Creating value in sports partnerships

There are an increasing number of sporting organisations forming commercial partnerships. These collaborations can provide vital investment capital, skills and networks, enabling sporting bodies to accelerate commercial opportunities and grow revenues.

Sports have become an important medium for companies to communicate with the public. Over time, sporting events have evolved into multi-billion pound industries through investments from businesses who want to associate their brand with an event, team or athlete. Media and technology play a large part in this growth, with sporting events now viewed by a significantly greater number of people and having a major impact on consumer choice.

Sponsorship and endorsements are two mediums that companies use to associate themselves with events and athletes. Brand loyalty is enhanced through the power of brand affiliation since sports fans tend to buy products and services that a team or athlete is promoting. Experiential marketing engages with consumers on a more personalised level. By putting a brand in an environment that consumers opt to immerse themselves in, the brand’s visibility increases drastically.

Gemini and The Boat Race

Rowing is a niche sport when compared to the popularity of football or swimming, which poses the question: What is in it for the business? The Boat Race is watched by a quarter of a million spectators and an estimated 15 million on television or online. In March 2021, the principal partner of The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race was announced: a three-year partnership with Gemini, a US company providing cryptocurrency services. Gemini’s co-founders, the Winklevoss twins, are infamously connected with the creation of social media and what became Facebook. The twins are also Olympians and competed in The Boat Race in 2010. They are ex-Harvard and Oxford, making their personal and alumni link an emotive connection with the partnership.

Partnerships are entered into on the basis of mutual benefit. Along with The Boat Race Company gaining funding for the event, an additional sum of £81,000 was earmarked to bring social mobility to the sport as financial barriers can prevent accessibility for many. This is a move towards addressing criticism around diversity within the sport. The benefits gained by Gemini are less tangible.

With the partnership, Gemini gained naming rights to The Boat Race and various branding opportunities across the event’s digital platforms, team kit and event-day branding. Gemini’s motives centre around increasing the awareness of the brand, as they expand their presence in the UK. The association with Oxford and Cambridge gives the financial platform a degree of creditability and prestige, together with exposure to a network of potential investors. Gemini builds on a history of The Boat Race being sponsored by financial and professional services which helps make the event a worthy investment.

Digital platforms can assess the affect that the event’s marketing and communications had on business performance. Data analytics for Gemini’s website performance following the partnership announcement indicated via an SEO platform that:

1) The organic monthly traffic rose from 85,221 visits to 376,876 between April and October 2021.

Countries generating the most traffic were the US, Canada, Singapore, UK and India.

2) Analytics referred to the traffic attained by Gemini through backlinks as ‘amazing’, passing 8 million by March 2022.

The data supports that the partnership was successful by improving brand awareness. The partners were able to reverse the disruptive events of the pandemic which required the 2021 race to be relocated and closed to the public. In the landscape of commercial partnerships, there are lots of opportunities for sponsors of all sizes to find events that complement their brand image and vision, with scalable marketing packages.