Editorial: False start for 2012 funding

Chancellor Gordon Brown cheered the UK sporting community last week by announcing £600m of funding for elite sport ahead of London 2012.

Even after employing a heavy 'spin' detector and halving the headline figure to take account of the £300m already being given in Lottery funding, and then subtracting the £100m to be raised from private-sector sponsorship, that leaves an additional £200m to help boost Britain's performance in the 2012 medals table.

The problem is the £100m the Chancellor expects to be raised through sponsorship, a figure the sports sponsorship industry claims is unachievable.

While a £100m funding hole is a significant one for British sport, more worrying is the European Sponsorship Association's (ESA) assessment that the government has shown a 'complete lack of understanding of the market'.

The Budget speech as a starting pistol would have made a nice analogy, but in truth myriad government-backed sporting bodies had already taken up the £100m sponsorship baton and were sprinting in the direction of any business that looked as though it may have reason or resource to put its name behind top-flight sport. The client of one sports sponsorship agency Marketing spoke to had been approached six times in two weeks by different sports bodies with Olympic sponsorship proposals - the only common theme being that none could quantify exactly what was on offer.

The representative bodies that fall under the high-performance sport banner comprise UK Sport, English Institute of Sport, SportsAid and National Governing Bodies of Sport, while the grass-roots bodies include Sport England and Central Council for Physical Recreation. Within their various portfolios there are, no doubt, some pearls through which private-sector backers may stumble upon a future medal hopeful. As top-level Olympic sponsorship is beyond the budget of all but the biggest multinationals, it is associations such as these that give businesses the most realistic opportunity of supporting a future Olympic athlete.

Yet the addition of these bodies to a noisy Olympic sponsorship marketplace is creating a cacophony where a coherent voice should be. The London 2012 organising committee (LOCOG) is itself targeting significant domestic sponsorship monies, which will give its supporting partners access to Olympic properties rather than those of well-meaning but peripheral sporting bodies. Behind LOCOG comes the British Olympic Association, which is trying to simplify matters for sponsors by acting as the broker through which 35 sports governing bodies may find commercial support.

The sports sponsorship industry is right to condemn the government for the £100m demand it has served on private-sector sponsors. It risks causing further confusion among advertisers as to exactly what is on offer, and through whom. In turn, that could damage LOCOG's chances of hitting its own sponsorship targets for 2012, as potential backers walk away from an overcrowded Olympic marketplace.

Our best hope is that the representative bodies responsible for high-performance sport in the UK now work together to make sense of the mess handed them by the Chancellor and aggregate the many sponsorship opportunities surrounding the Olympics to the benefit of all.


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