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British Athletics wedded to ‘family of sponsors’

British Athletics’ transition to a “family of sponsors” model has been justified by the signing of two new deals, albeit more than three months into the new rights cycle, the organisation’s chairman Ed Warner has told Sports Sponsorship Insider.

The organisation plans to replace its old main sponsor Aviva with five or six long-term sponsors. The Aviva deal expired last year and several British Athletics events took place earlier this year without a title sponsor – rights which were covered by the Aviva deal.

Last month, the wait for a sponsor ended when supermarket operator Sainsbury’s became the first new member of “the family” in a five-year deal, from 2013 to 2017, which includes an extensive set of event title sponsorship rights in 2013. The events will be shown on television by UK public-service broadcaster the BBC.

Also last month, UK lottery game operator the National Lottery signed a five-year deal that includes second-tier rights to the London 2012 Anniversary Games in July 2013.

Previously, Aviva held title rights to all televised domestic events run by the organisation, as well as rights to the Great Britain elite athletics team and a host of schools, paralympic and grassroots rights.

A real family?
The Sainsbury’s deal includes such an extensive set of rights in 2013 that some industry experts say it looks like the supermarket has replaced Aviva as British Athletics’ primary sponsor.

Warner said this is not the case: “We’ve gone looking for a range of partners that between them will allow us to do what we want to do. We talked to a lot of brands about the Summer Series, but wanted a long-term partner and we’ve got that in Sainsbury’s.

“It’s easy to say that most of the value is in the title sponsorship but that’s not necessarily how the market works.”

The Sainsbury’s deal misses out some key inventory included in Aviva’s deal, and most of the inventory is included for this year only, meaning plenty to sell to other brands looking to join the family.

The Sainsbury’s deal covers just two elements: the 2013 Summer Series and rights to the organisation’s paralympic programme from 2013 to 2017.

More free cash
British Athletics will have more cash to spend in 2013 under the Sainsbury’s and National Lottery deals than it had under the Aviva deal, although the new deals are worth less overall.

Aviva paid £8.3m (€9.8m/$12.7m) per year in its six-year deal from 2007 to 2012 – £50m overall.

But British Athletics was required by the deal to invest in sponsorship support programmes for Aviva. British Athletics was, for example, required to organise school and community activities for Aviva that were not part of the organisation’s development strategy.

Under the family of sponsors model, brands will help fund programmes wholly determined by British Athletics.

Warner said the revenue in the new deals would amount to a “substantial proportion of the Aviva money…The net income however will be better because we are not tied to programmes that we may or may not want to do. Over 12 years working with Aviva that can add up to many millions of pounds.”

Aviva’s fee was boosted by London hosting the 2012 Olympics, and the accompanying surge in interest in athletics in the country.

Still to be sold
Sponsorship rights still to be sold for the 2013 to 2017 cycle include: sponsorship of British Athletics events from 2014 to 2017, and sponsorship of the elite, able-bodied British team. Aviva sponsored both.

These properties, Warner says, could be sold on either multi-year or single-year terms over the next four years. There is also scope for one brand to take up both positions.

British Athletics events in 2014 include the International Meeting in Glasgow, the Indoor Trials in Birmingham, the Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham, plus the two Diamond League events.

Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium has been confirmed as host venue for the first Diamond League event in 2014. The second venue is unconfirmed, but Crystal Palace athletics stadium in London remains a venue option.

Hampden Park in Glasgow, which is hosting the 2015 Commonwealth Games, is another option and one that could attract brands wanting to associate with the Commonwealth Games.


British Athletics’ family of sponsors

The Sainsbury’s deal runs for five years, from 2013 up to and including the 2017 athletics World Championships in London.

Rights in 2013 only:
This year, Sainsbury’s will have a major signage presence in the stadiums hosting British Athletics’ three-event Summer Series. Two of the three events in the series – one in Birmingham and the London 2012 Anniversary Games – are part of the Diamond League, the International Association of Athletics Federations’ top tier of annual athletics meetings.

Sainsbury’s title sponsorship for the Summer Series also includes:

  • a one-off para-sport event, the International Paralympic Committee International challenge, on day three of the London 2012 Anniversary Games
  • the IPC Grand Prix Series Final in Birmingham on June 29.

Sainsbury’s will get branding on the top of athletes’ bibs at all three events in 2013 as well as on tickets and in marketing media.

Rights in 2013-2017
The deal also includes longer-term rights for British Athletics’ Paralympic programme through to Rio 2014 and the 2017 World Championships in London.

In a separate deal with British Athletics, signed just after the 2012 Olympics Games in London, Sainsbury’s sponsors the British Paralympic Association and its athletes. The deal covers the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.

National Lottery
The National Lottery will be the only other brand with major signage for the London 2012 Anniversary Games. As an Event Partner, the National Lottery logo will appear on the bottom of bibs at the London 2012 Anniversary Games.

The National Lottery’s deal also covers general association with, but not title sponsorship of, the elite team and the federation’s activities, along with signage benefits at domestic events up to the 2017 World Championships.

The National Lottery is seeking to publicise the effect it has on elite British sport. The organisation is a major funder of elite British athletes and teams, contributing to the cost of coaching, training, competition support, medical and scientific services, and living costs.

The current kit supply deal with adidas expires at the end of this year. In terms of a renewal, which is considered likely, British Athletics is only interested in deals that cover the 2017 World Championships or beyond.

The oven chips brand McCain is associated with British Athletics’ cross-country running and grassroots athletics programmes in a deal that started in 2009 and expires at the end of 2013.

The BBC broadcast rights deal expires at the end of 2014. In terms of a renewal, which is considered likely, British Athletics wants a deal that covers at least the 2017 World Championships.


Fast Track divorce leads to new sales model
BRITISH ATHLETICS, the governing body of athletics in the UK, in April 2012 dropped Fast Track, the agency responsible for signing the organisation’s last main sponsor, insurance company Aviva, as a cost-cutting measure.

British Athletics then embarked on a new sponsorship strategy under which it is signing several sponsors to replace Aviva – known as the “family of sponsors” model.

“The decision for a family approach was very much our own call,” Ed Warner, British Athletics’ chairman, told Sports Sponsorship Insider. “I don’t think we would have made that decision had we stayed with the agency approach. They wanted to remain with a title sponsor, but that was not one of the reasons why there was a split.”

Warner describes a careful weighing up of two elements – hard (financial) and soft (operational control) – behind the federation’s decision to go in-house.

“The hard element was that financially we took the view that if we could do well in establishing our own commercial department then we would save money and that has been borne out,” says Warner.

“The softer one is about control. When you’re working with an agency one of the things they bring is sometimes a breadth of understanding and thinking. One of the things you lose is an absolute ability to decide what your properties are and to sell them in the way you want them to be sold.

“We thought that shortening those lines and being in control would have benefits.”

To that end, British Athletics set up a four-strong commercial team led by new commercial director Sophia Warner, with decision-making input from British Athletics’ chief executive Niels de Vos, who acted as the point person for brands along with Warner.

The commercial department held talks with “dozens of brands” once the decision was made at the end of 2012 that the Olympic Stadium would be used to host the Anniversary Games.

This also created an April deadline for interested brands involved if the eventual title sponsor was to appear on the tickets and marketing media associated with the event.

Fast Track had begun renewal talks with Aviva, which agency insiders rated as having a 50-per-cent chance of success, when British Athletics decided to take its commercial programme in-house.

Negotiations with Aviva transferred from Fast Track’s then managing director Jon Ridgeon to de Vos, who proposed that Aviva maintain some key rights but as part of the “family of sponsors” model. Aviva declined the offer.

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