30/05/2017 Article written by Alex Crimmens, Senior Consultant

If your business is not a brand, it is a commodity. So said Donald Trump, and if there was ever an example of delivering success by sticking to your brand values, it was The Donald’s surprising and meteoric rise to the White House.

As the sponsorship landscape becomes ever more cluttered and the challenge to secure brand investment intensifies, more importance than ever is being attributed to a rights holder’s brand and values. It may not be wise to religiously follow the new president’s policies, but it stands to show that creating a brand and sticking ruthlessly to it can have a global impact.

Tough Mudder is a prime example of a rights holder that has curated a strong brand which runs in parallel to its gruelling mass participation events to absorb their audience, or ‘Legionnaires’, into a way of life and mentality to be ‘free from everyday bullshit’. Sponsors are already capitalising on the brand strength and 2016 sponsor Bosch saw a compelling opportunity to showcase the shared values of teamwork and ‘delivering beyond expectation’ to promote its latest cordless drill.

The creation of a community ensures year-round dialogue, delivering deeper engagement for sponsors and no more obviously demonstrated by the eight million people reached through a live stream of a 2016 Tough Mudder event and the recent production of a six-part television series. 10,000 Tough Mudder tattoos is a healthy indicator of the permanent and enduring commitment of its fans.

References to Crossfit’s global expansion (13,000 gyms in over 120 countries) is now dated, but what is not is the creation of a brand which revolutionised ‘going to the gym’ for the Instagram generation. Four million people participate in a licenced ‘box’ fitness centre or download the ‘workout of the day’ (WOD) suggested exercise regime, and Reebok’s title sponsorship of the annual Crossfit Games is testament to the strength of an event which is purely a marketing platform rather than revenue generator.

As new rights holders successfully build audiences and develop compelling brands, which become ever more attractive to sponsors, the traditional and established rights holders are fighting to keep up.

The 2016/17 soccer season the implementation of new brand identities of both the Premier League (PL) and English Football League, driven by similar motivations to become more digitally and sponsor- friendly. For the PL this has been evidenced by the move away from a title sponsor to four leading partners, with Cadburys recently completing the starting line up. It was a bold move for the Premier League to drop any connection with soccer from its lion head graphic but the new logo can be used more succinctly beside sponsor logos and is a lot clearer on smaller, mobile screens.

In this digital age, rights holders need a strong brand which focuses more on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’. We have seen many of the rights holders with whom we work following the trend to modernise and become brand-focused and consumer-friendly, allowing for a more compelling value proposition and alignment with prospective sponsors therefore increasing the scope of co- marketing and innovative activations. Aldi, a relatively new player in the UK sponsorship market, created the ‘Get Set to Eat Fresh’ campaign to support Team GB at Rio 2016 and associate gold medal- winning performance with healthy and delicious meals.

The Sports Consultancy is currently working with UK Athletics (UKA) to develop its commercial proposition in what will be its most important year since 2012, as London hosts both the World Athletics and Para-Athletics Championships in the Olympic Park. Its brand development is a great example of a governing body which has differentiated the pride and passion associated with competition from the operations and governance of the sport. The badge design is more consumer- focused, attracting a new, wider audience which generates incremental value for the brand and subsequent sponsor revenue for the organisation.

The results are already clear as demonstrated with its partnership with Mu?ller for British Athletics and both world championships. Mu?ller identified the clear synergies of the passion and success of the team with its own six core values, including ‘the will to win’ and ‘striving to improve’, whilst building on their commitment to support British sports.

It is not just the development of strong brands which is helping rights holders deliver the 4.5 per cent growth of sponsorship revenue forecasted by Forbes through to end of 2019. The concept of engaging fans year-round is now mainstream and the development of innovative digital platforms, which complement traditional broadcast deals and associate beyond the matchday experience, are becoming more commonplace.

Rights holders are quickly latching on to the fact that to develop their business in this digital age they need a strong brand which focuses more on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ and thus engaging a wider, more diverse audience to create increasing value and unique selling points to capture brand investment.