Opinion: The Marketing Society Forum - Is football sponsorship a good use of state-owned banks' money?

State-owned Northern Rock has extended its sponsorship of Newcastle United for a further four years, arguing that the bank's potential £10m commitment represents good value for taxpayers.


This is a misconceived question. You might as well ask: 'Should banks engage in any marketing activity whatsoever ?'.

We all know that banks are in the dock. There is a huge amount of public anger and the general feeling is that they jolly well ought to be grateful that the taxpayers have bailed them out, and now they should shut up.

But this misses the point. Nobody wants the government to have big shareholdings in retail banks. So it's imperative they are returned to profitability as quickly and vigorously as possible, in order to repay the state.

Therefore, all the banks that were beneficiaries of state funds should compete ferociously. Marketing is a key component in that. The last thing we should want is for banks to retreat into their shells and stop communicating with their customers.

Whether football sponsorship is a relevant part of the mix should be addressed case by case (there's a strong argument for Newcastle/Northern Rock), but state ownership is a complete red herring.


Working in an ad agency, it's often helpful to ask: would we do this if it were our money? Well, now it is our money, taxpayers' money. If we truly believe in the power of marketing to drive commercial success and shareholder value, we have to want the state-owned banks to employ the most effective marketing tools available.

We should really be asking: can a football sponsorship represent effective marketing for a retail bank? A retail bank with a presence on every high street doesn't need sponsorship for conventional brand-awareness reasons.

But the nation's favourite sport can lend energy, warmth and humanity to an industry with reputation issues.

The key is in how you use it. We have learned from the mobile phone category that relationships in relatively commoditised sectors can be rein-forced and enhanced by rewards from the world of entertainment.

If a retail bank can employ football to deliver human warmth and customer participation, then it could indeed be money well spent.


This is a challenging question. The government clearly wants and needs the banks that are partly or wholly state-owned to return to a state of profitability.

Marketing is a key component of this success - the right brand positioning, product offering and creative all being key toward driving future success.

Some of these brands have been damaged by the publicity of the past 12 months, so brand awareness and brand association are also key if consumers are going to start investing or borrowing from such institutions again.

Sports sponsorship, for example football shirt sponsorship, can work to provide positive brand association and strong brand awareness, ultimately driving growth, if executed effectively.

Overall, if this drives the right kind of sales growth and profitability, then the government could justify investment in this area, and this is key: it is an investment decision.


Quite aside from the irony of one company mismanaged into collapse by a group of hugely overpaid people sponsoring a club suffering the same fate, this question should be considered from both a marketing and a moral perspective.

As a marketing move, plastering shirts with logos is an attempt to say: 'we're big and trustworthy, look what we can afford'. That's a bit close to the bone given it was that kind of bravado that got us all shopping at Lidl in the first place. Perhaps the bank's money would be better deployed in operations and its PR, proving its customer-service credentials as a way to regain trust.

Morally, given that, however unintentionally, we own Northern Rock, the sponsorship is crass, insensitive and should be spent helping real people get back on their feet. That's what would give Northern Rock the 'commercial competitive edge' it is so keen to regain.

- For more discussion, visit marketingmagazine.co.uk

The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to championing marketing in the UK.


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