In a world with growing professional sport sponsorship costs, increased financial pressures on grassroots sports clubs and greater emphasis to keep society active, brands have an increasing opportunity to extend their sponsorship platforms beyond their professional rights holders. This article reviews the, relatively untapped, grassroots sport sponsorship opportunity.
Grassroots sport is a huge net positive contributor to UK society, not only by nurturing sporting skills, enabling physical fitness and encouraging healthy lifestyles, but also benefitting its communities so much further. They teach vital individual life skills such as teamwork, respect, personal hygiene and nutrition, to name just a few. They also address societal challenges such as nurturing mental wellbeing, contributing to social & community development, reducing anti-social behaviour and tackling inequalities for women and lower socio-economic groups. However, the prospects of grassroots sport in the UK are stark. There are over 150,000 grassroots sports clubs in the UK with an average membership of 140, resulting in over 21 million members and 3.2 million volunteers (1). Sport plays a vitally important role for the UK population with 47% participating at least once a month. (2). However, whilst grassroots sport adds £19bn to the UK economy p.a. (2), in 2018, 45% of grassroots sport clubs broke even or made a loss. (1). In the post-Covid world, grassroots sport is facing an expected £700m funding deficit. (3)
Whilst this presents some potentially very serious issues, a post-Covid trend will be a consumer demand that their brands play a more active and positive role in societal challenges. With the UK sponsorship industry growing at 6% p.a., and total 2020 rights valued at £4.56bn (4), there will be an opportunity for brand sponsors to occupy a more differentiated proposition by extending into more meaningful and long-term relationships with grassroots sport. This should encourage global brands to harness the national grassroots sporting infrastructure to achieve business objectives whilst benefitting the nation’s wellbeing. This will add credibility to global partnerships, increase direct consumer contacts, enhance sales channels and differentiate their positioning.
Whilst some brands already understand the value of creating effective grassroot sponsorship platforms, delivery is not always easy as national governing bodies rarely include individual club relationships into their sponsorship packages. Brands also discover internal challenges in delivering these sponsorship programmes, they often do not have sufficient resource or focus to secure scaled and robust grassroots strategies which can also be hampered by commercial and legal inconsistencies. Whilst there are some notable exceptions such as McDonald’s and Nat West, all too often brands just add grassroots as an afterthought to their sponsorship strategy, using it to ‘tick a CSR box’ and achieving negligible benefits, because it is difficult to deliver.
Delivering a grassroots strategy is complex and time-consuming, however this should not deter brands from becoming involved in such a potentially beneficial platform. Whilst entering into this, relatively, unstructured territory may seem like a risk compared to partnering with major governing bodies, it should be treated with the same focus and scrutiny as any other decision within the sponsorship process. The principles are identical; creation of a robust strategy, identification of correct partners, ensuring mutual benefit and managing partner relationships & expectations will ensure long-term success. The key is ensuring internal focus, particularly from a budgetary and strategic perspective. If delivered at scale, this is a relatively uncluttered environment which is ripe for creating highly differentiated positioning to generate significant advances in consumer loyalty and advocacy and, ultimately, commercial gains.
In the post-Covid world, there is a real opportunity for both grassroots rights holders and sponsors. Building mutually beneficial relationships is the core principle for any successful sponsorships and, for the brands who get it right, the rewards will be significant.
- Sport & recreational alliance
- UK Govt: Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation
- Guardian 5th May 2020
- Sport Business, 26th March 2020