The Irish sponsorship market is poised for a return to growth this year following an unprecedented decline in 2020, according to the sponsorship consultancy Onside.
This year, Onside is forecasting that the market will grow by 7% to reach €182m, according to its annual sponsorship survey which is now in its 15th year.
The report estimates as much as €54m was wiped from the market in 2020 due to the pandemic and by the end of 2020, sponsorship investment had dropped to €170m.
According to Onside 7 in 10 sponsors in Ireland decreased their sponsorship investment during 2020, with 91% of these attributing the impacts of the pandemic to their cuts. The scale of the ‘Covid effect’ is evident in the fact that just 16% of sponsors were originally planning to decrease their sponsorship investment in 2020.
According to John Trainor, founder and CEO of Onside: “Given the events of 2020, the sponsorship industry is showing good resilience, and the flexibility that rights holders and brands have shown in the past 12 months bodes well for a market recovery. While 6 in 10 sponsors have already entered difficult negotiations with their partners on how to account for the impact of Covid on their agreements, the overall ratings of the organisations that they sponsor is the highest on record.”
Despite lingering pandemic and economic clouds, he says that Onside found 41% of sponsors are planning to increase their investments in sponsorship in 2021, compared with 38% a year earlier. However, the report flags that the pandemic is having a near-term impact internationally in terms of downward pressure on the value of sponsorship rights.
“Under intense pressure to bring in revenue absent due to the inability to sell tickets, many properties in mature sponsorship markets, particularly those below the top-tier national sports level, have agreed to sponsorship deals at rates 50% less than what they would have garnered pre-Covid,” the report notes.
According to Onside, 63% of sponsors in Ireland expect sponsorship fees to decrease in 2021 and although those conditions will ease with the expected return of fans later in 2021, Trainor notes that “previous experience with price elasticity in sponsorship indicates fees will not immediately bounce-back to pre-2020 levels”.
Vodafone’s partnership with the IRFU was again voted by the industry as the best sponsorship of the past year, according to the report, with others standing out including supermarkets SuperValu and Lidl, financial services providers AIB, Bank of Ireland and FBD in addition to energy sponsors Bord Gáis Energy and Electric Ireland. Guinness was voted the most admired sponsor of 2020 in ONSIDE research with the Irish public.
Among the sponsorship industry budget holders surveyed, Katie Taylor stretched her lead by 18% at the top of the most marketable personality list for 2021. Trainor noted that “there was a very definite swing towards non-sports talent seen as offering potential for consideration for brand ambassadorial campaigns in 2021, including Ryan Tubridy, Paul Mescal and Amy Huberman. Paralympic hopeful Ellen Keane and boxer Kellie Harrington also contributed to the growing numbers of female talent making up this year’s Top 10 ambassadorial prospects”.
The Onside report also noted that 3 in 4 sponsorship industry practitioners are optimistic that the sports industry will recover from the impact of Covid-19 in the next 1-2 years, compared with 2 in 3 in the case of the live entertainment industry. Early signs of changes coming out of the turmoil include 3 in 10 rights holders investigating ways to use new AR and VR technologies in the near term, while 4 in 10 are calling out a lack of diversity and inclusion in organisations that they align with as a significant concern.