How Agencies Are Responding To The Covid-19 Challenge - Spotlight on M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

Over the last few weeks, UKSA has been exploring how the global sponsorship industry is responding to the ‘new normal’ imposed by Covid-19. On the frontline are sponsorship consultancies, tasked with finding ways to build brand exposure and engagement at a time when many traditional activation channels are unavailable to them. Here, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment Co-Managing Director’s Jodie Fullagar and Rich Barker share some of their company’s innovative approaches to this challenge. Read our other features in the series here

Making the most of home advantage: “With the 2020/21 Premier League season approaching and matches being played behind closed doors, we were tasked with creating a campaign that made Coca-Cola part of the at-home viewing experience,” says Rich Barker. “We enlisted footballers Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alex Scott and Jermaine Jenas to encourage fans to make the most of watching football at home, with our ‘Make Your Home the Home End’ campaign.”

The campaign kicked off with three light-hearted films bringing the concept to life. “Kane, Rashford and Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared in the homes of fans,” says Barker, “watching a game at home as if they were sat in their teams Home End, from shirts being thrown into the 'crowd' at the final whistle, to their favourite players warming up in front of them.”

‘Home End Delivery’ films followed a few weeks after, says Barker, “with the Coke ambassadors delivering WFH (Watch From Home) Kits to super fans who have been helping their families and communities during lock down. This enabled them to ‘Make Their Home the Home End’, with their Club’s new season shirt and a special WFH box featuring Coca-Cola Zero Sugar.”

Devising a champion streaming solution: Heineken has sponsored the UEFA Champions League for over 25 years and become synonymous with celebrating the tournament. However physical events involving global attendees quickly became impossible when Covid-19 hit. “This was our opportunity to innovate and create a new type of activation to celebrate the return of football in a responsible way,” says Jodie Fullagar. “Heineken & UEFA partnered to create the Official Opening Party powered by Defected. This was an 8-hour, live streamed, global festival as diverse as Heineken’s drinkers and designed for UEFA Champions League fans around the world. It was a unique event created in partnership with our Amsterdam office which brought the worlds of football and music together like never before - involving eight DJs, eight locations and four footballing legends. The pinnacle was Thierry Henry introducing Idris Elba who headlined from the A’Dam Toren in Amsterdam on an epic set flanked by the UEFA Champions League & Europa League trophies.”

According to Fullagar, the livestream was seen for an average of 17 minutes by 3.5 million people across 96 countries, the campaign reached over 30 million people and the global PR push reached a 271 million.

Keeping on moving through Lockdown: No live sport for months. 146 days since Rafa Nadal played his last professional match. 12 weeks without stepping foot on a court. “In a world that was standing still, we used movement to mark a partnership renewal between a tennis legend, Rafael Nadal, and long-term partner, Kia,” says Barker. “From concept to live event within four weeks, we created and delivered #GetRafaMoving, a global interactive event broadcasted via Facebook Live from Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca to fans around the world.”

Comprising three connected elements, the event included a live linked-up signing session between Nadal in Mallorca and Kia executives in Korea to officially renew the partnership, a live Q&A that had Rafa answering questions directly from his fans and an interactive training session where fans selected the drills for Rafa to get him ready for the remainder of the tennis season. “The event didn’t come without its challenges,” says Barker. “Continual change of Covid-19 restrictions meant the creative and production was constantly being adapted and refined as regulations changed. With limited crews able to be on the ground, we had to run the main technical operation from London with skeleton crews in Mallorca and Korea. Nevertheless, over 250,000 people watched the event live, with over 15,000 engagements during the event. Our digital assets reached +11million, had +3m views and +489m total impressions.”

Supporting creatives and communities through Covid-19: “When Covid-19 hit, we were left with no option but to pause on our Ballantine's x BoilerRoom True Music events,” says Fullagar. “However, we worked together to protect the revenue of independent DJs. Streaming in Isolation was a series of live sets performed from the safety and intimacy of artists’ homes. Ballantine's committed a six-figure grant to be shared between 20 community-driven collectives around the world.”

In addition to the work it has been doing with clients, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment has shared insights about sponsorship in the Post-Covid era on its website, in a blog entitled The Reset. Lessons from Lockdown. Among the key insights it identifies in the piece are the following:

Athlete and artist activism should be encouraged: From Killer Mike to Marcus Rashford, the most inspirational, compassionate and unifying voices across the globe over the last few months have been young athletes and artists. Brands will have to embrace what previously made them feel uncomfortable and give this activism the platform it deserves - as athletes and artists are no longer comfortable staying in ‘their lane.’

Agencies need to welcome the class of 2020: Covid-19 is a wake-up call for the industry to engage the new disruptor class of brands that has reshaped the world over the last decade or so. Brands built in the digital age haven’t necessarily found comfort in the traditionally analogue world of sponsorship, so this is a chance to show them the industry is worth their investment. As digitally-led businesses reach critical mass and their ability to disrupt and differentiate fades, the strength of brand-building disciplines comes to the fore and there is none more effective than sponsorship. However the industry needs to speak in the language of these digital disruptors and not rely on a tried and tested approach.

The rights package is wrong: The Lockdown has exposed the antiquated way many sponsorships are packaged and sold. This is the legacy of buying a sponsorship like a media plan rather than a tailored way to engage an audience through their passion. If you started with a blank sheet, would you really deliver only one tenth of a sponsorship’s value online when brands spend 50% of their budgets online? The industry needs to move on from digital rights feeling like a garnish on the top of a package and instead place dynamic, defined and disruptive digital rights at its heart.


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