Best UK Sponsorship Of The Last 25 Years? 30 Potential Candidates For UKSA’s Silver Award

January 11 2019 is the final deadline for entering the UK Sponsorship Awards’ Silver Award, sponsored by CSM Live, created to commend the Best UK Sponsorship of the last 25 years and celebrate our quarter of a century working in the sector. We're open to receive your nominations so please send your nomations and reasons why to

Here we look back at some of the partnerships that had a transformative effect on both the brand in question and the wider industry.

1993: Right back at the start of our qualification period, lager brand Carling became the first ever title sponsor of the Premier League – a role it retained through until 2001. The partnership helped reinforce the newly established league as a world class sporting franchise and was a forerunner of the trend towards increasingly close alignment between brands and sports properties. In a neat illustration of how the sports sponsorship market has moved on, Carling reconnected with the Premier League in 2016 – as official beer sponsor.

1994: T in the Park was Tennents’ pioneering attempt to build/promote its brand via the summer festival circuit. Active from 1994 to 2016, it was a major landmark in attempts by brands to target youth audiences in the places they like to play. The use of the T as opposed to the Tennents brand was very innovative, heralding an era in which brands has explored how to connect and engage with audiences without being seen to bombard them with commercial messaging. The partnership ended due to a run of negative publicity stories, some of which were the result of having to switch venue.

1994: Another influential soccer sponsorship saw Mastercard join forces with UEFA Champions League in this year. That deal heralded one of the longest running partnership in sport, renewed earlier this year through until 2021. Commenting on the renewal, Javier Pérez, president Mastercard Europe, underlined the role the sponsorship has played in delivering on its ‘priceless’ brand strategy: “As we enjoy our 24th year as an official sponsor, we are excited to witness new priceless moments at this year’s UEFA Champions League Final in Kyiv. Looking forward to ‘Start Something Priceless’ for at least another three years! Key sporting events are a great way for us to connect fans across the world to their passion. We will also continue to create innovative business-building opportunities for partners.”

1995: Red Bull’s entry into Formula One is easy to overlook in the sponsorship stakes – but it shouldn’t be. In an era that has seen tobacco brands leave F1 to be replaced by hi-tech brands, Red Bull has added a sense of adventure to the circuit (maybe because of its numerous other associations). Red Bull has also proved competitive – winning its first championship in 2009. Of course, sponsorship shouldn’t really be about what the sponsor brings to the property – but the other way round. However, there’s no question that Red Bull’s brand has developed a level of gravitas and innovative image as a result of the global exposure it continues to receive from F1.

1996: Whisper it quietly, but there are probably a few people out there who still think the London Marathon is sponsored by Flora – even though the brand’s 14-year association ended in 2009. During that time, the spread brand established its health credentials and played a role in the marathon’s transformation into the iconic global event it has become. Of course, current sponsor Virgin Money, which took over in 2010, may disagree – and would also be a strong contender for the Silver Award. Among the latter’s innovations was the launch of website Virgin Money Giving. Virgin also provides this very neat summary of the history of London Marathon sponsors.

1996: There are any number of TV sponsorships that could make a claim to UKSA’s Silver Award. But Cadbury’s 10-year sponsorship of ITV’s Coronation Street would surely be one of the first to spring to mind. Sealed in 1996, the deal gave the new TV sponsorship sector an immediate seal of approval – as well as creative work that puts a lot of later campaigns to shame. Throughout the sponsorship’s lifetime, both sides did a lot to advance the appeal of the medium. By the end, the sponsorship package included all episodes of Coronation Street on ITV1 and ITV2 as well as activities across online, interactive, mobile and off-air licensing and merchandising. As such, it effectively became a prototype for later TV deals.

1997: If Cadbury isn’t to your taste, then 1997 saw another ground-breaking TV deal - with Toyota signing up to secure the majority of ITV shows on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day for the following five years. That £10 million deal encompassed the Millennium and also three years-worth of movie premieres. In hindsight, it looks like great value and was also a landmark in the shift away from sponsoring single programmes towards seasons and strands.

2000: Kit sponsorships these days can cost anywhere between £60m-£100m for the most highly-prized football properties. But back in 2000, Manchester United sent tremors through the industry when it signed a deal with Nike worth £302 million over 13 years (around £23m a year). At the time, the deal represented a new benchmark in kit sponsorship prices. An illustration of how far things have come since then is that Manchester United is currently in the middle of a ten-year deal with Adidas worth £75 million a year (over a ten year period) – representing a three-fold increase in price in 14 years.

2000: This was the year that Unilever joined forces with the Tate Modern on the Unilever Series, a sponsorship programme that enabled the gallery to commission leading artists to produce work for its Turbine Hall. A significant commitment to the UK arts sector, the Unilever series was renewed in 2007 and ran until 2012.

2001: The Volvo Ocean Race is one of the most iconic sponsor/sport partnerships in the world. Volvo took over ownership of the event from Whitbread in 2001 and relinquished control in 2018 (though it will still be a sponsor of the next edition in 2021). There’s no question the event has helped transform a rather dowdy Nordic brand into one that has a more adventurous, innovative, international and high-tech image. At the same time, the race has provided numerous other sponsorship opportunities for brands.

2001: Tesco has partnered Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life for 17 years, during which time it has raised over £40 million to support research; and helped thousands of women get active. Tesco has played a fundamental role in the success of Race for Life, strategically developing campaigns to engage with larger audiences, while exploring innovative opportunities to promote the partnership.

2002: Betting sponsorship isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but there’s no question it has transformed the football sponsorship sector, with around half of Premier League clubs now promoting a gaming firm on the front of their shirts. First out of the trap in 2002 was Fulham, which linked up with Betfair but there have been many examples since. Interestingly, Fulham and Betfair are no longer partners – but the London club still works with betting sponsors. On its return to the Premier League, it signed a two-year deal with Dafabet.

2003: RBS may not go down as the greatest bank in history, but it proved itself a very adept sponsor during its lengthy partnership with rugby union’s iconic Six Nations Championship. Quite possibly, it was the cultural capital stored up through the 15-year sponsorship that enabled its brand to survive the devastating impact of the financial crisis. As an interesting footnote, the 2018 edition of the Six Nations was sponsored by NatWest, a subsidiary of the RBS Group.

2004: Arsenal’s stadium deal with airline Emirates was a landmark naming rights deal in the UK and is still running today. It wasn’t the first naming rights deal but it was particularly high-profile in the context of UK sport and triggered a wave of similar partnerships. These days, naming rights deals go well beyond badging stadia and have become integral to the commercial ethos at many venues.

2004: Travelex joined forces with the National Theatre in this year on a cut-price ticket partnership. Sadly, the partnership has just come to an end but there’s no question it has been one of the most impactful of all arts sponsorships in the modern era (as well as a great fit for the brand). This article in The Stage does a good job of explaining the significance of the partnership – which helped open the arts up to new audiences. It has been a great example of how the arts can provide a powerful communications platform for big brands. It’s also worth noting that Nicholas Hytner (former artistic director at the NT) called £10 tickets one of the highlights of his 12-year tenure.

2004: This was also the year Coca-Cola commenced its highly successful sponsorship of the Football League, which ran to 2009. The campaign was marked out by some highly-innovative promotions (such as Win A Player) and transformed the image of both the brand and the sponsored property. Coke had previously sponsored the League Cup and this year the brand signed a multi-year deal to become an official partner of the Premier League.

2005: After Seagram and Martell, John Smith’s took over the Grand National sponsorship in this year and did a great job of helping the event re-engage with audiences. Among its various innovations was the People’s Race, which gave members of the public the chance to ride a flat race on the famous Aintree race course. The brand sponsored the race until 2013, and was then replaced by Crabbies.

2007: It’s hard to think of a more iconic sponsorship than the O2’s partnership with The Venue Formerly Known As The Millennium Dome. O2 agreed to pay £6m a year for an unproven property and has built the relationship into a best in class example of naming rights. Last year, it renewed for 10 years at £12 million per annum. The partnership has been particularly important in enabling O2 to develop its successful Priority loyalty programme, to the extent that the mobile network has taken virtual ownership of the word priority.

2007: Perhaps this sponsorship belongs more in 2012, but this is the year Lloyds TSB agreed to pay around £80 million to be a top tier sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics. Then again, the bank made a lot of mileage out of the association in the years running up to the event itself. BA, BT and several other brands also partnered London 2012, but there is an abiding feeling that Lloyds TSB made the most noise and really managed to sweat its assets.

2008: Sky partnered British Cycling in 2008 with the aim of transforming the sport at every level, from grassroots right through to world-class performance. More than a sponsorship, it was a partnership that transformed the face of cycling in Great Britain. Although there have been question marks about the closeness of the partnership in recent times, there’s no question that Sky’s impact on cycling at a grassroots and elite level has been immense.

2010: This is the year that M&S became the headline sponsor of the Macmillan Coffee Morning, Eight years on, M&S reckons to have raised around £13 million for Macmillan Cancer Support. The event stands out as one of the most iconic of all partnerships in the increasingly important cause-related or social purpose sector.

2012: Sainsbury’s sponsored the London 2012 Paralympics, a deal announced in 2010. London 2012 was a high water mark for disabled athletes and there’s no question that Sainsbury’s nationwide activity (alongside Channel 4’s memorable Meet The Superhumans) played a role in moving disabled sport up the agenda and into people’s hearts.

2013: Volvo joined forces with PayTV channel Sky Atlantic in this year and has evolved the partnership into a powerful platform. A step-change came in 2016 with the launch of the Human Made Stories strapline which is still used today. Human Made Stories was also the title of a branded content series devised by the partners.

2014: John Lewis’ campaign with the Design Museum ‘How We Live Today’ formed part of the retailer’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Working together from conception through to delivery, the two partners created an inspiring and engaging collaboration that increased public awareness of John Lewis’s design credentials and was able to promote John Lewis as the place to buy classic, contemporary and innovative design. The sponsorship also did a great job of driving interest in The Design Museum, both through digital platforms and attendance at the How We Live Today event.

2015: SSE was revealed as the sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup in 2015 and has helped drive a period of growing popularity for the sport. A winner at the UK Sponsorship Awards, 2016 saw the introduction of #SSEGirlsUnited, a call to action that took the sponsorship to a new level. Supporting this partnership was Dads & Daughters, SSE’s most successful piece of organic content ever.

2015: Historically, Samsung was never really seen as a fun brand – even after a 10-year sponsorship deal with Chelsea. All that changed in 2015 with the launch of Samsung School of Rugby, a branded content campaign linked to the Rugby World Cup. Starring Jack Whitehall, the campaign delivered strong engagement on digital media platforms and transformed how consumers thought about the brand. The campaign was successfully extended for the 2016 Rio Olympics – securing the UKSA Sponsorship of the Year Award.

2015: Emirates achieved another sponsorship landmark in 2015 when it secured a three-year sponsorship deal for The Football Association’s flagship competition the FA Cup. This was the first time that the FA had allowed a brand to insert its name in the title of the competition. As a quid pro quo for this historic change, the FA said it would provide a huge dividend for grassroots football facilities.

2016: Heineken has been a sports sponsorship stalwart for many years, primarily through its football and rugby partnerships. In 2016, it extended its footprint to include Formula 1, via a £100 million, 5-year deal. For some critics, the notion of an alcohol brand working with motor racing doesn’t seem quite right – but Heineken has focused its efforts on pushing a responsible drinking message. Still, if that doesn’t convince you that this campaign is worthy of the Silver Award, you could also consider Heineken’s impressive track record as a sponsor of both club rugby and the Rugby World Cup.

2016: This was the year the British and Irish Lions unveiled Standard Life Investments as the shirt sponsor for their 2017 tour of New Zealand. Standard Life Investments had a tough act to follow, having replaced HSBC. However it performed admirably across a range of measurements, winning Partnership of the Year at the BT Sport Industry Awards and being praised for its digital activation.

2017: So NatWest has been working with cricket in England & Wales for 36 years. So why choose 2017? The main reason is the launch of its engaging Cricket Has No Boundaries campaign, which up-ended traditional perceptions of cricket as an elitist sport that only appeals to a narrow segment of society. At the same time, the campaign had an immediate impact on NatWest’s brand, with an uplift in the number of people viewing it as inclusive. This, in turn, led to a growth in consideration amongst those aware of the sponsorship. In addition, it has been a good platform for engagement with employees, clients and other stakeholders. All of which won it the UK Sponsorship of the Year Award in 2018 – though whether it can go on to win UKSA’s one-off Silver prize remains to be seen…

Don’t like our picks? Wondering why there are no esports or fintech or Formula E sponsorships on the list? Then why not enter the UK Sponsorship Awards’ one-off Silver Award, sponsored by CSM Live, for the Best UK Sponsorship of the last 25 years? Created to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the industry-leading Awards event, the Silver Award will go to a sponsorship that is deemed to have had a transformative effect on both the brand in question and the wider industry.

For FREE entry into the Silver Award, a sponsorship needs to be nominated by one person and backed by a 200-300 words statement of support. This should include 2-3 reasons why the sponsorship deserves to be recognised as the best example of its kind in the last 25 years. Sponsorships of any variety are eligible for entry – for further guidance check the other categories rewarded in the UKSA programme. Nominations must be in by January 11th 2019 but are welomed before this deadline

At this point, a panel of UKSA judges will consider the nominations and create a long list. These will be listed on the UKSA website during January at which point anyone can vote (once only). The votes will be tallied up and a shortlist of five will be announced. The overall winner of the Silver Award will be unveiled at the Awards event. To enter the Silver Award, please send your nomination statement to byJanuary 11th 2019 latest.  You can tweet us @SponsNews and make some noise about your nomination with #UKSAcelebrating25


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