Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

Why brand partnerships work in sport - here's our top 10

Roger Barr
22nd March 2019

  • Outstanding brand partnerships are built on shared values and compatible objectives

  • Name-slapping on its own is not enough – you need to invest in activation

Coke tops the podium for Olympic marathon

When Team USA crossed the Atlantic by ship to participate in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, athletes and officials were accompanied by a thousand cases of Coca-Cola. Over 90 years later, Coke is still on board – the longest continuous sponsor of the Games. This feat of endurance has been sustained by refreshing this brand partnership with sparkling ideas, such as producing a Japanese-English phrase book, maps, street signs and sightseeing information to help baffled overseas visitors to the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad. Doubtless Coke will make a splash once more when the summer Games return to Tokyo in 2020.

Serving up an exclusive slice of summer

Picture the greats of world tennis slugging it out on court at the Wimbledon Championships. What images spring to mind? More than likely one of the first is an iconic green scoreboard bearing a famous Swiss name. No, not Federer – Rolex! Official timekeeper since 1978, heyday of Borg and Navratilova, the watchmaker styles its brand partnership “a perfect match” because of Wimbledon’s associations with high performance and its undisputed place in the civilised (aka well-to-do) English summer season. Rolex has used its relationship with Wimbledon as a springboard for further tennis partnerships, from brand ambassador arrangements with a clutch of top players to other tournament sponsorships.

Red Bull’s special formula

Competing against motorsport thoroughbreds like Ferrari and Mercedes doesn’t come cheap. According to Forbes magazine, in 2017, energy drink brand Red Bull poured over $220 million into its Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula One teams. Yet F1 offers a huge global platform, and Red Bull is far from an also-ran. For four years straight from 2010 to 2013, it won both the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships, and the team came a creditable third in last year’s constructors' competition. Not forgetting, the high-octane excitement (at times, at least) of F1 is totally on brand.

The billion-dollar basketball superstar

Nike has signed plenty of big-money apparel contracts with top athletes over the years, but nothing comes close to the 2015 deal struck with hoop-shooting maestro LeBron James. This unprecedented lifetime deal could net James a cool $1 billion by the time he turns 64. Why so much for a single athlete? Nike sees this more as brand acquisition than traditional endorsement, and plans on generating substantial revenues from its LeBron James sportswear lines for decades to come.

One hell of a post-2012 ride

Beginning as an Olympic legacy event in the wake of the 2012 Games, in just seven years RideLondon has established itself as the “world’s greatest festival of cycling” – and Prudential has been the far-sighted, high-profile headline sponsor from the outset. The annual two-day event brilliantly blends elite racing with mass participation: 100,000 people took part last year, and to date over £66m has been raised for charity. As well as brand exposure, the partnership ties in with Prudential’s PruGoals programme to help young people develop life skills and motivation.

Hitting the back of the net on football’s greatest stage

Sports goods giant adidas has countless brand partnerships across the globe. But surely none as iconic as its longstanding deal to provide the most important piece of equipment to the greatest competition in the world’s biggest sport. Yes, since 1970 adidas has been official match ball supplier for FIFA World Cups. Football is a key strategic priority for the brand, and for each World Cup, its designers strive to develop a new ball that couples innovation and exciting design.

38 not out, with no boundaries

As proudly displayed on its @NatWest_Cricket Twitter profile, the bank has been an England Cricket partner for 38 years. The current sponsorship centres on NatWest’s "Cricket Has No Boundaries" campaign and includes a tie-up with charity Chance to Shine, which aims to give all children the opportunity to play and learn through cricket. At the 2017 launch, RBS Group (Natwest owners) CMO David Wheldon explained the partnership activation made sense because “diversity, inclusion and doing the right thing are extremely important to us.”

Fitbit dives into the heart of training

In the run-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, 100 Australian swimmers incorporated Fitbit wearable technology products into their training regime and broader preparations, using the devices to track their movements, sleep patterns and biometric data. Swimming Australia Paralympic Program Director Adam Pine told media he was “excited about how Fitbit’s technology could provide powerful data to help our coaches and athletes”. This brand partnership gives Fitbit the ideal platform from which to promote its water-resistant swim-tracker Ionic, for example through interviews with top Aussie swimmers.

Allianz in alignment with football heavyweights Bayern

In 2014, financial services group Allianz signed a €110 million deal with Bayern Munich, including naming rights to the team’s state-of-the-art, 75,000-capacity stadium, the Allianz Arena. Exposure from the partnership with Germany’s leading club side has gone so well that Allianz recently negotiated an option to extend the stadium name until 2041. Stadium naming deals have taken off in the past decade but are far from new. Wrigley Field has been home to baseball team the Chicago Cubs since 1927. A name stickier than gum on your shoe.   

Swing low, sweet sponsorship

O2’s involvement with the Rugby Football Union stretches way back to the dawn of professionalism in 1995 – when O2 was still called Cellnet and jointly owned by BT and Securicor! The mobile network’s current shirt sponsorship deal with the men’s and women’s England teams runs until September 2021, and includes the right to show exclusive pre-match video content via its Priority app and platform. In 2016, O2 CMO Nina Bibby said the partnership has both successfully driven higher brand consideration among its target audience, while also deepening engagement by turning many existing customers into rugby fans.

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