Any marketing textbook will tell you that sponsorship is an element of the communications strategy. That is very true, but like all simple definitions it does not do justice to the diversity of communications strategies that can successfully employ some form of sponsorship.

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The reasons for using sponsorship are many and various. It may appear surprising but, over a period of time, the vital “Opportunity to See” offered by sponsorship can be very cost effective. Just think about the cost of sponsoring the team shirt of a premier league football club. You will probably be talking a few million pounds, but the team will play in front of anywhere between 30 and 70,000 people 38 times plus cup competitions plus maybe European competitions. Many of those games will appear on TV, not only in the UK but world wide. Therefore, the total number of people, who will have seen that sponsors name at least once during the season, could be in the billions. Add on the replica shirt sales that the club achieves and the Opportunity to See total makes those million pounds outlay very cheap indeed. The corporate or brand name has been kept in front of a mass audience.

In yachting, there have to be other advantages for a sponsor. Volvo will justify its sponsorship of the round the world race on a number of bases, not least being that a major part of their business lies in the marine sector. However, sponsorship offers much more; just go to the start or the finish, or any of the stopovers. The whole place is festooned with Volvo banners. Volvo has the chance to entertain and meet with its suppliers, distributors and agents, (and not just for its marine business but also its cars, trucks etc.). It even has the opportunity to talk to the average yachtie, who may be thinking of re-engining or upgrading. With this jamboree comes the whole media circus that will ensure that, every time the race is mentioned, so is the name “VOLVO”. All of this for a lot less money than it would cost to sponsor an F1 car for the season.

One of the elements of sponsorship that is important to the corporates is what may be called the Halo Effect. Here an organisation will look to be seen to be involved with an activity that has attributes that they would wish their organisations to be associated with. Therefore, we will find financial and computer companies sponsoring boats, when their own business activities have little or no direct relationship. Whilst yachting can still be said to encompass intangibles such as endeavour, risk, team spirit etc. it will attract companies that may otherwise be considered as being “grey”. Add to that the same possibilities as Volvo enjoy and you again have a very cost effective way of projecting yourself in public.

Let’s take the example of an insurance company sponsor­ing a boat in the Volvo. Now the insurance company may not even specialise in marine in­surance, but it can fruitfully use its sponsorship as the corner­stone of promotional efforts. It can relate the boat itself to the firm – finely honed to succeed, encompassing the latest tech­nology, rugged enough to face anything that the environment can throw at it etc etc. Then the company can relate the crew to its own people – highly experienced, good team players and there for YOU when times are tough.

Importantly, you have to consider the audience that sailing attracts. If you are producing goods and services that are targeted at particular groups then sponsorship can be a very effective way of communicating with them and influencing their decisions. If we look at the people who show interest in sailing we will find a high preponderance of people from specific groups e.g. age, education, position, socio–economic groups. Therefore, if you want to target these people then sponsoring in sailing may be ideal for you. On the other hand, if you want to reach a mass audience then you would be better served wooing a mass sport such as football.

Finally, you also have to take into account what we might call the CEO factor. If you have a CEO who has an interest in sailing or the kind of people who go sailing then you have a far easier pitch to make. However, if the CEO is a piston­head then he is likely to be far more responsive to a proposal to sponsor an F1 car.

Up to now we have considered sponsorship in terms of national and international sailing, but the same type of factors also exist for SMEs who wish to sponsor a regatta or even a race in a local club.

The use of sponsorship as a communication activity has to be very carefully managed. Sponsorship will not work on its own. It has to be integrated with all of the other elements of the communication mix. It also requires very careful budget management. Any marketing director will tell you that, no matter how big or small your budget is, it is the effectiveness of the spend that is important.
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