Category Archives: Sponsorship

The NRA and the power of ‘unsponsorship’

While sponsorship is often a powerful force in producing positive attitudes towards a particular brand or organisation, its benefits are entirely proportional to the perceived attributes of the sponsored organisation or individual.

Commercial sponsorship is all about associations. The sponsor spends money on buying into a selected audience’s positive attitudes towards the sponsored party. Being seen to sign up as a supporter of, say, a popular sports team or athlete can generate enormous warmth and gratitude towards the sponsor.

But, as owner/MD of The UK Sponsorship Database since its launch in May 2000, I’ve noticed that very often the reverse is also true. Where, for instance, a world-famous athlete or sports person is suddenly unmasked as a drug cheat or wife-beater, existing sponsors who withdraw their support typically attract very favourable media coverage. Conversely, those who stick by the offending party may well suffer negative coverage. There will always be those who appreciate a sponsor who shows loyalty through thick and thin; but by and large there are far greater gains to be made by the positive act of ‘unsponsoring’.

Indeed, ‘unsponsorship’ can often have benefits which outweigh the positive associations of the initial deal.

A sponsorship deal typically creates a virtuous circle – the more the sponsored party succeeds in his, her or its field, the more sought-after said party becomes in the eyes of competing sponsors seeking an association with that kind of success and those perceptions. But, on the other other hand, those who are associated with bad publicity – ‘negative vibes’ – are typically dropped almost instantly by most sponsors who fear that their image will be tainted or even shattered. And the market reflects that fall in value, as the negotiating power of the sponsored party is undermined.

In the case of the NRA, for companies who (for instance) offer discounts to NRA members, the option of withdrawing support provides a very positive unsponsorship opportunity – a chance to be seen by many as taking the moral high ground. Whilst their previous loyalty might have been taken for granted, as they passively added their offering to a list of NRA members’ benefits, their decision to unsponsor the organisation puts them very much in the public spotlight at a time of intense political debate. Whilst their withdrawals will no doubt offend NRA loyalists intensely, amongst a broad spectrum of the public they may well be seen as having made a laudable, morality-based decision.

At the time of writing, according to press reports the list of companies who have withdrawn their support from the NRA (many of whom are also sponsors across a wide range of sporting and other activities), is growing rapidly and includes Alamo Rent a Car, Avis, Allied Van Lines, BestWestern, Budget, Chubb Insurance, Delta Air Lines, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, First National Bank of Omaha, Hertz, MetLife, North American Van Lines, Paramount Rx, SimpliSafe, Symantec and TrueCar.

Amongst the companies who continue to align themselves with the NRA are Bass Pro Shops, BlackRock, Clearent, FedEx, HotelPlanner, ManageUrID, MidwayUSA, NetSpend, Omni Hotels and Vinesse Wine Clubs.

So here we have a highly-charged and quite complex interplay between commerce and morality, with a “chain sponsorship” structure, involving companies who sponsor the NRA which then sponsors politicians. Different companies may take very different decisions. Politics aside, there will be a wide range of moral and commercial considerations to take into account.

From a commercial standpoint, the main question will be whether the benefit of withdrawing will outweigh the cost in terms of causing offence to NRA members. From a moral standpoint, of course, the individuals involved in the companies’ decisions may conclude that any negative effect is a price worth paying.



Image credits: NRA Headquarters Virginia USA – Bjoertvedt; Northwest side of the Delta Center – Paul Kucher; other – public domain.

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England’s sponsors and Brazil 2014 – no hard feelings?

With scarcely a backward glance at the disaster that was Brazil 2014, all English eyes in the football world – including those of sponsors – will soon be turning from west to south, contemplating the prospect of France 2016 and the opportunity, perhaps, to make amends.

Ending up as sick as a parrot in a country where psittacosis is endemic in the avian population of the rainforests might have been expected. And when even one of the TV studio panels, tasked with getting the TV audience suitably enthused at the start of the competition, opens proceedings with grim warnings about past disappointments and not getting one’s hopes up, should the sponsors have seen all this coming?

They probably did. But now, given general agreement that although England’s early exit was a massive disappointment it wasn’t particularly surprising, how do the sponsorship departments of Vauxhall, Nike, Mars and William Hill – and the others – feel about the return on their investment?


They knew it would be a gamble. Sport is such stuff as dreams – and wagers – are made on. And sport sponsorship is no different. It seemed a fair bet that England would manage to get themselves out of the Group stage, though right from the start the odds were considerably longer that they would progress any further. For a number of brands the gamble seemed worth taking. But as we now know the sponsors’ betting slips ended up scrunched on the pavement outside the Corinthians Arena Stadium in Sao Paulo on June 19th.

They can’t have expected victory. The highs of a fabulous Olympics two years ago have been followed by a severe period of cold turkey as English and indeed British fortunes dipped in many major sports.

Association football, huh? The lack of a strong English identity can’t make finding positive associations any easier for a sponsorship manager and his/her advisers. So, ultimately, what were the associations these brands bought into when they signed on the dotted line? “Plucky England”? “A bunch of overpaid failures”? “England Till I Die”? “No hopers”? “Unlucky England”?

No doubt a mix of all of these, and other feelings and emotional responses too. In the short term, such associations are of critical significance. But that’s the short term picture.

Like houses, the value of sponsorship properties can go down as well as up. A sponsor’s take on the debacle in Sao Paulo will be somewhat different from that of the fans. For them, further progression would have been a bonus.

Unlike the players, you’d never find the Nikes or Vauxhalls of this world saying that their focus is on the next match. A major sponsor takes the long view, including a whole complex of considerations in their assessment of whether their gamble paid off. They use their sponsorship properties as a means of building brand awareness, selling merchandise and motivating their staff, as well as enhancing consumer attitudes to their brand. And of course being an England sponsor means being associated with the tournament itself, providing global reach.

Worldwide there were over a billion Facebook mentions about the Round of 16 stage of the tournament for instance. Twenty million people watched on ITV as Wayne Rooney scored the equaliser in the fateful game against Uruguay.

In the long run, fans’ batteries will be recharged, England flags will once more be dug out from under the stairs and set on poles hung out of front bedroom windows along the length and breadth of the nation’s suburbs – and sponsors will once again bathe in the reflected glory of future triumphs which are just waiting, just out of reach, just over the horizon.

Just don’t look back …



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Filed under Football, Sponsorship