Patrick Nally: Seeing Olympic sponsorship in shades of grey
Friday, 03 August 2012
But, despite that, the media rumblings about Games sponsors continue. That's in part because they have been wrongly accused of responsibility for thousands of empty seats at venues but also because allegations of the heavy-handed policing of sponsors' rights refuse to go away.
It appears that the public, already robbed of the choice of which card to pay for tickets and merchandise, is confused and uncertain about what can be worn, eaten or drunk in and around Olympic venues without incurring the wrath of the brand police whose remit is to protect the interests of the companies which have paid millions to be either domestic or global partners of the Games.
That protection is, of course, vital for all concerned as without it sponsorship has no value. A property owner who is unable to protect a sponsor's rights simply has nothing to sell and the fact is that the fees paid by commercial partners are a vital revenue stream both for the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
However, there is a feeling around London 2012 and previous global events, including the FIFA World Cup, that things have gone too far and that the overzealous policing of rights may well harm both the events and the brands which support them.
Sponsorship works best when a partner is fully committed to the brand and values of the property in which they are making a significant investment. In the case of the Olympic Games that means buying into The Rings and all it stands for. Sponsors become part of a festival of sport and humanity, an event which is great fun and a celebration of the best things in life.
So how does that tie in with the lunacy of brand policing which determines which soft drink you can consume or who can serve chips and what logo can be seen on a T-shirt?
I am concerned that unless event organisers and brands begin to look beyond the contract they will experience a significant public backlash. The situation as it exists today is just a short step away from being an attack on personal liberty and surely no brand or event wants to be a part of that. Overzealous policing makes the brand concerned look paranoid and ridiculous while negatively impacting on the way the public views the event itself. Ultimately that will have a damaging effect on the value of the sponsorship rights.
I think that the problem lies with some executives within certain brands who don't fully understand what sponsorship is about and what makes it work. In the 1980s and '90s sponsorship changed radically and I am proud to have played a part in that. But back then the senior people in brands and sports governing bodies or LOCs understood that successful sponsorship was about empathy and playing a positive part in something amazing.
These people seem to have been replaced by those suffering from a sort of corporate myopia and who are driven only by a desire to enforce the details of a contract no matter what the long-term cost. For them sponsorship is about dictating and controlling rather than being an integral part of an event and an experience which generates goodwill.
Of course the policing itself is done by the Organising Committees which, in their determination to protect their partners' interests, run the risk of shooting themselves in the foot.
It is worrying that there is an apparent lack of understanding within the industry of the nuances of sponsorship. Rights agreements don't have to be applied rigidly and not everything is black or white.
If sponsorship is to remain an effective marketing and brand-building discipline both sports governing bodies and the brands which support their events need to get back to basics and re-discover what sponsorship is really all about, and how you create value by sharing the public's passion for sport and being a positive part of their experience.
Patrick Nally is the entrepreneur and specialist consultant widely acknowledged as the founding father of modern sports marketing. He is arguably the principal pioneer of today's sports business industry.