While many brands are considering cutting their sport sponsorship programmes to save costs, the Cheltenham Festival has still managed to attract a range of sponsors for its annual event, and this year, they’re a lot more varied. Peter McNeile, director of sponsorship for Cheltenham, explains why sponsorship still pays for both the brand and the event.
German car brand Citroën this year sponsored the awards for top jockey and trainer at Cheltenham Festival proving that sport sponsorship for big brands isn't dead in the water yet.
The Citroën Leading Rider Award and Citroën Leading Trainer Award was presented on the 13 March and also ran a VIP Shuttle service at the racecourse showcasing the new Citroën C3 Picasso.
The event attracted 210,000 spectators over the four days, not to mention the 1.4 million viewers who tuned in to Channel 4’s coverage of the event.
McNeile says that the value in sport sponsorship is the number of media channels the brands can then be seen on. In Cheltenham’s case, the event was plugged in the press, TV, radio, online and of course as an event.
“Most sponsors enter into sponsorship deals for brand awareness but they need to be able to deliver some additional sale as a result of that,” explains McNeile.
“The really big events in horse racing justify themselves purely on experiential marketing because the footfall is so huge. Events such as the Grand National with 150,000 spectators, the Darby with the same – those are big events that justify the figures purely on the footfall through the gates and not just the media spend around them.”
It’s the season for sponsorship – horse racing, rugby and the array of music festivals that have become a right of passage to Britons. However, McNeile believes that sport sponsorships have the upper hand.
“Most music events won’t carry live broadcast coverage. Obviously there are exceptions, but it is quiet rare for music events to be anything other than an experiential marketing exercise for brands so in saying that it tends to be quite one dimensional,” he says.
“We tend to trade more on the TV coverage we receive both through terrestrial and digital broadcasting which is an extra avenue to attract audience numbers.”
The types of sponsorships that events are attracting this year are more diverse. Cheltenham has attracted sponsors such as airlines, property developers, beer, recruitment agencies – a very broad spread of sponsorship involvement, which is remaining constant, which McNeile says is to do with the continued growth of the event.
He explains that these days sponsors have something more to get out of sponsorships with media partnerships.
“We have partnerships with The Sun and The Irish Independent. Through those partnerships, we give away copies at the event adding 700,000 to their circulation.”
Ryanair, another sponsor of the Cheltenham Festival added an extra 16 flights to the area over the four days of the racing festival.
When looking for sponsors, McNeile said he likes brands with enthusiasm for the event, “We like the sponsors to be really excited by the event. It’s about their enthusiasm just as much as it is about the money.
“We like to offer people the chance to put their own effort into the event such as experiential marketing on the actual days of the event. Many sponsors usually see it as an extra opportunity to connect with their customers on a more personal level.”
The main aim for Cheltenham in terms of its sponsors is to help brands further their profile.
With sponsorship comes a range of new opportunities for brands to get involved in further events and marketing activity around them.
Aside for the actually festival, Cheltenham has to promote the event beforehand. For this, there are opportunities in terms of media competitions and media partnerships.
“We created free DVDs to readers of particular newspapers and those sort of partnerships drive interest in the business at large,” says McNeile.
He adds that while it is surprising to see a car brand spending money on this kind of activity given the current economic climate and the impact it is having on the auto industry, it is encouraging and sponsorship is still very much a viable marketing activity for brands.
“The Festival really is one of the jewels in the crown of UK sporting events and as such it captures a significant audience with an enviable demographic, both on-course and via TV, the Internet and radio. Undoubtedly, this is why it continues to be so attractive to sponsors and marketers,” concludes Mcneile.
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