Brand association by default- Steven Falk

By iSportconnect | October 11, 2012

Businesses seeking to promote their brand can be picky when it comes to selecting the sport, event or particular organisation to sponsor.

This is because those gaining the biggest advantage from sports sponsorship inevitably invest considerable time and effort in selecting the right partner, devising the appropriate rights package, planning the optimal activation strategy and understanding in advance how the return on investment will be measured.

For added security, sponsors can seek legal protection in the form of performance escalators and/or disreputable behaviour clauses to ensure that their own brand is not damaged through association with behaviours or practices of their partners. While such risk can never be totally eliminated, potential harm inflicted by players boorish antics, questionable management decisions or financial scandal can at least be minimised.

Given this level of focus on brand protection, it is surprising that sponsors sometimes lose sight of the hidden danger lurking in sports sponsorship. As it is rare for a single sponsor to be granted exclusivity over an event or club, a sponsor will normally feature as part of a club’s sponsorship portfolio and as such will have little say over the composition of other member brands.

This hidden pitfall can have a serious impact on a brand’s integrity for even the most carefully positioned sponsor. For example, Newcastle United may not have gained popularity with its current secondary sponsors by signing up with the pay-day lender infamous for an APR often exceeding 4000%.

Similarly, what American car giant Chevrolet will make of sharing perimeter signage with Manchester United’s “official salted snack partner” Mr Potato remains to be seen. Other common areas of sensitivity are alcohol and gambling that without careful positioning can fall foul of a sponsoring company’s cherished values.

So how can a sponsor avoid the potential dangers of unwelcome brand association by default? Here are some simple preventative steps:-

– Invest the effort to identify prospective sponsorship opportunities that best fit strategically with your own business values and objectives

– Make sure you fully understand the brand acquisition strategy of the business you intend to sponsor from their own perspective and motivations

– Insist on a one-way break clause exercisable should the strategy change

– Ensure you retain right of approval for the presentation of your brand name, logo and other IP in any public media or PR exposure

– Conduct a brand audit and risk assessment of a sponsor’s partner portfolio

– Prepare a damage limitation strategy to implement should the worst happen

About Steven Falk:

A graduate in Psychology from Manchester University, Steven started his career in the motor industry before taking an MBA at Warwick University Business School. There followed commercial roles at Astra Zeneca, United Utilities, Great Universal Stores and MBNA Bank where he worked on a range of assignments in the UK, Eastern & Western Europe, North America and Asia.

From 2001 to 2009, Steven was Marketing Director at Manchester United Football Club. Steven served as a member of the Executive Committee of Manchester United and a board director of Manchester United Foundation, the club’s charitable trading arm. In January 2010, he launched Star Sports Marketing, a specialist sports marketing consultancy.

For a confidential conversation on how Star Sports Marketing can help you to devise and implement an effective brand strategy. Visit or email

Steven Falk’s isportconnect-profile-widget

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