In what has been a difficult year for the Irish sponsorship industry, the number of new reported sponsorship deals in Ireland dropped 46% in the first half of 2020 according to the latest quarterly report from the sponsorship consultancy Onside.
Despite overall declines, the latest report shows that sport continues to command a lion’s share of the reduced sponsorship activity in Ireland, with 8 in 10 deals so far in 2020 played out in the sports space. Sponsorship deals reported were down 86% across April and May, with early seeds of a recovery beginning in June with new campaigns such as the RTE Does Comic Relief supported by sponsors including Bank of Ireland, JustEat and TK Maxx.
According to John Trainor, Founder and CEO of Onside: “2020 opened strong in terms of high-profile major renewal deals including Aldi and PwC’s multi-year extension of their Irish Rugby sponsorships, Allianz’s sponsorship renewal of GAA Leagues, and a steady stream of sponsorships in horse-racing by major sponsors including Paddy Power and Dubai Duty Free. However, since March, sponsorship industry deal doing has switched to adjusting existing arrangements between top sponsors and rights holders to account for the impact of Covid-19 on current deals, rather than any significant volumes of new deals.”
Mirroring the sharp decline in activity and spend in the sponsorship arena, the latest wave of Onside research of the Irish public saw a 12% drop in recall of sports sponsors that appealed most to them in the second quarter of 2020, with supermarkets proving the one sector that collectively grew in sponsorship appeal performance. Rugby sponsors experienced a particularly marked impact from the lockdown in quarter 2 as landmark events like the Guinness 6 Nations and club tournaments were put on pause through what is typically peak season for the sport.
The Onside research also shows that Super-Valu, Tesco, Aldi and Lidl made up the Top 4 of more than 35 sponsors seen by the Irish public to stand out during the Covid-19 crisis by using sponsorship to help communities in the past 3 months, with 3 in 10 of the public singling out these sponsors for special recognition. Trainor noted that “our survey chimes with other gauges of public sentiment toward supermarkets generally at present and effective sponsorship execution helps in the ongoing battle of supermarket and convenience store brands to gain market share from competitors. In highly competitive spaces like retail, an edge has been achieved by these 4 supermarket brands over others in the market”.
Looking ahead to the second half of the sponsorship year and beyond Trainor noted that: “The sponsorship rights industry is at risk of shrinking in value by more than 10% this year if there is enduring damage from the pandemic through autumn and winter months, with some sponsors seeking relief or opting out of deals. Rights holders will need to look for new business elsewhere as traditional sponsorship sectors such as auto, airlines and apparel take time to recover from the impact on their businesses. Sports and entertainment rights owners should follow the money where consumer spending is rising, such as logistics and online delivery services, home technology and personal grooming products”. Providers of staycation services and further afield to overseas travel destinations are also ones to explore, as evidenced through the new Liverpool Football team partnership with Mauritius, according to the sponsorship consultants.
He also believes that because of the backlog of events that have been cancelled because of Covid-19, brands and rights holders will need to “work far more collaboratively, strategically and creatively to build new experiences for fans.”
“As we gear up for a huge year of sport in 2021, with hopefully the return of mega-events like the Olympics, the Euros and the Ryder Cup, pivoting fan engagement in new ways around the live event will be the name of the game. Private equity investors and tech firms turbo boosting digital transformation in the sports and entertainment landscape will also be interesting to watch playing out,” Trainor adds.