Business and the beautiful game: sponsorship takes European football to a different league
Football is the beautiful game, which perhaps explains why it is so often seen as incompatible with business. But there is another view, that football and business are symbiotic. In the modern game, the board room is as critical to a team’s success as the boot room.
Today, commercial income is a critical revenue stream for clubs. UEFA estimates, for example, that the UEFA Europa League will generate over €225 million in commercial revenue in 2014/15. While this might conjure images of corporate hospitality far removed from real fans on the terraces, 75 per cent of this income is returned to the teams. It pays for the players, stadia and development that are vital to clubs and bring joy to fans.
The fact that commercial revenue is used to feed grassroots football has been a critical factor in our decision at FedEx to become the main sponsor of the UEFA Europa League. We are focussed on supporting commerce at the local level and have made significant investments in Europe over the last three years – including adding over 100 stations and 3,700 team members. Our goal is to help small businesses boost trade and compete on the global stage.
A company embarking on any commercial tie-in needs to ensure that the opportunity aligns with its own brand values; and that this investment is used to bring benefit to the sport and its fans. Authenticity should be the guiding star for sponsorship, particularly in a sport as passionate as football.
And the UEFA Europa League is authentic, bringing opportunity to many clubs and not simply the few. It is truly pan-European in a way that other competitions are not. Footballing royalty such as Holland’s Ajax and England’s Liverpool come up against emerging powerhouses, such as Croatia’s HNK Rijeka and Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. The UEFA Europa League is an arena rich in romance, where minnows can snap up sharks, and where glory and rich financial reward are open to teams big and small.
But sponsorship isn’t about romance. Business is often about profit, so what does corporate investment give back?
Brand awareness is the obvious answer. In the UK alone in 2012/13, each UEFA Europa League match attracted an average of 4.2 million viewers. The 2013 final attracted a global audience of 51 million; that’s a lot of brand exposure over the 10-month duration of the competition.
There is also the important factor of association. The UEFA Europa League is a premium brand for the world’s most popular sport, where excellence, endeavour and creativity garner admiration, reward and joy. These are brand values that any company would be proud to share.
And finally, there are clear synergies between pan-European businesses and a pan-European league. While many sponsors are global, it’s important that they demonstrate their national, regional and local credentials. It comes back to that word ‘authenticity’ again: reassuring audiences that corporations aren’t faceless behemoths; that they understand, are part of and contribute to the communities they do business in.
Corporate sponsorship may have a degree of self-interest, but it should also be responsible and used to drive mutually profitable relationships. With commercial revenues feeding teams of all sizes, from all corners of the continent, sponsorship has the power to help all levels of European football move into a different league.
Andy Self is Vice President, Marketing and Communications Europe for FedEx, which has announced a landmark sponsorship of the UEFA Europa League.
SAS: Improving the British Army’s decision making with data
SAS’ long-standing relationship with the British Army is built on mutual respect and grounded by a reciprocal understanding of each others’ capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Roderick Crawford, VP and Country GM for SAS UKI, states that the company’s thorough grasp of the defence sector makes it an ideal partner for the Army as it undergoes its own digital transformation.
“Major General Jon Cole told us that he wanted to enable better, faster decision-making in order to improve operational efficiency,” he explains. Therefore, SAS’ task was to help the British Army realise the “significant potential” of data through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and conduct complex analysis.
In 2020, the Army invested in the SAS ‘Viya platform’ as an overture to embarking on its new digital roadmap. The goal was to deliver a new way of working that enabled agility, flexibility, faster deployment, and reduced risk and cost: “SAS put a commercial framework in place to free the Army of limits in terms of their access to our tech capabilities.”
Doing so was important not just in terms of facilitating faster innovation but also, in Crawford’s words, to “connect the unconnected.” This means structuring data in a simultaneously secure and accessible manner for all skill levels, from analysts to data engineers and military commanders. The result is that analytics and decision-making that drives innovation and increases collaboration.
Crawford also highlights the importance of the SAS platform’s open nature, “General Cole was very clear that the Army wanted a way to work with other data and analytics tools such as Python. We allow them to do that, but with improved governance and faster delivery capabilities.”
SAS realises that collaboration is at the heart of a strong partnership and has been closely developing a long-term roadmap with the Army. “Although we're separate organisations, we come together to work effectively as one,” says Crawford. “Companies usually find it very easy to partner with SAS because we're a very open, honest, and people-based business by nature.”
With digital technology itself changing with great regularity, it’s safe to imagine that SAS’ own relationship with the Army will become even closer and more diverse. As SAS assists it in enhancing its operational readiness and providing its commanders with a secure view of key data points, Crawford is certain that the company will have a continually valuable role to play.
“As warfare moves into what we might call ‘the grey-zone’, the need to understand, decide, and act on complex information streams and diverse sources has never been more important. AI, computer vision and natural language processing are technologies that we hope to exploit over the next three to five years in conjunction with the Army.”
Fundamentally, data analytics is a tool for gaining valuable insights and expediting the delivery of outcomes. The goal of the two parties’ partnership, concludes Crawford, will be to reach the point where both access to data and decision-making can be performed qualitatively and in real-time.
“SAS is absolutely delighted to have this relationship with the British Army, and across the MOD. It’s a great privilege to be part of the armed forces covenant.”