Not a sports fan? Six event-based alternatives for sponsors

As the global economy gradually returns to normal, brands have inevitably started looking to sports sponsorship as a way to engage with audiences. But while sport has plenty to recommend it, it’s an expensive market, both in terms of rights acquisition and activation.

It’s also cluttered – making it hard for brands to really make their mark. You only have to look at the sponsorship rosters of leading football clubs and marquee events to grasp the scale of the challenge.

There is, however, an alternative to sport that can also deliver scale, flexibility and passion. For the purposes of the UK Sponsorship Awards’ categories, we refer to it as Live Entertainment & Events – though this scarcely does justice to the richness of the sector.

From music festivals to film awards, seasonal events to comedy stand up tours, there is an astonishing array of platforms for brands to partner with. Depending on their sponsorship objectives, brands can either go after a mass audience or target specific sub-groups such as families or youth. Like sport, these properties lend themselves to corporate hospitality and staff incentive programmes. And because the entire sector is fuelled by hot talent and consumer experience, it also lends itself well to social media and content marketing.

Below are just a few examples of the opportunities in this arena. And given the recent struggles brought about by Covid-19, now might be a good moment to secure an attractive or innovative deal structure.

Music Festivals: Glastonbury may be the most famous, but there are dozens of major music events across the British summer season – many of which attract 50,000 or more visitors. Not only that, but they generate significant TV, radio and social media coverage. Brands like Tennent’s and Virgin were some of the first to tap into the power of festivals as engagement platforms, but there have been recent newcomers. Used car dealer Cinch, for example, recently struck a two-year deal with Live Nation to become headline sponsor at five of the UK’s top festivals – including Latitude, Creamfields and Isle of Wight. Amex is headline sponsor of BST Hyde Park and Huawei came in alongside All Points East. Both of these partnerships were brokered by AEG Global Partnerships, another leader in the entertainment sector.

Of course, brands don’t have to sign up for all-encompassing title sponsorships, they can also be on the ground supporters or suppliers. Through a deal with Live Nation (renewed earlier this year), retailer The Co-op is the official supermarket sponsor of several major events. This has given the brand an opportunity to shift its image among young consumers and demonstrate its commitment to sustainability. Likewise, Carlsberg is the official beer and cider partner across Live Nation festivals and venues. This partnership provides Carlsberg with a platform to connect with its target audience of 18-35 year olds.

Landmark Events: Britain is blessed with great events – some of which provide brands with an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to diversity. Brands like Bacardi, Adidas and Red Bull have been associated with London’s Notting Hill Carnival while LGBT+ event Pride has had dozens of partners over the years, including the likes of Barclays, Tesco, Budweiser, Delta Airlines and PWC. The beauty of Pride, of course, is that there are events all over the UK and around the world, so there are dozens of partnership opportunities. Like musical festivals, many events take place in summer to take advantage of the weather. But, there is also a wealth of other high-profile events that mark different phases of the year. Winter Wonderland and Hogmanay are high-profile winter highlights but events like Chinese New Year, St Patrick’s Day, Cowes Week and the Blackpool Illuminations also draw big crowds. Samsung, for example, used Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park to promote its Galaxy brand.

One of 2020/21’s Finalists in the UK Sponsorship Awards’ Live Entertainment & Event category was Believe Housing, which sponsored Keys of Light, an element of Lumiere, the UK’s largest light festival. Believe worked with Artichoke Trust on its event activation.

Cultural Venues: There’s no question that O2’s naming rights deal for what used to be called the Millennium Dome was inspired. The mobile brand is clearly happy with the arrangement, because it signed a 10-year extension in 2017 with site owner AEG, for £125 million. The deal, which was unveiled in 2007, has given O2 widespread brand exposure – and is also an opportunity to connect with visitors at the venue, for example through its O2 Priority ticket programme. 

Outside sport, naming rights deals don't get bigger than this – but other brands have also recognised the power of such partnerships. In Manchester, for example, the Co-op recently signed a £100m, 15-year deal to be title sponsor of a new 23,500-capacity arena being developed by Oak View Group. Steve Murrells, group chief executive of Co-op, said that the deal dovetails with Co-op’s goal “to serve the interests of its members and invest for the long term”.

In terms of other key opportunities coming on stream, AEG Global Partnerships is handling all naming rights and sponsorship deals for the new £1.3 billion Olympia redevelopment project in west London. Will Dowdy, AEG Presents’ VP of Global Partnerships, says: “The regeneration of Olympia is a huge milestone for entertainment in west London and the opportunities for brands to reach their target audience is vast.” As this deal implies, it’s not just naming rights that are available – but in-venue opportunities such as pouring rights.

Awards Programmes: Awards events have always captured the public’s imagination. Whether it’s the MTV Europe Awards, the Mobo Awards, the Brit Awards or the BAFTA Film & TV Awards, fans get to see all their favourite stars gathered together at one venue. Not only that, there is the jeopardy of winners and losers – the elation of the coming out on top, the fixed grins of the unfortunate losers.

In sponsorship terms, there are several benefits – starting with brand exposure (especially if the event is televised). Then there is the PR opportunity that flows out of key moment such as the pre-event speculation, the red carpet arrival, the category reveal, the speeches and the post-event. Social media tends to go crazy around major awards events as unexpected photos and comments emerge. There’s also a ‘hot ticket’ allocation for sponsors of awards events – which can go to business partners, hard-working staff or competition winners. 

Brands that have made good mileage out of awards associations include Virgin Media (BAFTA TV Awards), EE (BAFTA Film Awards) and Amazon Music, which sponsored the 2019 MTV Europe Awards. MasterCard, meanwhile, has sponsored the BRIT awards for more than two decades. There are some good stats here which show the extent of the partnership’s reach across digital channels. As with some of the other platforms already discussed, there is generally scope for more than one sponsor. Alongside Mastercard, for example, the 2021 edition of the BRITs has signed up Amazon Music and TikTok. Paul Hourican, head of music operations UK at TikTok, said: "We're delighted to partner with The BRIT Awards for the second year and present the Breakthrough Artist category. 2020’s BRITs livestream and #RedCarpetReady challenge ignited the creativity of our community, placing TikTok at the heart of the industry's biggest night.”

Cultural Festivals: Cultural Festivals are typically less freeform than music festivals – but they can also offer significant engagement opportunities. Examples would include The Edinburgh Fringe, London Fashion Week and the various film festivals that take place around the UK (London again being the biggest). Edinburgh Fringe’s sponsors include Johnnie Walker and Edinburgh Gin, both of which have a strong Scottish connection. But there’s no reason the sponsorship portfolio couldn’t have a more international flavour given the profile of the visitors who come to the event (when that is possible).

London Fashion Week’s headline sponsor currently is buy-now-pay-later service Clearpay. While this attracted some criticism from politicians, it’s an interesting example of sponsorship’s ability to capture brands from emerging sectors. Fundamentally, the partnership is no different to signing Visa or Amex as a partner.


TV Franchises + Spinoffs: Talent shows like The Masked Singer, The Voice, The X Factor and Idol have all proved capable of generating massive TV audience – which is why they are such a hit with sponsors. But their popularity doesn’t necessarily stop there. Before being dropped by ITV earlier this year, The X Factor Live Tour used to pack venues the length and breadth of the country. Covid-19 has played havoc with live tours of this kind, but as things return to normal there will be opportunities for sponsors to partner with talent show franchises onscreen, online and via events of this kind. Kids franchises like Milkshake and Peppa Pig, as well as specialist series such as Top Gear, have also formed the basis of successful live events.


Final Thought

There is a strong pop culture feel to much of the above – but it would be a mistake to suppose there is no role for traditional arts forms in this arena. The winner of the Live Entertainment & Events category at UKSA 2020/21 was Cunard, for its association with English National Ballet. This innovative partnership saw Cunard and the ENB bring dance on board cruise ships, generating brand engagement, media exposure and unforgettable experiences for passengers.

If you’re already a sponsor in the entertainment & events business, why not showcase what you do by entering the 2022 UK Sponsorship Awards? Aside from UKSA’s dedicated Live Entertainment & Events category, there are also opportunities to enter digital, diversity and innovation categories. You might even walk away from next year’s Gala Event having won the overall Sponsorship of the Year Trophy.



View the 2022 Winners

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