The Recession: A Lame Excuse for Sponsorship Failure – Brian Sims

By iSportconnect | February 5, 2013

So 2012 is now behind us; a glorious year of sporting success that we all felt would go on forever.  Currently facing some awful British weather, that warm afterglow is now fading fast. The harsh realities of life, post-Olympics, are beginning to dawn on many sports associations, teams, clubs and competitors.

For many, the major concern is funding, or should I say a lack of it. They’re trying to make up for the finances cut from their previous entitlement, much of it through Lottery Funding.  With Rio just under 4 years away, there is the realisation that the next Olympics won’t offer the valuable added benefit of being the host nation.  Will this affect the search for commercial sponsorship?

It’s not all doom and gloom though.  Some of the more successful sports face a positive future, with levels of funding maintained or even increased. For those facing budget cuts however, the future can look bleak.

In the overtly commercial world of Formula 1 it’s no different. The recession is being blamed for the dramatic increase in “pay-drivers”, securing their drives by bringing sponsorship or family money rather than talent alone.

Last week at the AutoSport Show, Europe’s largest motorsport industry exhibition, the talk was of drastically reduced  grids for many of the 2013 championships. Drivers, teams and manufacturers were all complaining about the lack of sponsorship revenues, which is where their revenue comes from. They mostly blame the recession.

So if there’s no sponsorship out there, why bother to look? Blame the recession! Go to the pub!

Or is there another way…..a better way. Too bloody right there is. Let’s get real!

The fact is that there has never been a better time to be out there selling sponsorship opportunities.  I should know. I’ve been doing just that since 1974!

Trust me. It’s not the recession that’s the real problem. There are very few business owners out there in the market place who wouldn’t sit up and take notice if someone offered them a feasible, innovative, cost-effective and measurable way of selling more of their products or services.

The problem that a lot of sports won’t face is that there sponsorship proposals don’t do that. Far too many have absolutely no bearing on the specific business needs of a company, in what are undeniably tough times.

I see many sponsorship proposals. They tend to have two primary flaws. Firstly, they are sent to a company without any meaningful research having being carried out as to what is important to that business. As a result, the range of benefits that are being offered are assumed, rather than stated.

Secondly, they rarely include any form of measurement of a business return and are based purely on simplistic entitlements such as branding, PR and hospitality. Some now include a vague reference to social media and networking, but they are far too similar and little better than the reams of junk mail dropping daily through our letter boxes.

Such sponsorship proposals fail to demonstrate any empathy or understanding of the businesses real needs. I often ask myself whether the people who send these proposals honestly believe that business decision-makers are sitting behind their desks waiting for a sponsorship proposal to arrive. The reality is that most are far too concerned with trying to hold market share, increase sales, motivate staff and keep the business going.

There is another problem facing sport, which is why so many companies having a jaundiced view of sports sponsorship.  In some ways, this is typified by the recent news coverage of Peter Waterfield, the diving partner of Tom Daley, who has apparently quit the sport because of having his lottery funding cut.

That’s tough and I really sympathise. However, by then proudly telling us that he’s never had to look for sponsorship before in 13 years of participation, as he’s always been funded, and that if someone doesn’t step forward to help him he won’t be able to carry on diving, he’s demonstrated the problem.  He then goes on to tell the world that he might lose his home, his wife and his kids if he can’t find the money to continue competing. That is sad.  However, what it demonstrates in the process, certainly to me, is that he feels it’s his right to be paid to participate in the sport that he obviously loves. No it isn’t!

I’m not getting at Pete Waterfield. I understand how gutted he is, but guess what!  We’ve all heard that eight hundred jobs are going at Honda in Swindon, Jessop’s staff haven’t had the best start to their 2013 and I doubt whether Blockbuster video salespeople are the happiest on the planet right now!

The reality of life is that being paid to dive off a board into a swimming is not anyone’s right. Neither is being paid to race a car because you can do it quicker than the next person.  In the same way, why do so many sports participants and associations believe that it is the responsibility of businesses (or Government) to support them to do something that they couldn’t do otherwise?

Yes I know sport is a multi-billion pound industry and I know that many of the top sports stars get paid very well because they do help sell more products. That is normally done in a measured way. When sales start dropping, so do the sponsorship contracts. No, what I’m talking about is the plethora of sports sponsorship proposals , targeted at the business sector, that are nothing more than requests for donations, all under the alias of sponsorship. You know the sort of thing: “I want to race motorbikes, I know that I’m very fast on a motorbike but I can’t afford to race, please give me some money”.

Stop blaming the recession and everyone else for your lack of sponsorship.  I promise you, whether you are a sports association, team or competitor, if you put a proposal to a company, based on research, showing how it might achieve a measurable, sustainable increase in business performance- levels in these difficult times, then you greatly increase your chances of securing the funds that you require.  Sponsorship is not your right, it has to be shown to work for the sponsor.


About Brian Sims

One of international motorsport’s most experienced and successful sponsorship sales exponents, Brian is the author of 2 high-acclaimed books on the subject.

His 38 year career includes:

Marketing Director: Benetton F1

Marketing Director: Lola Scuderia Italia F1

Manager: Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit / South Africa

Championship Winning Professional Race Driver

Founder and Honorary Life Member: Motorsport Industry Association (MIA)

Founder and former CEO: South African Motorsport Industry Association

Guest Lecturer: World Academy of Sport and FIFA Masters Certificate

Oxford Brookes MEMS Advisory Board Member

Oxford Brookes School of Business Advisory Board Member

Business Consultant to Oxford Brookes University

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