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 …