'Success breeds success as sponsorship grows ever stronger'
Sport is a business that never sleeps. Never takes a long weekend or even a day off. And it certainly doesn't close for Christmas. Once upon a time it would have paused for Sunday mass or even Santa himself, but now it simply does not make business sense for it to stop.
With most companies grinding to a halt over the festive period, the sports industry gears up to entertain the masses. These days the sports calendar spans the entire year.
On home soil, a full set of interprovincial rugby fixtures either side of Christmas is fast becoming a tradition, much like the annual Leopardstown Races which start on St Stephen's Day each year. In the UK, the world darts championship at the iconic Alexandra Palace venue in London draws huge crowds, while the packed Premier League fixture list goes into overdrive.
Both sports pause briefly for Christmas Day, allowing the players a brief respite, but for sports fans who can't wait that long, there is always a full set of NBA basketball fixtures Stateside on Christmas Day itself.
The business of sport and the industry that lies beneath the athletes continues to increase in scale. A growing reliance on technology and an increased focus on nutrition means coaching and support numbers now match playing staff. The appetite of fans to consume coverage around sport is never-ending and brands continue to recognise the commercial opportunities with sponsorship continually rising as a proportion of a company's marketing budget.
This has been a golden year for Irish sport with diverse examples of success. Katie Taylor's dominance in professional boxing was complemented by Kellie Harrington becoming only the third Irish boxer to be crowned World Amateur champion. Our rowing success shows no signs of slowing with the O'Donovan brothers and Sanita Puspure winning world titles in 2018. In Paralympic sport, runner Jason Smith captured his 17th gold medal this year, while Ellen Keane won gold and bronze in the World Para Swimming Championships staged in Dublin.
In hurling, Limerick ended a 45-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup, while Dublin's win in the football means they will attempt an unprecedented five-in-a-row next year. The Irish rugby team had their most successful year to date and arguably the greatest achievement of them all was the women's hockey team becoming the first Irish team to reach a World Cup final, losing out to Holland.
Through its passionate fan base, sport has a way of connecting with consumers like no other. Sports sponsorship spend in 2018 was estimated at over €55 billion worldwide and is rising year on year. Add to this the amount companies are spending promoting each sponsorship and you have a booming industry.
As we glance into 2019, Ireland's top three sporting bodies - the GAA, FAI and IRFU - continue to fill their ambitious sponsorship portfolios with top brands. Success breeds success and like any product or business, sport continues to examine its offering and make every effort to ensure success on the pitch is capitalised with commercial results off it.
The GAA has proven time and time again that despite its amateur status, it is extremely professional and innovative. The revamped championship format in 2018, particularly in hurling, was a big success and more games meant more action and exposure for its sponsors.
Both rugby and soccer have the added bonus for sponsors of major global tournaments around the corner, with the Rugby World Cup taking place in Japan.
Rugby is enjoying a purple patch and Ireland's form was acknowledged at the World Rugby Awards, claiming Team of the Year, Coach of the Year (Joe Schmidt) and Player of the Year (Johnny Sexton). Its near-perfect 2018 was the ideal curtain-raiser for a World Cup year and the hype machine has kicked into overdrive with sponsors gearing up for a big year. The Six Nations is one of the biggest annual sporting events on the Irish calendar and with the announcement that Guinness will sponsor the tournament, sponsorship in rugby has never been so active. Ireland's official sponsors, including Vodafone, Aer Lingus, Volkswagen and Glenisk will use the Six Nations to kick-start what will effectively be a year-long campaign with the Rugby World Cup final taking place on November 2.
The Irish football team starts a new chapter with the return of Mick McCarthy as manager in search of qualification for Euro 2020. The added incentive is that four of the matches will be staged in the Aviva Stadium so Ireland's team sponsors such as 3, New Balance and Celtic Pure, will be praying for qualification. With Euro 2020 sponsors such as Volkswagen and Booking.com bringing their sponsorship campaigns to all host cities, it will be a busy 18 months.
It's a competitive sponsorship landscape in general with over 60 brands officially sponsoring the big three sports so it is often a smart move for a company to look outside of these sports to see where the opportunity and value lies. This year Soft Co took a punt on Irish hockey at a fraction of the cost of what most brands are paying for sponsorships.
In June, they were unveiled as the main sponsor of the Ireland women's hockey team. In August, the team were the talk of the nation as they become the first Irish team to reach a World Cup final. While the players took home silver, it was Soft Co who must have felt like they had struck gold.
The re-branded Olympic Federation of Ireland (previously OCI) will be utilising the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as part of their mission to rebuild their reputation with the commercial market in Ireland. Brands have a chance to be part of 'Team Ireland' over the coming 18 months and with upwards of 100 Irish athletes expected to compete in Tokyo, it is a unique opportunity for a brand to sponsor multiple sports and link themselves to the one of biggest events in world sport.
In September, FBD Insurance was announced as one of the lead sponsors of Team Ireland and further high-profile announcements are likely in the new year.
In recent years, Ireland has staged several American colleges football matches and in October it was announced that five more games will be coming to Dublin. The series starts in 2020 with Notre Dame and Navy returning to the Aviva. Aer Lingus was unveiled as headline sponsor, providing the airline with a unique opportunity that links the Irish and US markets. With the previous game in 2012 selling out, we are likely to see Ireland's corporate hospitality market line up for a slice of the American pie.
So whatever the sport, opportunities abound for sponsors in the industry that never sleeps.
- Kevin Moore is Managing Director of communications and sponsorship agency, Legacy Communications
Sunday Indo Sport