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Player power threatens clubs’ ability to maximise sponsorship income – report

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images For AUDI)

Carlos Cantó, chief executive of boutique consultancy SPSG Consulting, has warned that clubs risk losing out on sponsorship revenue because their players have become competitors in content generation.

Speaking after the publication of a report on the future of sports sponsorship based on a workshop with high-profile European football clubs and sponsor brands, Cantó said that players and clubs are increasingly competing for the same sponsorship pot.

The problem identified by the workshop is that the stars of football are not only producers of content, but they’ve become properties in themselves – even acting as competitors to the clubs where they play when it comes to attracting sponsors.

They can also take millions of fans with them when they change from one club to another, especially in markets such as the Asian ones, where the players generate stronger bonds than the club.

With media fragmentation expected to lead to a gradual fall in the value of the audiovisual rights contracts, in both real and relative terms, Cantó believes sports organisations will become more dependent on sponsorship revenue.

In order to justify increases in rights fees, however, sponsors are demanding rights-holders generate more exclusive content. This is a challenge because it depends on buy-in from the players.

Cantó, a former IMG and Lagardère Sports executive, reached these conclusions, among others, following a workshop at the World Football Summit in Madrid in September.

The workshop involved executives from Real Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Real Betis, Chelsea, Tottenham, Monaco, Getafe and Racing de Avellaneda, as well as global brands like AB InBev, Alipay, Audi, CaixaBank, Banco Santander, Cepsa and MasterCard.

The resulting report, ‘Football and Sponsorship: Challenges and Trends Moving Forward’, can be downloaded here.

The clubs do not currently consider their players as competitors, but admit that one of their main challenges for the future is ensuring that players get involved in activities involving institutional partners.

To address this, Cantó highlighted the following proposals from the workshop:

  • Educate players that are not fully committed to the sponsorship agreements: It is important to organise a mandatory session where the properties explain to the players that the club depends on the sponsorship revenues to run smoothly, and thus, pay their wages as well
  • Involve the players to generate commitment in sponsorship activities, especially if they add value to the club. Selected clubs, for example, organise a group meeting at the start of the season in order to engage the players in their sponsorship activations
  • Deal efficiently with difficult situations where a player has a sponsorship agreement with a brand that is a competitor of the club’s sponsor.

“The problem isn’t just the level of engagement between the fans and the players or the clubs or the leagues and competitions,” Cantó said, “but the monetisation of this engagement. In the end, they’re competing for the same pocket money of the fans and other stakeholders in this ecosystem.

“It’s for this reason that the properties must put together marketing plans that are consistent and strategically designed in terms of positioning, segmentation, seasonality, differentiation of products or services, and so on. It’s not only a matter of being present on social media or of having various sponsors. It’s a matter of monetising this engagement in a consistent and coherent way.”

Despite the challenges, the report concluded that sponsorship will keep growing in the coming years and that  new technologies and progressive professionalisation in the sector will allow for more profitable investments.

“Sponsorship will grow and grow, without a doubt,” said Cantó. “It can grow from a base of being naturally integrated within people’s way of life and being completely aligned with the important growth of sportainment, so it doesn’t suffer from being considered invasive or intrusive.

“On the other hand, greater professionalisation will allow for results to be even better and for investment to be more profitable. Technology is advancing and this expands the opportunities out there, both in terms of assets that can be sponsored and in terms of the activation of sponsorship rights.”

About the workshop

Led by Carlos Cantó, the workshop,was set up to provide  insights on the state of sponsorship in the football industry as part of September’s two-day World Football Summit in Madrid, Spain.

Cantó is the founder of Madrid-based SPSG Consulting and Investment, which provides advice to companies, sports properties and public service entities on a global basis. Cantó was formerly IMG’s vice-president and head of its public sector and tourism unit, and also former vice-president of consulting at Lagardère Sports.

The workshop enabled brands and properties to explore the biggest near-future challenges and discuss the key factors that make a sponsorship succeed. The further goal was to ascertain whether sponsors and properties understand the challenges experienced by their counterparts in the sponsorship agreement and allow them to improve the relationship.

The invitation-only event was attended by executive level professionals from clubs and brands.

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