Sport Needs More Heroes, Not More Millionaires- Ben Wells

August 23, 2012


Major events like the Olympics tend to spark a massive upsurge in media interest in sponsorship but rather than looking at the long-term role that sponsorship could play, there is often too much focus on what star athletes could rake in through endorsements as a result of their success. This was neatly summed up in Official Partner’s piece on Jessica Ennis last week. For Ennis, you could read Bradley Wiggins after the Tour de France, Andy Murray at Wimbledon and Rory McIlroy after winning the US Open last year.

Synergy wrote a very good piece just prior to the Games which outlines the vital role that sponsorship plays in staging major events. The relationship between sport and corporate entities has become symbiotic. It has become a cliche but major events genuinely just cannot happen without sponsor support.

British sport has benefitted hugely from the creation of the National Lottery nearly 20 years ago and lottery funding was a huge factor in Team GB’s success in London. There was a warm welcome for David Cameron’s recent announcement that the Government would be seeking to increase this funding into elite sport. So far, so positive as we need heroes to entice people (particularly children) into sport.

However, the Prime Minister’s announcement was countered by the ongoing debate on cuts in schools sports funding and there have been many articles in the week since the  Closing Ceremony contrasting the funding at the top level of British sport with the often run-down and under-manned facilities available to budding amateurs. Over the weekend alone I read articles which related to the poor state of repair of the facilities where Nicola Adams, Ennis and Greg Rutherford used to train. (It also highlighted the massive reliance we place on the altrusim of volunteers.) With ongoing public sector budgetary pressures, this isn’t going to improve on its own.

Ashling O’Connor picked up on this in the Times last week in an article which looked at the sponsorship revenue gap between sports in the UK. Some sports do fantastically well from the private sector and so do many of its star athletes. However, for every Ennis, there is a James Ellington who took to auctioning himself on Ebay to secure funding to get the medical treatment he needed to get fit for the Games.

I’ve already written here about my thoughts on the role that I think the private sector should (and I hope will) yet play in the development of British Sport. We should be pushing at an open door, offering a platform that can be activated across the country, which feeds off public good feeling and providing far richer stories for sponsors to tell in 2016 and 2020 than some of the tenuous product endorsements we’ve seen this time around. As many commentators have said this week, there is more to sport than just the elite. Lloyds-TSB’s Local Heroes campaign – in conjunction with the admirable SportsAid  – led the way at London 2012, who else will follow?

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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