Increasing Brand Awareness Through Sport Sponsorship


Sport is one of the most effective methods of capturing attention…okay so do I have yours?

The sponsorship industry is rapidly changing, yet two features remain constant; sport is the most popular category in which to invest, and brand awareness endures as a primary objective for sponsors. The association between sponsorship and brand awareness can be attributed to the fact that sport receives extensive media coverage, captivates large audiences, and provides an opportunity for high brand visibility.

Having said that, in 2020 sport sponsorship investment was projected to fall from $46.1 billion in 2019 to $28.9 billion, a year-on-year decrease of roughly 37% (Dixon, 2020). The reason? Covid-19. The pandemic challenged the industry in a way we have never seen before, as global sport grinded to a halt. But, in 2021, sponsorship has emerged stronger, with a renewed effort to apply distinct KPIs to every campaign goal and to measure return on investment more accurately.

Therefore, in this blog we will outline some fascinating real-life examples of how sport sponsorship can increase brand awareness prior to 2020. We will then explore how Covid-19 has changed the sponsorship landscape and refer to Formula 1 to illustrate how its sponsors found new ways to drive brand awareness. First up, Nike and Tiger Woods.

How Tiger Drove Nike to a Whole New Level 

Widely regarded as the most recognisable figure in golf, Tiger Woods has long been a magnet for lucrative sponsorship deals. Tiger’s association with Nike was initiated in 1996 and has since seen Nike invest over $240 million in Tiger (Rishe, 2019). This figure may appear extortionate, but Nike’s ROI makes it a more than sensible venture. Across the 10-year period from 2000 to 2010, $103 million of Nike’s sales, from their golf ball division alone, were directly attributable to Tiger. Moreover, during the final round the 2019 Masters Tournament, Tiger generated additional consumer awareness of the Nike brand that was worth over $22.5m (Thomas, 2019). Thus, Nike prove that sport sponsorship drives brand awareness which can subsequently have a direct impact on sales.

Standard Life Investments & The British and Irish Lions

In advance of the 2017 Tour of New Zealand, Standard Life Investments replaced HSBC as the lead sponsor of the British and Irish Lions. The objective of SLI was clear from the outset, when CEO Keith Skeoch stated that their investment provided the opportunity to “raise awareness of our business globally” (Sport for Business, 2019). SLI’s investment paid off, with brand awareness of SLI increasing from 74% to 85%, more than any other partner (Slattery, 2017). Therefore, the global audience of sport, the media coverage it receives, and the brand visibility it provides should compel companies to invest in sport sponsorship.

Covid-19 and Formula 1: How Sponsors Ensured They Stayed On Track

The 2020 Formula 1 (F1) season was postponed before it even begun when the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled in March last year. Naturally sponsors, such as DHL and Amazon Web Services, began to panic as they saw the impact of their investment deteriorate in front of their eyes. However, Nielsen (2021) states that consumer interest in competitive Esports grew significantly in 2020 presenting a new channel for sponsors to utilise. By exploiting the value of Esports, F1’s sponsors were able to maximise the impact of their investment while extending their brand reach beyond the sport’s typical audience.

Formula 1 x DHL

DHL worked closely with F1 authorities to replace postponed stages of the 2020 calendar with Virtual Grand Prix’s where current drivers competed head-to-head. The initial race attracted 3.2 million viewers, and provided an alternative way for the brand to engage with their audience and push consumer awareness. Building on this success, DHL also released behind the scenes stories about the logistics of restarting the season in the midst of a global pandemic. These productions demonstrated DHL’s logistical proficiency to key target markets while maintaining brand awareness among the general F1 audience.

Formula 1 x AWS

Similarly, Amazon Web Services (AWS) used its technical capabilities to offer data insights that improved fan experience. AWS created the Deep Racer platform that allowed fans to compete against F1 drivers such as Daniel Riccardo through the use of machine learning skills. Matt Hurst, global head of AWS sports marketing and communications, explained that the platform offered a way to engage a new cohort of people with F1 (Lepitak, 2020), thus generating improved brand awareness. A key benefit of this digital experience was that it enabled AWS and DHL to measure their ROI more accurately than when they sponsor a live Grand Prix. On this point, as F1, and other sports continue their return to live events, it would appear that virtual sponsorship will continue in tandem with physical sponsorship activity.

So, What Did We Learn?

Sport sponsorship undoubtedly remains an impactful method of increasing brand awareness. Moreover, improved brand awareness directly impacts sales. However, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of change in what is already a fast-moving industry and thus saw brands move to virtual consumer experiences to maximise the impact of their investment. Looking forward, as live sporting events gradually become more prominent, it is expected that virtual activity will remain in a ‘hybrid’ approach to sport sponsorship.

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