By Tom Degun

Tom Degun - ITGIn the grand story of the London 2012 Games, May 4, 2010, will probably be only a small footnote even though it signalled an historic moment and led to controversy that went far behind these shores.

It was the day that retail giant Sainsbury's were officially unveiled by London 2012 as the first ever Tier One Paralympic-only sponsor.

The multi-million pound deal remains one of the biggest ever deals for the Paralympic Movement, giving Sainsbury's exclusive rights to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Despite the sizable cost of the sponsorship, it appears to have been a very astute deal; it was only a fraction of the price it cost to sponsor the Olympics while appearing to enjoy the majority of the benefits from being affiliated with London 2012.

This was highlighted recently in Sainsbury's sales figures which showed the supermarket's sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympics helped them outperform their rivals, including the United Kingdom's biggest supermarket retailer Tesco.

David Beckham appearing in Saisnburys London 2012 advertFormer England football captain David Beckham was the face of Sainsbury's during London 2012

The figures from their Quarter Trading Statement in the weeks that included the Paralympics showed Sainsbury's had a 1.9 per cent rise in like-for-like sales while Tesco revealed just a 0.2 per cent growth in like-for-like sales across a similar trading period.

Industry experts say the trading boost was dramatically helped by Sainsbury's sponsorship of the Paralympics, when the brand received huge promotion, featuring in regular adverts during Channel 4's record-breaking coverage of the event.

Such benefits were a surprise to some, but not for Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King.

As we spoke together in London, he revealed that he always knew he was onto something special in signing up to the Paralympic Games.

"I think it is clear that we did see something that others didn't because we did sign the first, stand-alone, Paralympic sponsorship deal for London 2012," King told me.

"When it was announced that we would sponsor the Paralympics, we talked to our colleagues and we talked to our customers.

Sainsburys truck with London 2012 brandingSainbury's Here's to Extraordinary Paralympic advertising campaign appeared on delivery vehicles, shopfronts and point-of-sales material

"What was interesting to us was that even though they were, of course, excited about the Olympic Games, time and again they would tell us that the Paralympic Games are the thing that most intrigued them.

"It seems somehow that the Paralympics are closer to our lives.

"Our Paralympians generally train in their communities – supported by family and friends – and, of course, they tell us something about ourselves in terms of whatever challenge you might face, you can still be the best that you can be.

"So quite quickly, we realised that the Paralympics were closer to our values as an organisation and by the time we had negotiated the sponsorship of the Games it felt like the most natural thing in the world to be doing.

"The Games arrived several years later and the rest, as they say, is history.

"If you look at it from our point of view, there is no doubt that the awareness they generated around our brand has been helpful to our business.

"It has also allowed us to form great relationships with Paralympic stars like Ellie Simmonds.

Justin King meets Sebastian Coe Lee Valley April 11 2011Sainsbury's chief Justin King (right), pictured here with London 2012 Sebastian Coe, claims that sponsoring the Paralympics has helped the company gain an edge over its rivals

"Ellie, who is perhaps our most famous Paralympian, was an ambassador for Sainsbury's active kids long before the London 2012 Paralympics came along.

"We found that Ellie, as a young person, related to other young people and that young people related to her.

"She has been absolutely fantastic for us."

But the deal - and how Sainsbury's leveraged it - did not please everyone. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) were particularly disturbed that the supermarket giant, with David Beckham as the face of its campaign, appeared to be enjoying the benefits of being associated with the Olympics without paying the same sort of sums that other London 2012 sponsors had. 

It is a subject that is still causing discussions among senior officials and controls are likely to be put in place for future Games to ensure that no sponsor involved with only the Paralympics enjoys the same sort of opportunities linked to the Olympics as Sainsbury's did. 

Sainsbury's obviously saw the advantages of being associated with the Paralympics because they plan to continue being involved in them.

Just days after the conclusion of the Paralympic Games, Sainsbury's, with the help of Simmonds, announced their Paralympic Games Legacy programme.

Called Sainsbury's Active Kids For All it was an extension of their existing Active Kids scheme.

The new programme saw Sainsbury's invest £1 million ($1.61 million/€1.25 million) to fund teacher training courses which will help over 500,000 disabled and children with special educational needs be included in school PE lessons.

active-kids-for-all-ellie-with-school-children Nov 11Four-time Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds, right, with some of the children involved in the Sainsbury's Active Kids For All scheme

"The legacy element of our plan was there from the outset," King explained.

"We are aware that 80 per cent of all disabled children currently attend mainstream schools and that many are not fully included in physical education classes.

"Whilst teaching and support staff undoubtedly have the skills, knowledge and competencies to deliver sport to disabled children and young people, not all have the confidence to fully include disabled children within their PE lessons.

"That is why we have worked with the Home Nations Disability Sport Organisations to develop Active Kids For All.

"It is a training package which is intended to support teachers and support staff working within the school environment to have confidence in the knowledge and skills they already have and to add to that whilst developing their confidence to deliver to all children and young people within their classes."

The Active Kids For All announcement came on the same day that Sainsbury's made another huge commitment to disability sport when they revealed that they would extend their partnership with the British Paralympic Association (BPA) in a four-year deal through to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

paralympic-super-shoppers Nov 11Sainsbury’s raised over £100,000 for the British Paralympic Association from sales of their Paralympic Super Shopper bags

The agreement, which sees Sainsbury's join BT as an official partner of the BPA, starts in January 2013 and gives the supermarket sponsorship rights involving both the BPA and the ParalympicsGB team via BPA's Joint Marketing Programme.

"The BPA have had this moment in the sun; quite literally because it shined for the entire Paralympics," King said.

"Now they, quite rightly, want to make sure that next time round in Rio they do as well again.

"The ParalympicsGB team won't perhaps have the huge support and backing that they had in London this time round, but they can prepare just as well and hopefully with a bigger pool of talent to draw on because young people would have been inspired by these Games.

"So we have agreed to sponsor the BPA all the way through to Rio, via Sochi [2014] on the way.

"But also we are launching programmes like Active Kids for All that give young disabled people the confidence to try sport for the time.

"Maybe they might not make it to Rio but they could well make it to the Games after that."

King left with a warm handshake and a smile; clear in the knowledge that London 2012 was just the start of Sainsbury's involvement in the Paralympic Movement.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.