency which, believe it or not, was kind of the point. I’m certainly not the first to make the comparison and it probably won’t be long before the same headlines that have been printed about betting sponsorships in the last few years are being written about blockchain partnerships – if indeed they aren’t already.

It got me thinking about what brands in emerging sectors like crypto and the properties that do business with them can learn from the apparent ongoing plight of betting partnerships (in the UK, at least), and indeed other categories that have disappeared before that.

Aside from the obvious issue most people have with betting sponsorships, another problem, particularly in top-flight English soccer, is that teams have partnered with mysterious companies who don’t actually have a presence in the country, and therefore have no real interest in engaging with a club’s fanbase. We’re already seeing some similarities in crypto deals, where agreements have been signed with companies about which there are very few details publicly available.

But cast your mind back to Paddy Power’s ‘Save Our Shirt’ campaign, where the bookmaker effectively gave up its commercial inventory on Huddersfield’s kit to encourage brands to stop sponsoring soccer shirts. In doing so, it built up goodwill and showed that it was in sync with some of the issues that are important to supporters. More recently we’ve seen betting brands use their sponsorships to promote gambling awareness, although that has felt more reactive rather than proactive.

Then take a look at a couple of moves we’ve seen recently in the crypto space. Socios, in what increasingly smacks of desperation, has thrown a reported US$20 million at Lionel Messi to promote its fan tokens, a product for which supporters of several clubs the company has partnered with have shown little appetite.

On the other hand, Crypto.com last week announced an activation of its partnership with the UFC that will see it pay fighters a bonus in Bitcoin for pay-per-view events. Fighter pay is a contentious issue in the sport and, as one Twitter user pointed out, while the crypto bonuses are unlikely to make a huge dent the commitment at least shows that the company is aware of the things that matter to the UFC fanbase.

So far the crypto sector’s march on sports sponsorship has been all about legitimacy. But now these brands will have to produce activations that show they can add value for both the sports they are involved in and the fans that follow them.

That will soon separate those that are serious from those that aren’t, and should give a clearer indication of whether crypto sponsorships are destined for the same fate as betting.

Over the top

All eyes were on the Etihad Stadium on Sunday for Manchester City’s title showdown with Liverpool but viewers around the world may well have developed a bit of a headache by the end of the game. And not because of the atmosphere.

The Premier League champions are one of a handful of clubs that have a supersized perimeter LED display system at their home ground, something that was first seen in England at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux Stadium.

But am I the only one who finds it incredibly jarring? I appreciate that being able to offer sponsors more pitchside inventory will help drive more commercial revenue – City are experts at that, of course – but my lasting memory from perhaps the biggest game of the English soccer season is a Xylem advert. Then again, maybe that’s the point?

The supersized LED system at the Etihad Stadium (photo credit: Sky Sports)

Still, surely it isn’t in anyone’s interest for the advertising hoardings to be distracting from what’s happening on the pitch. If teams are that concerned about creating incremental revenue I’m yet to see a better solution than that which allows clubs to display different pitchside sponsor messaging depending on the broadcast territory, a technology that has been almost universally embraced in Germany.

At least that way clubs can make some extra money while also displaying brands that are relevant to the local audience – and all without creating an eyesore for this disgruntled correspondent.

What’s hot?

We’ve been hearing a lot about this new breed of purpose-driven partnerships, but what about purpose-driven sports marketing agencies?

Last week saw Octagon announce No2ndPlace, a self-described ‘specialist agency devoted to driving social impact through sport’. It will initially launch in Australia and be led by Octagon’s chief client officer Ben Hartman, who will be able to lean on a group of strategic advisors that includes former Socceroos captain Craig Foster, Paralympic gold medallist Madison de Rozario, and Wallabies star David Pocock.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing – think Wasserman and The Collective, for example, or CSM’s social impact consulting practice – and I doubt it will be long before we see more agencies launching their own purpose-focused divisions as they seek to cash in on a growing business opportunity.

What’s not?

Yorkshire County Cricket Club really, really want you to know that they are moving forward with a clean slate.

Top dealers

A sizeable week or so for professional services firm Deloitte, which is the latest brand to join the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) TOP sponsorship programme.

This week the company also extended its relationship with US Soccer, prolonging a partnership that first started in 2019. Worth noting that Deloitte previously publicly endorsed US Soccer’s new leadership so Cindy Parlow Cone’s recent re-election may well have played a part in its decision to renew.

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