Over the last few decades, the role of sponsors in the sports industry has grown to unprecedented levels.
Why? Because it’s like the Instagram Influencer market on steroids.
Sports have a huge reach especially soccer which has an estimated 3.5 billion fans across the globe. Similarly to Instagram – if you can choose that right “influencer” the costs of a shirt sponsorship will be paid back many times over.
European Soccer (where all the biggest leagues are) could even be at its peak as it has witnessed two of the greatest players to play the game dominate.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are a marketers dream. Their dominance of the sport over the last ten years have made them possibly the most famous sports stars in the world, in fact Ronaldo has the most followers on Instagram and his business interests are reported to be worth over $1billion.
With a huge worldwide appeal it is no wonder that companies are clamouring over each other to sponsor the next big team.
Barcelona famously refused to have a shirt sponsor for a number of years and have only recently reversed their decision. Japanese giant Rakuten recently closed a deal with them in 2017 worth approximately 55 million euros per year.
Deutsche Telekom for Bayern Munich, Emirates for Real Madrid and a 62 million euro per year deal between Chevrolet and Manchester Utd – the list of international companies vying for a piece of the action goes on and on.
Burger King Enters The Chat
In such a competitive marketplace that sees new entrants all the time, it came as no surprise that in 2019 fast food giant Burger King announced that they were set to sponsor a team in the UK.
It was, however, completely unexpected that the team they were backing were Stevenage.
This had fans, the media and even marketers scratching their heads.
For those who don’t know much about UK Soccer, Stevenage are not a top level club – not by a long way.
In fact they aren’t even in the the top league they currently play 3 leagues down from the UK’s Premier League which has the likes of Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Sponsoring a team this low not only meant their fan base was tiny but that no one was watching their games as TV companies couldn’t justify the airtime for such a small franchise.
Was sponsoring Stevenage an administrative mistake that the restaurant would quickly correct ?
No, absolutely not.
Stroke of Genius?
Burger King had cottoned on to something that many had missed.
Rather than competing with other major sponsors for the top clubs, the American food chain had seen the huge rise in online gaming and its influence on soccer in the UK.
EA Sports’ video game FIFA is widely regarded to be one of with the most succesful games franchises of all time. The game enables the player to play as any team of their choice and can even arrange a friendly match with Barcelona or even Real Madrid.
But how did an international fast food giant leverage the popularity of a video game?
Here comes the genius part.
In conjunction with their new sponsorship deal Burger King began a new social media campaign with the hashtag #stevenagechallenge. They encouraged gamers and fans to tag them on social media showing the best goals and skills that they could do with Stevenage.
Those that did would receive rewards and prizes from Burger King.
The response was unreal.
With over 25,000 goals and clips shared online by fans and for the first time in their history, the Stevenage had sold out of all their shirts, Burger King knew they were doing something special.
If you have ever played FIFA with your friends you will know how competitive it can get. Rivalries can get very heated as players love nothing better than showing off their goals on the dreaded action replays.
What better way to humiliate your rivals but putting your scores on social media and having thousands of people see it and also getting a free Whopper for your troubles.
Understanding the Market
Business contracts are, in essence, mutually beneficial agreements as they provide both parties to some sort of benefit otherwise they wouldn’t enter into a deal.
But looking from the outset at little old Stevenage FC and an international juggernaut like Burger King the benefits are clear for Stevenage but not so for the latter.
By understanding the marketplace and their audience’s habits Burger King have tapped into a worldwide market through the backdoor. Not only have they got their logo into one of the most popular games in the world but they have leveraged social media like no other and have demonstrated a whole new way to market products that doesn’t have to be costly.
It was reported that Burger King paid Stevenage £50,000 to sponsor the club which is a snip of the price compared to a deal with a Premier League titan.
The gamer culture champions the underdog as its more of an achievement to win games with a lower league side. It is considered to be another feather in the players proverbial cap to humiliate an opponent with a team considered to be such low quality.
The Future of Football Marketing?
With the tremendous success of the campaign the American fast food giant have demonstrated that by understanding the marketplace you don’t have to spend millions to get noticed.
Like any risk yes it could have gone badly wrong but the key is that the cost to the company would have been minimal in comparison to a failed sponsorship with a top team.
With a working blueprint of how to market lower league sides could this be the future of the industry?
While the campaign’s creativity and ingenuity should be applauded, unfortunately the big money will and will always be in the top leagues. Although the UK do root for the underdog in a hugely lucrative and competitive landscape, the big boys always come out on top.