The UKSA’s Year in Sponsorship: Part 2

Changing of the guard   - the new wave of sponsors embracing a summer of sports

2022 is a great time to be a sponsor of summer sporting events in the UK. Not only are fans desperate for some light relief after two years of Covid-19 misery, but the FIFA World Cup has been rescheduled to winter, so as to avoid extreme temperatures in host country Qatar. For sponsors, that means a bigger opportunity to make headlines while men’s football is on the back burner.

This summer also promises to be an interesting one for observers of the sponsorship sector. Coming off the back of the pandemic, it’s noticeable that a number of new brands have seized the opportunities presented by summer sports. In some instances, this is the result of replacing incumbents -  while in others it is down to the creation of new sponsorship categories. Either way, there should be some bold and creative new activations to look forward to.

With the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in full swing, the UKSA team decided now would be a good time to look at this summer’s highlights:

Wimbledon:  Off court, it’s been an interesting year, with Wimbledon and Robinson’s parting company after 86 years. The reported reason is that Robinson’s owner Britvic wanted to promote more of its brands via Wimbledon, but the rights holder said no on health grounds (some of the other Britvic brands contain sugar).

Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at data and analytics firm GlobalData, sums it up like this: “Wimbledon has a reputation as being one of the most selective rights holders, and the tournament is, yet again, leading the way in social responsibility. The decision to not allow Britvic to promote high-sugar brands such as Gatorade at the Championships speaks to a greater focus on social responsibility across the sports sponsorship industry in general. With a water partner already in place with Evian, GlobalData predicts that Wimbledon will enhance its deal with Evian and use the inventory previously used by Robinsons to further develop their relationship with the water brand.”

Other big news regarding Wimbledon is a new five-year partnership with Vodafone, which is now Official Connectivity Partner of the event.  Throughout the partnership, Vodafone will use its connectivity and the power of 5G to help enhance the Wimbledon experience for fans. It will also use the latest in AR, VR, 360, haptic and IoT technology to inspire fans and bring them closer to the action. As part of the deal, Vodafone is working with Wimbledon and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to develop a new competition for grassroots players. The partnership will see Vodafone join forces with British tennis stars Tim Henman and Laura Robson to inspire the next generation of players.

Epsom Derby: One of the big areas of digital disruption over the last couple of years has been the car dealership business. Companies like Cinch and Cazoo have sought to transform traditional selling practices by enabling consumers to manage the entire buying process (right through to delivery and part exchange) via their sites. True, the jury is still out on which players will survive and in what form, but for now they are bringing serious money into summer sponsorship.

Cazoo, for example, became headline sponsor of The Derby Festival in 2021, under a partnership agreement with The Jockey Club, which runs Epsom Downs Racecourse. Replacing Investec, the partnership includes naming rights, brand exposure and exclusive naming of eight races during the Cazoo Derby Festival. In addition, the sponsorship provides Cazoo with year-round exposure and branding rights across all the Jockey Club’s other 15 main UK racecourses.

Commenting on the deal, Nevin Truesdale, chief executive of The Jockey Club, said: “Cazoo is a highly ambitious and successful growth brand that matches our ambitions for the future of the world’s most famous Flat race. You cannot overstate the importance of The Cazoo Derby to our sport and it’s vital we work with a partner passionate about bringing that to life in the years ahead.”

Cazoo founder and CEO Alex Chesterman added: “As the second biggest spectator sport in Britain, we look forward to engaging with racing fans around the country through this extensive partnership with The Jockey Club.”

Test Matches, The Hundred and more: Like tennis, cricket is a global sport that has a year-round calendar of flagship events. But viewed through the prism of the UK market, it has a six-month window that runs from April to the end of September. Within that period (rain permitting), there’s a wide array of formats from classic five-day Test Matches to innovative new competitions like The Hundred - designed to appeal to a new, younger, urban audience. As a result, there’s a broad array of sponsorship opportunities on the table – the majority of which are handled by the sport’s governing body/rights owner, the ECB.

Echoing the point made in the previous section, cricket has become a battleground for online car retailers. Cinch, for example, replaced NatWest as principal partner of the ECB in 2021. Cazoo is headline partner of The Hundred.

The pandemic period also saw the ECB secure Castore as kit partner and IG as official sponsor of England’s national men’s and women’s cricket teams (for three years). IG is an online trading and investments company, which again reflects a growing trend for sport to work with disruptive digital brands. Matt Macklin, IG’s UK Head, said: “Watching the recent accomplishments of the England teams, we have been struck by the clarity of strategic thinking and quality of execution and how this aligns with IG’s ethos as a business. We also share the ECB’s innate drive to keep improving and evolving, achieving new levels of success while having a positive impact on the world around us.”

The 150th British Open: This is a significant year for British golf, with the world-famous Open celebrating its 150th Anniversary. Doubling down on its air of tradition, the event will be held at The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, known by some as “The Home of Golf”. In the UK, the full event will be televised on Sky Sports Golf. In terms of sponsors, The Open has not undergone the kind of radical shake up experienced by cricket. On the whole it has veered towards long-running partnerships with established blue chip brands like HSBC, Doosan, Mastercard, Mercedes-Benz, Hugo Boss and Rolex. All of these are referred to as patrons, reinforcing the kind of heritage positioning that rights holder, The R&A, aspires to promote.

While association with the event brings exposure and access to elite talent, there is also a grass roots dimension to the R&A’s strategy. For example, it works with HSBC and the Golf Foundation on the HSBC Golf Roots programme. Described as “largest and most successful junior golf development project in the British Isles, the focus of Golf Roots is to primarily target urban and inner city areas, making it possible for all children and young people to access the sport regardless of their background or circumstances.”

Alongside patrons, The Open has a tier of official suppliers including Loch Lomond Whiskies. Having signed up for The Open in 2018, this brand won the UKSA First Time Sponsor category in 2019 (entered by Right Formula). One interesting point to note about Loch Lomond Whiskies’ strategy is that it has also sponsored high-profile women’s golf events. Roll forward a few years and there’s no question golf has helped put the business on the map. The brand has seen significant growth both domestically and internationally.


UK Athletics Championships: Last week’s UK Athletics Championships was held over three days in Manchester. While an important event in its own right, it also represented the last chance for British athletes to book their place at the World Athletics Championships, coming up soon in Oregon. The key sponsorship relationship here is with dairy giant Muller, which is title sponsor of the flagship event, as well as several other competitions. This is a relationship that started in 2016 and was renewed in 2020 (until 2022).

UK Athletics has had a tough time over the last few years, losing a series of CEOs – most recently Joanna Coates. It did however manage to secure a rights deal with the BBC this year, after failing to secure an agreement in 2021. 

The big question now is whether Muller will continue to back the sport. This will presumably be top of the agenda for Jack Buckner, who was named as the new UK Athletics CEO in April 2022. Formerly head of British Swimming, Buckner said one of the first jobs he needs to do is “rebuild trust”. Compared to other high-profile sports, UK Athletics has a relatively slim sponsorship roster – with Nike the other major backer of note. So in his new role he may look at opportunities to expand the categories on offer to brands.

From Cowes to Henley: The UK has a formidable array of water-based events across the summer. Perhaps the best-known are the Henley Regatta in July and Cowes Week in August – both of which prove popular with sponsors (The Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race takes place in April, and currently has a sponsorship deal with crypto exchange Gemini). Prestigious rowing event Henley only started accepting commercial sponsors in 2017 but quickly proved popular with luxury brands. The current line-up includes Bremont Watches, Crew Clothing and Moet & Chandon. Cowes Week experienced a setback in 2019 when its title sponsor Lendy went bust. But it bounced back strongly in 2022. Mount Gay Rum has just been unveiled as official rum sponsorship while Visit Abu Dhabi is the new presenting sponsor of Cowes Week. In an interesting innovation, Abu Dhabi and Cowes have also agreed to launch a new Winter Regatta in the Emirate. Laurence Mead, Cowes Week Regatta Director, said: “We have been talking to His Excellency Khalid Seddiq Al Mutawaa and his team since before lockdown so it’s wonderful to finally announce our new relationship. Having the financial support of our home regatta allows us to look forward to our 200th anniversary regatta in 2026 with confidence.” 

Final Thought…

The rescheduling of the FIFA World Cup is also good news for a couple of big international events taking place in the UK this summer. In early July, various venues (including Wembley) are hosting the UEFA Women’s Euros. Then, at the end of the month, Birmingham will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

High profile sponsors connected with the Women’s Euros include social media platform TikTok, which signed up in May 2022. Rich Waterworth, TikTok GM, Europe said: "Since our partnership with UEFA for EURO 2020, we have seen TikTok become the home of football fandom; with creators, players and nations alike coming together to share their passion for the beautiful game, in a uniquely TikTok way. We are delighted to continue this partnership as the Official Entertainment Platform of UEFA Women's EURO 2022, and to build on our joint efforts to promote equality and inclusion in football through TikTok’s #SwipeOutHate campaign and UEFA’s #EqualGame. We cannot wait to see our community show their support for the women's game, as we make this year's championship even more accessible to our global community.”

Brands that have signed up as national sponsors of the Women’s Euros include LinkedIn, LEGO, Pandora and Starling Bank. Ngaire Moyes, VP, communications and brand, International at LinkedIn said: “At LinkedIn we’re championing a gender equal world that’s diverse and inclusive, and it’s a privilege to support UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 which actively shares and celebrates these values. The tournament is set to be a landmark event that will provide professional female footballers with a platform to showcase their remarkable talent and achievements. Off the field, we’re increasingly seeing sports professionals use LinkedIn to share interesting stories and insights into their careers.”

Birmingham 2022 has also proved appealing to brands, with the likes of E.ON, Lucozade Sport, BruntwoodBiffa and Airbnb on board. Michael Lewis, E.ON’s UK chief executive, said: “We are proud to be supporting Birmingham 2022, both as a major Midlands employer and also in support of the Organising Committee’s commitment to making these Games the most sustainable yet. Birmingham 2022 can be a catalyst for change across the region and the rest of the country, creating a long-term legacy in taking action for the climate.”

Interested in entering the UK Sponsorship Awards? The 2023 edition of this prestigious annual event will open for entries at the end of summer 2022. For more details on the event and how to enter, visit the official UKSA website.


Next month – The Return of Mass Participation Events.

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