The Games are over – what now for the Olympic sports?
How to maintain & develop relationships with broadcasters & sponsorsRaj Koria
You represent the national governing body of a non-mainstream sport in the UK; your athletes have just achieved unprecedented success at London 2012, perhaps unexpected success; your sport has been propelled into the consciousness of the British public in a way that it never has been before. Now the trick is to keep it there and build on that unique exposure so that the next generation of medal winners take up your sport rather than football! This article discusses some ideas on utilising some of your commercial assets to help you achieve this.
It is not all about the money. When looking at assets such as the sponsorship and broadcast rights for your competitions, it can be easy to focus only on achieving the highest fees possible. In tandem with this, you should also be considering what other ways you can utilise the relationships with your broadcasters and sponsors to help grow your sport.
Your aim is to foster the relationship which has been created with viewers during the broadcast coverage of your sport during London 2012. A fundamental way of achieving this is to ensure that your competitions and your sport in general remain on television. What are the options? Free television channels have the advantage of offering a very large potential audience which would mean more exposure to the public for your sport and consequently for your sponsors. The BBC may well be looking to take advantage of the goodwill generated by its coverage of London 2012 and continue the narrative that it started with viewers. With the possible exception of ITV, free television networks have been somewhat conservative in acquiring sports content in the past. This could change now if the major free networks decide to take advantage of the increased public interest in sport, particularly amongst those viewers who may not previously have watched sport on television. A possible early indication of this was Channel 4's broadcast of the Paralympics.
Specialist sports pay television channels have different advantages to free television networks. One is financial. Not only do they traditionally pay more for sports rights than free channels, they can also invest more into the television production which can significantly improve the viewer's experience and consequently have a better chance of retaining viewers. Although the number of potential viewers will be less than free channels can offer, pay television subscriber numbers remain high in the UK, amongst the highest in Europe, and are expected to grow in the coming years.
You could also discuss with the pay broadcaster the possibility of reserving the right for you to place an archive of footage of your events on the internet to be accessible on a free basis after an embargo period (this could be full length footage, highlights or both). If successful, you would have the benefit of a pay television deal while retaining the ability to reach a larger audience. The emergence of the likes of ESPN and BT Vision, in addition to the traditional giant that is Sky, means there is potentially competition in the sports pay television market for your rights which could help increase your revenues.
Agreeing a broadcast deal is the first stage; you also need to make sure your events are actually broadcast. Try to secure guarantees on minimum coverage, if at all possible during primetime (this is likely to be much harder on free television). Another important consideration is promotion of the broadcast. You want the channel constantly telling its viewers that the competition is being broadcast so look to secure minimum amounts of promotion. Be conscious though that at the beginning you may not be able to have everything and may have to make a judgement call between maximising revenues and maximising exposure.
Think also about what more you can offer the broadcaster. Can you guarantee that your medal-winning athletes will participate (barring injury)? Remember, they are the ones who caught the public imagination and the ones viewers will want to see. This needs to be secured in your agreements with the athletes.
Consider working with other governing bodies, for example the European and world bodies in your sport. Can you combine your events to provide a complete package to the broadcaster? This may involve difficult discussions about sharing revenues but the potential benefit is that you could have a more attractive package for broadcasters and may generate greater income than the competitions could generate individually.
There is also more than the sport to offer. Consider what additional compelling content you can provide around the actual competition. Can you secure access to your Olympians for the broadcaster, perhaps to do features on them telling the stories of their participation in the sport and their lives outside it? What about the story of your organisation, what it has done on the back of the Olympics and how it is translating that exposure into more participants? It may be more attractive for broadcasters if they can show London 2012 has started a process which is gaining in momentum (and impliedly something that they are contributing to). This kind of supplementary content could also help strengthen viewers' connection to the sport.
Channel operators should not only be thought of as the parties broadcasting your content; consider other ways of getting them involved. For example, they are potential partners who could work with you to develop your sport at grassroots level, perhaps in setting up local events. For the broadcasters, this offers them a different way of connecting with the euphoria of London 2012, providing them with a vehicle to market themselves as a supporter of your sport, and at the same time give them the opportunity to create more supplementary content. Remember also, broadcasters are potential sponsors too. Team Sky is one example of a broadcaster using a sport as a pure marketing tool.
If you cannot engage broadcasters, think about alternative ways of getting your content across to viewers. In addition to your own website, don't ignore YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. If used correctly, social media can be a useful way of building your connection with the public and building a community around your sport. Even if your competitions are broadcast on television, any additional content created by or for you can be communicated through social media. Social media is also a great way to further engage with the public, not least because of the two-way dialogue it engenders.
For sponsors exposure is key which means they will want your competitions televised, preferably on free television. If your events are currently not broadcast, consider including in your sponsorship agreement a provision for a bonus to be paid for securing television coverage, perhaps even different bonuses for free or pay television coverage. The same could apply if your events are on pay television: provide for a bonus to be paid if you secure a free television deal. This way you could try to offset any loss of revenues if your events move from pay to free television.
When you are looking at potential sponsors, think about what value you can give them aside from the usual items such as naming rights, signage and tickets. For example, can you secure access for them to key athletes such as those who won Olympic medals? This may be complicated if the athletes have sponsors of their own but even then it may be possible to secure some access in your athlete agreements.
As with broadcasters, rather than your sponsors' involvement beginning and ending with paying their sponsorship money, think about building a partnership with them so they are at the forefront of progressing your sport, particularly at grassroots level. This could give them a connection to London 2012 as they are helping give momentum to what was started this summer. It could be a compelling story for them to tell their customers from a marketing perspective. At the same time it would help you to promote your sport and build participation so both parties benefit. Take the example of a national bank as a sponsor. You could discuss with the bank using its branches as promotional vehicles for your sport, where you could provide information to customers about where and how to participate and at the same time the bank could promote itself by informing them about how it is involved. You could work with the bank to get its employees involved in the sport, whether as participants or as volunteers.
Post-London 2012, interest in sport, particularly those in which athletes performed well at the Games, is at unprecedented levels and there is now a window of opportunity to take steps forward in the development of your sport. You may not have a greater chance to engage commercial partners with innovative ideas, getting them involved in a way which provides maximum benefit to you and your broadcasters and sponsors. The future of your sport could be guaranteed by creative thought, ambition and persistence.
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About the Author
Raj Koria is an experienced and charismatic international sports business lawyer and adviser. Raj's experience includes media and television rights, sponsorship sales and servicing, product merchandising and retail distribution and on-site marketing operations. He is London based but services an international client base at Halebury, the alternative law firm.