Nike Or Adidas? If You Don't Know Either, Sports Sponsorship Has A Problem

It has been happening with the past couple of Fifa World Cups and it's happening again with Euro 2016. Brands are paying a king's ransom to be sponsor of a major football tournament (soccer, if you prefer) and the public often thinks it's actually someone else, typically a fierce rival. 

I don't know about you, but I have to be honest -- if you asked me first thing this morning who is sponsoring Euro 2016, I'd have had a problem. It's no secret that it's usually Adidas or Nike, and either MasterCard or Visa with McDonald's likely to be in there. Coca-Cola's normally a good bet too, isn't it.

But if you asked me without prompting, I wouldn't have known for sure. That's why in research published this morning, Nike is only just behind Adidas as being identified as a sponsor for the tournament. Trouble is, it isn't a sponsor at all. The true sponsor is Adidas. In case you named Budweiser as the obligatory beer brand, you would be wrong too -- it's actually Carlsberg. If you had taken the safe bet of Coca-Cola and McDonald's, on the assumption that they sponsor everything, you would be correct.

In fact, when 1,000 people who claimed to have an interest in the tournament were asked who was sponsoring this year, 
MasterCard, Heineken, Visa, Barclays and Budweiser all appeared in the top ten. The one problem is, of course, that none is actually a sponsor of this tournament, although they are all involved in other competitions. To get an idea of the average sports fan's brand recognition, only 12% correctly named Coca-Cola as a sponsor, and only 10% new Nike was the sportswear brand involved with the competition -- compared to 9% who wrongly believed it was Adidas.

The nub of the problem is, there are so many football clubs and several high-profile domestic and European tournaments every year, interspersed with the World Cup and Uefa Euro tournaments, that the average person can't keep track. To be honest, they don't really care, unless buying a particular brand's pack of beer or football boots comes with a chance of tickets for the final. Even then, the waters are muddied by sports brands "owning" star players, meaning that Nike can avoid putting a penny into official sponsoring Euro 2016 but, should it choose, could easily run a tv campaign featuring several of its biggest stars -- just as Pepsi does to Coca-Cola for each World Cup.

Then there's social media, where brands can "big up" their other sponsorship credentials. Nike is kit sponsor for several teams taking part and has every right to post original content and start up conversations around those interests as Adidas has to talk about the wider tournament. The only clear difference, really, is being able to use the Uefa logo and name-checking the tournament so you can closely associate yourself with it. Whether this equates to being worth millions of pounds is something only each CMO can involved can answer.

What will be far more interesting is how this poll develops during and after the tournament to see if people become more familiar with the sponsors as the action unfolds. It's not a huge surprise that the average person can't pick between Nike and Adidas right now but if the same is true in the middle or end of June -- then Adidas will have some serious self-examination to do. 

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