As the build-up to the 2006 World Cup in Germany gathers pace, a row rumbles on. Football's ruling body Fifa has allowed credit card firm MasterCard and the German Football League to have exclusivity rights over ticket sales in a deal described by the consumer magazine Which? as discriminatory.
Since tickets for the 2006 event went on sale only those fans that bank in the host nation or own a MasterCard are currently eligible. Fifa insists that the deal is fair and that supporters will be able to use other credit cards at a later date. But bearing in mind football's working class roots, there have been accusations of elitism from much of the UK's media which show little sign of subsiding. In the credit card company's defence it is not doing anything new and sponsorship deals of this nature have existed before around major sporting events such as the Olympics.
Around the same time as World Cup tickets went on sale, record-breaking round-the-world yachtswoman Dame Ellen Mac-Arthur sailed into Falmouth Harbour and stepped off her trimaran, named B&Q/Castorama, wearing the corporate colours of her two key sponsors.
Kingfisher's investment in MacArthur's participation in the Route du Rhum ocean race totalled around £3m. The return on its double-brand sponsorship following the victorious 71-day voyage has been estimated at over £100m in print and airtime publicity alone. There is also the additional worth of being inextricably linked with a sporting hero.
Stephen Proctor, managing director of research agency Sports Marketing Surveys, says: "It was a fantastic achievement on behalf of her sponsors and in the case of B&Q, the brand-attribute of 'prestigious' almost tripled, with a third of the public now regarding B&Q as a high quality brand name."
But this result is over and above what sponsorship habitually achieves, and in time consumers will begin to forget the brand's association, according to Proctor. As the World Cup draws nearer, they will also begin to forget the negative connotations surrounding MasterCard's ticketing deal. Especially in light of the brand's more strategic investment in event initiatives that have paid huge dividends in the past.
As a stalwart partner of tournaments such as Euro '96, France '98 and the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, the credit card supplier is no stranger to leveraging positive value that goes far beyond branding the achievements of one individual during one race. In fact, the activity of each of the 2006 World Cup sponsors will go beyond 'backing and branding' and into more strategic areas of event management, hospitality and technical provision.
Agency Red Mandarin was appointed sponsorship consultant to Philips' global brand management group in January 2004 and has been working towards the consumer electronics firm's campaign as official World Cup 2006 partner.
The agency's strategic approach has included researching sporting participants and fans in a three-month global study, interviewing stakeholders such as broadcasters and conducting detailed competitor analysis.
The result for Philips in Germany will centre upon the role technology can play within sponsorship. The brand will provide lighting in eight of the 12 stadiums and supply a multitude of screens and video walls.
A priceless experience
"We need to maintain the consistency of how the brand is viewed around the world as well as ensure it achieves its sales targets," says Red Mandarin's account director Ben Wells. "No consumer facing sponsor can compete with the likes of McDonalds or Coke in terms of 2006 media budgets so the activity needs to be more strategic than simply fighting for maximum presence."
MasterCard's strategic sponsorship legacy includes staging the first Prince's Trust Party in the Park concert, now sponsored by Capital Radio.
Its event agency First Protocol devised the first rock concert in Hyde Park on the eve of the Euro '96 final to leverage the brand's football sponsorship. And since then, First Protocol has developed meeting, hospitality and event strategies around many major football tournaments and seen the credit card brand invest in event marketing over other forms of advertising as a result.
"Our role with MasterCard is one of event strategy and delivery and we work as an extension of its team," says First Protocol chief executive Richard Waddington. "We conduct research, develop ideas and concepts, build local supplier relations, secure hotels, event space and manage overall production and delivery."
First Protocol provides MasterCard not only with match day hospitality but also satellite activity that aims to encapsulate the brand's marketing strap line 'Priceless'. "The basics of the infrastructure have to be in place before anything else. The buses need to be on time, the hotel rooms ready, the food perfect and the branding in place. Only then can we give MasterCard's banking clients and their guests an additional and priceless experience."
On the eve of the France '98 final, Waddington delivered a Four Seasons themed gala dinner for 870 guests at the Palace of Versailles with catering by Gordon Ramsay. And during the 2002 World Cup, First Protocol took over the food hall at the Takashimaya department store for a 600-guest reception before staging an event the following day at the Tokyo National Museum.
Waddington says: "We introduced the brand's global corporate audience to Asian cuisine by staging events over four days prior to the final in unique surroundings. By linking the Takashimaya event to an in-store consumer promotion we were also able to leverage extra value from MasterCard's presence in the host-city."
Hospitality in unique venues will no doubt play a key role in MasterCard's event strategy during the 2006 World Cup but according to Waddington, securing accommodation that fits the values of the brand, plus hotels that can host board meetings during the tournament, is of equal importance.
Jumping on the bandwagon
According to Red Mandarin's Wells, the problem of securing rooms for sponsors at major football tournaments is a "nightmare bun-fight that gets played out around Fifa's accommodation office". Sports Marketing Survey's Proctor notes that any five-star brand that fails to secure five-star accommodation will often resort to renting residential housing rather than downgrade their sponsor offer.
Waddington says: "For France '98 we had nine hotels for finals week but had to host 27 planned board meetings off site because the hotels were so uncooperative - something that should help London's 2012 Olympic bid. In Japan we were able to secure the Four Seasons hotel at Chinzan-so and the nearby Rhiga Royal, which were both capable of hosting all of the brand's meetings and groups. Planning well in advance has meant that we've been able to achieve a similar feat for Germany."
MasterCard and Philips will be staging competing events alongside not only the other headline World Cup sponsors but also an estimated 23,000 brands all vying to jump on the bandwagon and commit acts of guerrilla face-to-face marketing. The sports sponsorship industry is worth over £430m a year in Britain alone and more than £13bn a year globally. Each agency staging hospitality events in Germany will seek to measure success against sales, awareness, image and consumer behavioural changes and look for around three times the return on their initial investment. Kingfisher's achievement in backing MacArthur is the branding sponsorship coup of 2005 but in and around the stadiums of Germany, the competition to stage successful brand events will be played out on a different level.
AND THE SPONSORSHIP WINNERS ARE ...
Adidas and Jonny Wilkinson
Adidas signed the promising young rugby player in 1997 but could never have imagined it would be an Adidas boot Wilkinson wore as his kick scored the winning points in England's 2003 World Cup victory. Wilkinson's deal, worth £250,000 before the World Cup, was renegotiated along with his other deals with Hackett, Tetley beer, Lucozade, Lloyds TSB and Mercedes. He is reported to have earned over £4m in the six months after the final.
Samsung and the Olympics
Fifteen years ago, Korea's Samsung was considered a lesser brand in consumer electronics. It is now a close competitor to Sony and Panasonic. Part of its rise has been due to membership of the International Olympic Committee's 'Top' programme since 1997. While membership costs the 12 partners a reported £22m over four years it brings with it the right to use the heavily trademarked Olympic rings.
Shell and Michael Schumacher
After the price of oil and gas plummeted in 2001, Shell's profits were hit hard but the effect was cushioned by the success of the Formula 1 driver, who won the championship that year. The German in his Ferrari fronted a massive marketing campaign for the launch of Shell's unleaded petrol Optimax and won titles in 2002, 2003 and 2004, giving the company a high-profile return for its estimated £16.1m a year sponsorship deal with the F1 team.
Source: The Independent, February 2005.