What should 2018 sponsors be doing now?

Due to the scale of the biggest sports events, host cities and countries now tend to be chosen about 7 years ahead. Where do you see yourself in 2018?

If you’re a football fan you may be thinking of visiting Russia for the World Cup. Winter sports enthusiasts will know within a few months whether they will be headed to Annecy, Munich or PyeongChang for the Olympic Winter Games in 2018.

There are a number of industries that have to plan many years ahead, ranging from construction to financial services and military defence. But sport is unusual because the precise timing can be predicted with a fair degree of confidence. The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio will take place on 5 August 2016. Are you busy that day?

The work programme and life-cycle for organising committees are now well-established as a result of studies by the International Olympic Committee and others who have documented the process from setting up a bid to winding up the year after the event. Even if the local culture, political environment and level of development have a major impact on the way of working, the ultimate deliverables will be similar from one event to the next. Hence Rio 2016 has just started construction of the Olympic Park whereas London 2012 has just completed the venue for canoe slalom.

For sponsors and other stakeholders, by contrast, there is less in the way of formal guidance. While the types of activity which sponsors will undertake during an event are well understood (advertising, media relations, client hospitality, internal communications and so on), there is no obvious template to advise sponsors what to do 7 years, 4 years or even 1 year in advance. Given that sponsors of mega events are now often signed up a long time ahead, this is an important matter.

Having committed large sums of money over several years, sponsors should look to make the most of the association and (difficult as it may be) set aside budget to do so. It’s clear that awareness will be low at the start of the event life-cycle and that there will probably be more promotion closer to the competition. It’s also predictable that organising committees will look for incremental revenue by offering set piece opportunities to partners along the way but this does not amount to a systematic or documented programme which can be effectively replicated.

Although sponsors compete with each other and are understandably secretive about their commercial plans, almost all of them fit into a handful of categories in terms of objectives (generate more sales, enhance brand, stakeholder engagement, internal engagement etc.).

It should therefore be possible to provide some guidance on best practice for sponsor activity several years ahead of the event. Ultimately it would be in the interests of rights-holders and organisers to do what they can to steer commercial partners through the event life-cycle because happier sponsors will pay more money.

Until that guidance comes, 2018 seems as far off for sponsors as it does for spectators.

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