Marketing: The Difference Between X & 60% of X – Ben Wells

By iSportconnect | February 15, 2013

Wow, there are a lot of rightsholders out there looking for sponsor deals at the moment. Most of the conversations I have – either first or second hand – are pretty similar: “we’re looking for X but we’ll take two thirds of X“. I can empathise with a lot of industry colleagues because, especially in this market, they’re all selling essentially the same proposition, speaking to the same brands and are expected to deliver results without the tools to do their jobs properly. 

The recent deal between Manchester United and Chevrolet has raised the stakes for the majority of FAPL clubs. I know of at least one Chairman whose response to the deal was, “well if they’re getting that, we are worth this.” The pressure that puts on his team to deliver a deal at “this” level is unrealistic because it fails to understand the state of the market or how potential buyers determine what deals are “worth” to them. Ultimately, what you’re selling is only worth what someone is willing to pay. 

The issue for many rightsholders is that they are just doing the same thing that they’ve been doing for years. The phenomenal commercial success that United have enjoyed hasn’t just happened overnight – they’ve invested in people and put them on the ground and coupled with the club’s brand profile and some spurious fan statistics, have reaped the rewards. The reaction from the majority of clubs appears to me to have been to question why they aren’t achieving similar results, rather than asking how.

I had a similar issue at Chelsea. United always set the benchmark in terms of commercial success but we had to recognise that we were a different proposition: different brand, different history and had a different story to tell. Agreeing local sponsorships then was impossible because we had no local footprint: ultimately over and above the fact that “we were Chelsea”, what could we offer to a potential buyer? The answer lay in taking a different approach and hence we took the view that we needed to create that local footprint.

In 2009, I went to Hong Kong to launch our first 3G Blue Pitch outside of the UK. We embedded a soccer school there (a real soccer school: coaches came to Cobham for refresher courses, we employed a specialist coach to travel around our grass roots facilities to make sure they were teaching the Chelsea way and kids were expected to wear the full Chelsea kit they were issued on joining), which led to outreach programmes to schools and young offenders institutes, it provided a facility for our fan club, a starting point to launch other CSR programmes, a focal point for our merchandising operations and a platform for sponsorship activation. The club launched its 2011/12 away kit with adidas whilst on tour there. 

I’m delighted that Chelsea now have seven pitches in Asia either developed or in development (there were sister operations in development in the two other 2011 tour destinations of Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok) and the club is reaping the rewards. Local sponsorships and local language websites and social media pages have followed and the huge improvement in quality and quantity of customer data should allow Chelsea to start developing locally-focussed products and services.

It didn’t cost us a fortune (in fact most of our activities were bartered) but it allowed us to launch the “Here to Play, Here to Stay” campaign ahead of the 2011 tour, saying to our fans that we were different from the rest and that we were there for the long haul, to help develop local football. It’s a subtle change of mindset but it makes a huge difference – effectively what separates a sales-led business from one with a long-term commercial marketing outlook. With so much competition for a small pool of sponsorship budgets, rightsholders really need to be asking themselves whether they are genuinely offering potential buyers a strong proposition or are they just going through the motions? Those doing the latter will be the ones settling for “two thirds of X”.

About Ben Wells:

Ben has fifteen years’ experience in the commercial side of sport. Having spent six years at Chelsea FC, where he was Head of Marketing, Ben launched Ishtar Consulting in 2011 with a view to providing specialist sponsorship and marketing support to brands, rightsholders and agencies. Prior to his time at Chelsea, Ben spent nearly four years at Redmandarin, the strategic sponsorship consultancy. Follow Ben on Twitter @ben_wells1 or get in touch via This blog appears regularly at

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