Today, things aren’t quite the same. It’s hard to spot when the dog days of a great empire begin; the signs of decline are almost imperceptible at first. But they are there if we choose to look.
There are plenty who will disagree. They will point to the news agenda of the last month to say that things are still going very well in Catalonia, thank you very much.
For the price of a ticket to the Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain Champions League tie, you could buy a house in Greece.
The architects of tiki-taka remain. Xavi and Iniesta still weave their magic in midfield, and Messi is still Messi, the one true genius working in football today.
If this is what decline looks like, Barca’s supporters will say, we’ll take some more of it.
To gauge how things have changed, we have to go back to that week in 2011, when Barca came to London.
|The Qatar Foundation replaced UNICEF on the FC Barcelona jersey, but it will soon cede the space to Qatar Airways.
By contrast, the story went, Manchester United were in the final despite their owners, not because of them. The reviled Glazers, the barbarians at the gate of English football, had saddled a historic institution with huge debt.
The Catalan team held a mirror to the best the Premier League could offer. And the result wasn’t pretty.
Nothing illustrated the cultural divide more than the logos on the teams’ shirts.
United’s famous red jersey bore three letters synonymous with the financial crisis: AIG, an American company very few fans had heard of until the company was spotted on the front pages of the newspapers.
No such problems for Barca. Messi ran out at Wembley bearing the UNICEF logo on his schoolboy-like chest. So typical of Barcelona to think of the children, the papers cooed.
That week I spoke to UNICEF ambassador Lord David Puttnam, famous as the Oscar-winning producer of “Chariots of Fire,” but who cut his teeth in London’s advertising industry in the 1970s.
“Man United run around with a bankrupt insurance company on their shirt,” said Puttnam. “By comparison, the Barcelona shirt is the apotheosis of what is possible.”
It was not about awareness, he said. UNICEF has over 90 percent recognition in most countries in the world. “It is about dignity. At the end of the day there is a trade-off between dignity and cash and we have just lived through an era where cash trumped dignity. It is just possible that we are moving into an era where, just possibly, human dignity might trump cash.”
Heady stuff: sport with a social conscience, the ultimate win-win. Elsewhere the Barca-UNICEF deal was opening minds as to what football sponsorship could achieve.
Premier League team Aston Villa, under the ownership of Randy Lerner, went a season with children’s charity Acorns on their shirts. Even the banks saw the chance to present a human face. Swedbank used its naming-rights deal for Sweden’s national stadium to promote an anti-bullying nonprofit. The stadium remains the Friends Arena.
So, given the almost universal love toward Barcelona back then, what happened to bring them back to the pack in terms of brand sentiment?
Two reasons. Both instructive as to the future of sport sponsorship.
The first is an issue of communication: The press got tired of the holier-than-thou stuff coming out of Camp Nou. The club had UNICEF on the shirt, but it was still one of the most commercial-minded organizations in world soccer, with media rights to die for and 26 other official partners on the club’s roster, each paying top dollar.
More damaging was the deal with Qatar’s government.
When the Gulf state agreed to pay 125 million pounds for Barcelona’s shirt, it was sold to supporters and media alike as another social sponsorship, UNICEF Mark 2. This was days after Qatar won the right to stage the 2022 World Cup, thanks in part to a vote-trading deal with Spain’s 2018 bid.
Next year, as part of the same deal via Qatar Sports Investment, the charity logo will be replaced by that of Qatar Airways, the first commercial brand on the shirt for 112 years.
Tim Crow of Synergy Sponsorship in London called it straight: “The only surprise about the Barca-Qatar Airways deal is that it took this long for QSI to reveal their hand. It erodes the Barca brand, the Qatar Foundation PR is revealed as spin and it’s bad for the image of sponsorship.”
So, the money floods in to northern Spain, but at what long-term cost?
It seems economists are not the only ones who struggle with the difference between value and price.
■ NORTH SIDE UPSIDE: One of the projects I’ll be keeping a close eye on is the $500 million renovation of Wrigley Field and its surrounding area. To me, this represents one of the best examples and opportunities in urban renewal and development in sports, with a unique canvas to renovate a historic building that will have to co-exist and conform with a new hotel and office space.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the Ricketts family, who handled the challenges of Chicago politics to reach this agreement with the city and are contributing $300 million to the ballpark and $200 million to develop the hotel and office building. Sure, this project could be dragged down by lawsuits, but when it moves forward, the family can bring all of its assets and ideas — as well as the history of the Cubs and the area — to a truly transformational project.
Before this deal with the city was complete, I caught up with Tom Ricketts at our World Congress of Sports, and it was apparent how vital this plan was to the future of the franchise. And he made it clear that it all starts with Wrigley. “We’re going to save the park,” he said, “It’s an institution that everyone loves. We are going to do what needs to be done to make sure that it’s there for the next generation of fans. The same park that your grandfather took you to, you can take your grandkids to.”
But he also stressed the plans included much more than that and offered a way to leave a positive mark on the area. “We are re-imagining what can be done around the park,” he said. “We have some land on the west side of the park [where] we are going to create an open plaza and bring in events that are really positive for the community.”
“Wrigley is in a real neighborhood. People are raising their families there and we’re sensitive of that. I used to live in that neighborhood. I used to live across the street. We just see that there is so much opportunity to do something fun and engaging and value-added around the park, with a lot more than the 81 dates that we have a game. We think of it as potentially a town square for the north side of Chicago, and that’s our vision.”
It’s certainly similar to the changes we’ve seen at Fenway Park and Yawkey Way over the years. It’s a rare mixed-use urban development opportunity in sports and a unique situation that any team, brand and developer will want to watch closely. It includes basic ballpark improvements, with revenue/signage and branding opportunities with development outside the venue and embedded in a neighborhood. I am looking forward to getting a better sense of the team’s plans when we host our Activation Summit in Chicago and take in a White Sox-Cubs game at Wrigley on May 29. Hope you’ll have a chance to join us.
■ DO YOU HEAR THEM?: A few weeks ago I wrote about Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay telling how his boss, team owner Arthur Blank, constantly pushes his staff to listen better to actual fans before making decisions related to the customer experience. Don’t just listen to your cohorts and staff — listen to the people. I thought I’d relay a similar story as I clean out my notes from World Congress.
|“Are we asking the right people? … I think the fans and what they do tell us more than anybody else.” -- Eric Grubman
He gave a few examples of how fan behavior started patterns: “If you go to a Steelers game, they didn’t build any standing room of any significance. Those people do that, on that spiral stair walk up, where they watch the game. They’ve carved out their standing room. If you go to an Eagles game, a certain group of people go to those corner places that were not built for standing room, they were built for mix, and now they’ve become de facto pavilions.
“We know what content people want; we know how different people want to interact with the games. So why are we building a bricks-and-mortar stadium or bricks-and-mortar venue with the thinking of how people wanted to watch a game? We’ve done great things with the architecture and great things with ingress and egress, but why haven’t we done as great things with the basic structure of how someone watches an event? Because we haven’t asked the right people, the fans. And the fan today I know is different than the fan of 25 years ago. They grew up in a different environment.”
Anheuser-Busch’s Blaise D’Sylva immediately followed up: “It’s a fundamental part of what goes wrong in this business. We don’t ask the consumer what they want, we do what we think they want and/or what is going to make money.”
Said WTA Tour CEO Stacey Allaster: “In our sport, we’re not very consumer friendly at all. We tell them to be quiet, we tell them to sit down, we tell them they can’t get up, you can’t come into the stadium in between the match. I couldn’t agree more with Eric that we don’t ask the right people. We, ourselves, are always thinking about the players, we’re always thinking about the tournaments, and we rarely as an organization think externally and think about our fans.”
This exchange raised a few eyebrows and was mentioned in discussions after the session, with more than a few commenting that it would cause them to revaluate their “listening” process.
It all sounds trite and obvious, but at times, we may be so out in front, we forget the basics. That’s why social media is such a powerful tool, as it brings people closer to the decision-making process and offers everyday fans the ability to become involved and engaged in a process.
One example of this: Alexandra Wheeler, Starbucks vice president of global digital media, said at the Ad Age Digital Conference that its social engagement program, “My Starbucks Idea,” has led to 281 new ideas that have been implemented and activated at the chain.
But that’s still just one way of listening, and I share these comments only in the spirit that, in this age of modern research and analysis, all of us in sports need a reminder to step back and listen more — and better — to the people who truly matter.
Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.
Recently, Turnkey Intelligence had the chance to partner on an innovative approach to helping brands maximize partnerships.
The Chicago Bears contacted Turnkey regarding a joint project involving a sponsor inventory study. A consumer research study, conducted via online surveying, measured the association of Solider Field’s array of marketing inventory and the brand benefits seen by corporate partners. Game attendees were invited to complete the survey, with a sweepstakes as an incentive. The study accumulated just under 500 respondents.
Partner recall, aided and unaided, served as the response variable and formed the basis for all comparisons within the study. Why focus on recall? Recall forms the top of any brand’s purchase funnel, and it’s the trigger for consideration, trial, repeat and advocacy. While some partners have found creative ways to educate fans about their brands, many still rely on basic signage with logos and colors. Expecting a logo to drive anything beyond recall is somewhat unfair.
Specific topics of interest within the sponsor inventory study included:
■ How did asset location factor into the recall equation?
■ What does incremental investment buy a brand?
■ How many fans are truly affected, and who are they?
The study ran throughout the 2012 NFL regular season. The Bears’ fan-marketing and research team, led by Elaine Delos Reyes, provided Turnkey with all relevant information pertaining to partner activation, including schedules for on-site display, game-day and stadium title sponsorships, and signage rotation for all eight regular-season home games. Having this schedule allowed us to marry brand identification and assets responsible for making attendees aware. The project yielded some valuable findings, laid out as follows.
■ They say in real estate …
It’s about location, location, location. To be clear, the sponsor inventory study did not identify any bad advertising locations within Soldier Field. But certain locations stood out by correlating with higher partner recall. For instance, consider the video board. Analysis established a clear linear relation between video board airtime and recall (i.e., brands with more minutes of video board airtime scored higher recall). In addition, respondents identified the slot of time after warm-ups but before game action as when they were most apt to have their eyes on the video board, suggesting that having airtime during this slot might offer incremental gains.
|Renderings shown to study respondents show two factors that affected Bears fans’ recall: activation and (below) video board airtime.
Driving recall is not just about multiple locations, but also about strategically choosing them. Analysis revealed that attendees interacted most frequently with brands on the same level as where they sat. While the finding might not be that surprising, how many brands target their activation or advertising based on the demographics of the general seating area? Club seating draws the interest of luxury brands. If I were marketing an economy car, I’d be looking at inventory away from premium seating.
■ You just HAD to be there!
Rather evident from the sponsor inventory study was the relationship between on-site display and recall. The study produced a de facto segmentation of Bears game attendees. Twenty-seven percent of respondents acknowledged interacting with one or more brands by visiting on-site activation. Because people self-select this interaction, we believe there are some people who simply enjoy meandering through partner displays in search of information (or swag). Busier areas such as stadium entrances and concourses drove much of that interaction. This level of interaction represents the reality of event marketing. Unless a brand is giving away cash, it’s best to identify multiple locations for on-site activation to generate a noticeable lift in recall.
■ Being in the Hall Of Fame
Like many teams, the Bears offer different tiers of partnership investment, with their highest level being a Hall of Fame partner. This platform amplifies their most important, integrated marketing partners. The Bears offer their HOF partners broader intellectual-property usage rights, integration into design aspects of Soldier Field, exclusive hospitality and more. One return on this top-tier partnership seems to be higher brand recall. Factoring in everything, HOF partners saw aided recall levels at twice the level of the next closest category.
The results of this project have provided the Bears valuable insight usable for adding value to corporate partnerships. “If a corporate partner approaches us with a goal of increasing recall of their stadium activation by X percent, we now have a template by which to craft that plan,” said Chris Hibbs, Bears vice president of sales and marketing. “We know that the video board belongs as part of any significant partner investment and that a fully integrated program at Soldier Field requires multiple points of engagement between partners and fans.”
A new season will bring new partners, updated activation and fresh inventory to Soldier Field, which is why the Bears will be repeating the study for the 2013 season.