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Think BR: How to score with the fans

Sports sponsorship should be about storytelling and experiential, writes Edgar Kuipers, client services director, Havas Worldwide Amsterdam.

Edgar Kuipers, client services director, Havas Worldwide Amsterdam

Edgar Kuipers, client services director, Havas Worldwide Amsterdam

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We still see most brands taking sponsorship very literally; they badge an event, activity, organisation or a person in return for visibility.

Then, once a year, the brand organises a business-to-business event with clients or partners and that's it. Too often all the budget goes on the sponsorship, with little or any on amplification.  

Even with the opportunities presented by social media, 99% of all sports sponsorships fail to communicate beyond names on shirts, cars, balls, tickets, boarding or calendars. What a waste.  

Sponsoring gives marketers a powerful opportunity to get very close to a target audience, in a far more acceptable way than traditional advertising. 

Sponsorship is an opportunity for storytelling and creating a brand image that borrows the passion of the player, team, event and sponsor. Fans literally love the shirt your brand name is on.

People will accept this form of commercial arrangement and welcome brands’ support - as long as the brand doesn't overuse or abuse its presence.  

This especially applies to brands that have no natural or logical associations to sport or a sponsored asset. Take Freo, an online credit company. It decided to sponsor PSV Eindhoven. The fans didn’t know what Freo is and let’s be honest, financial services companies don’t hold much favour with the public. However, Freo is crazy about the club.   

So instead of branding Freo on the back of the PSV shirt, we experimented. We wanted fans to make a connection with Freo's business - online loans - so we created the Freo Loan League.

We made it possible for the club's 1.4 million European-based fans to borrow 100 PSV-related items from across the club. 

Fans can actually get their hands on something from PSV, like a chair from the dug-out, the Europa Cup, coach Dick Advocaat, the mascot Phoxy or the centre spot.  

We created a virtual PSV stadium and invited fans to search the ground for items they want to borrow and then they can click to claim it. In order to be awarded the object, the fan must then leave a message on the GekvanPSV.nl website explaining why they should be lent the item.  

The Freo Loan League is promoted by players advertising the fact they are 'For Hire', which replaced their own surname on the back of their shirts.  

During matches, stickers which say "For Hire. Borrow your piece of PSV," are placed on the actual available objects in the stadium.

What started as a simplistic shirt sponsorship has evolved into an online platform with money can’t buy rewards. PSV Eindhoven fans might be the luckiest in the world, as they can take a hands-on approach to supporting their team.

The promotion is supported by Facebook Ads, Z-Card distribution at home matches, print ads in PSV media, stadium TV commercials, perimeter boards and outdoor advertising across the city of Eindhoven.  

Freo gives fans the opportunity to get really close to their club and team, the extent of which is unprecedented.

By using a combination of social media and traditional advertising throughout the season, fans cannot fail to miss the amplification of shirt sponsorship.  

Such an extensive activation requires incredible cooperation between sport and sponsor. Can you see Manchester United, Ferrari, or Rodger Federer loaning themselves out?  

Encouraging fan involvement is uncommon but the bravery of PSV Eindhoven to play ball with Freo is an indication that with the right treatment, sponsorship doesn’t have to be two dimensional. There’s a huge opportunity for establishing a truly positive connection between fan, brand and team.

Supporting a team with money is one thing, creating real dialogue through a brand experience takes sponsorship to an entirely different level.         

Edgar Kuipers, client services director, Havas Worldwide Amsterdam


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