If Britain achieves its ambition of finishing fourth in the London 2012 Olympics medals table, the result will be welcomed with plenty of back-slapping in marketing departments across the country - with good reason.
Since the British Olympic Association (BOA) launched its FTSE-BOA Initiative, which partners British companies with national governing bodies (NGB) of Olympic sports, 18 FTSE 100 businesses have stepped forward to lend their support.
Multimillion-pound London 2012 top tier sponsorships, such as those agreed by Lloyds TSB, Adidas and British Airways, are crucial to a successful hosting of the Olympics. But the BOA hopes the role blue-chip brands play in mentoring NGBs will help generate medals and underpin future success.
Among the brands to have committed themselves to partnerships are Marks & Spencer, British Gas, Glaxo-SmithKline, Sainsbury's, O2, Alliance & Leicester and SABMiller. Most recently, John Lewis agreed to provide IT support for the British Equestrian Federation (BEF). Overall, organisations representing 33 winter and summer Olympic sports are involved in the initiative, with only football and tennis excluding themselves, due to their scale and existing wealth of commercial experience.
The services provided by the brands vary. Sainsbury's, which recently ran a TV ad in which Jamie Oliver plays table tennis, has teamed up with the English Table Tennis Association in a bid to get more people playing the sport and improve British medal prospects in London. M&S will provide nutritional advice, professional support, business planning, IT and branding advice to the Modern Pentathlon Association of Great Britain, while GSK has pledged to help the Amateur Boxing Association identify commercial opportunities.
The motivation of a brand to align itself with Olympic sports is altruistic to a large extent. No money changes hands and NGBs have no association rights to grant in relation to the Olympic Games and are unable to grant rights with respect to the British Olympic team, Team GB. However, as Tom Silk, managing director of Velocity Sport & Entertainment, points out, while the benefits of external communications may be limited, for brands keen on motivating their workforce, NGBs can be useful for fostering employee engagement.
'Some of the main benefits are less tangible', explains Bev Salt, FTSE-BOA Initiative programme director. 'Brands can refer to the partnership in their CSR report, but there is benefit for individuals within an organisation. There are
opportunities for athletes to go into companies, for example. At AstraZeneca (where Salt works four days a week) we had Olympian James Cracknell come in to talk to staff, help at a sports camp and give a motivational speech, and the partnership between British Swimming and Alliance & Leicester will see staff volunteer at the World Swimming Championships in Manchester in April.'
Nonetheless, brands will inevitably benefit from positive PR. John Lewis has said that one of the attractions of mentoring the British Equestrian Federation was its 'medal-winning success'.
'Brands don't have any rights of association,' says Pippa Collett, managing director of Sponsorship Consulting. 'It's a skills transfer that is extremely valuable to the governing bodies. In some cases, the mentoring can strengthen an existing relationship between a sponsor and the governing body, such as in the case of Corus and triathlon and Accenture and sailing. I'm sure that Siemens would be very upset if the Amateur Rowing Association agreed a mentoring deal with another brand.'
As Corus executive director Scott McDonald says of his company's partnership with British Triathlon: 'It is a natural extension of our existing sponsorship programme and will bring benefits to both organisations.'
Salt agrees that the initiative could strengthen relationships between an official sponsor and the governing body with which it works. 'The partnership will help [the brand] to better understand the sport they are sponsoring and make a bigger contribution.' She notes that a partnership with an NGB could act as a precursor for a brand that has no history of consumer brand sponsorship. 'A small number may well subsequently develop sponsorships,' she adds.
London's Olympic Games present a unique opportunity for NGBs of, primarily, minority-interest sports to work with, and garner commercial expertise from, brands that might not, under normal circumstances, consider such a relationship. Should all go well, the ties
established between brands and governing bodies during the years building up to London's hosting of the world's greatest sporting event will continue to blossom long after the Games have passed. L
Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 FTSE-BOA partnerships
- Accenture - Royal Yachting Association
- Alliance & Leicester - British Swimming
- British Airways - Snowsport GB
- British Gas - England Hockey
- Corus - British Triathlon
- Experian - National Ice Skating Association
- GlaxoSmithKline - Amateur Boxing Association
- Group 4 Securicor - The British Judo Association
- John Lewis - British Equestrian Federation
- Home Retail Group - Badminton England
- Land Securities - British Volleyball
- Marks & Spencer - Modern Pentathlon Association of Great Britain
- O2 - British Taekwondo Control Board
- Sainsbury's - British Table Tennis Federation
- Skandia UK - British Biathlon Union
- SABMiller - British Fencing
- Standard Life Investments - The Grand National Archery Society
- Wolseley - British Gymnastics
Sports yet to secure FTSE-BOA initiative partners
- Ice Hockey