Heading up the SBC Sponsorship Forum at the upcoming Betting on Football Conference (20-23 March) is sports marketing and commercial veteran Jaap Kalma, who believes that sponsorship is now more important than ever for the betting industry and its wider stakeholders.
Ahead of the event at Stamford Bridge, Kalma says that industry stakeholders have to understand new sponsorship values which are changing dynamics between clubs and their marketing partners.
Following a year of growing concerns relating to football marketing and social responsibility failures, the relationship between football and betting needs to realigned and revalued for all concerned.
SBC: Hi Jaap, thanks for the interview. Having worked as a football executive for a number of years, is football still a dynamic proposition for marketing and sponsorship?
Jaap Kalma: I believe it has become stronger as a proposition, really, and that its importance will only further increase. On the one hand, the drivers for growth remain: The passion for football is growing around the world, while continuing media fragmentation increases sponsorship’s relative effectiveness.
On the other hand, the clubs are realizing there’s more to sponsorship than selling space on perimeter boarding, and are slowly becoming more professional and marketing-savvy. By offering tailored packages of cutting-edge partnership rights, especially in the digital area, and through sophisticated ROI measurements and data analytics, they enable their sponsors’ marketers to create much more real value from the sponsorship.
SBC: During your time as AC Milan Commercial Officer, you had to balance the club’s commercial interests with its established values. How hard is this dynamic to maintain with regards to betting products? Where did you see conflicts in partnership?
JK: Not very hard. Let me put it like this: Sponsorship is a partnership between two brands, that of the sponsor and that of the club. A superior ROI derives exactly from the interaction between the brands. It is not a quick, hit-and-run instrument and requires at least a couple of years to work.
You choose reputable partners with this common understanding. So in my experience, sponsors do respect the club’s brand values, as long as you clearly share them up-front and as long as they feel you are trying to maximize their return, which is only justified.
The betting category is no different from other categories in this. AC Milan has a history in betting, with a bookmaker as its shirt sponsor for many years, and obviously does not oppose betting. I personally believe that betting is an integral part of the world of sports, which adds excitement for the fans. Our long-time betting partner did just that, over the years exploiting the innumerable ways a betting partner can add value through engaging fan activation.
SBC: From a football stakeholder perspective, what common factors do betting operators misunderstand with regards to sponsorship and football marketing?
JK: I have primarily seen two misunderstandings in the marketplace: First, many operators focus on short-term results, such as first-time deposits, and forget about the rest. This is similar to a soap brand limiting its marketing to supermarket price-offs: aggressive marketing gets you trial especially with price-sensitive consumers, but it doesn’t create brand preference or loyalty. Second, they focus exclusively on brand awareness and visibility, foregoing the many other possibilities to connect to and activate fans.
Both misunderstandings ignore the fact that sponsorship is unique as a marketing tool, in that it allows you to quickly enter into a trusted relationship and create a strong and lasting bond with fans, sharing your passion for football and the club. It is more than a billboard. Sure, this requires a brand to actually work at it and it may seem more difficult to measure, but only with competent marketing and an effort sponsors are able to get the exceptional returns that sponsorship offers.
SBC: In your opinion do football clubs have a role in betting social responsibility and marketing standards. Or should this be left with between the bookmaker and its regulatory bodies?
JK: When a football club enters into a partnership with a sponsor, it effectively endorses the sponsor brand and its activities towards its fans and the wider public. In my mind that comes with a responsibility. In the case of betting this means that a club should work together with its partner to promote social responsibility, in general, and more specifically in curbing betting problems and match-fixing.
Tailored programmes towards fans and towards its players and staff are not only good PR, they also contribute to ensuring that betting remains a positive force in the world of football in the future, which obviously is in the club’s interest.
SBC: At present all betting stakeholders are placing a higher emphasis on a football club’s digital dynamics. However, can all club sponsorships nurture digital audiences in what is a saturated marketplace?
JK: Sports sponsorship is uniquely different from other ‘media’ in many ways: Each club has its own captive audience of fans, which are linked to their club for life and towards which a club offers its partners a privileged channel. This is even truer in the digital space.
In addition, football elicits a passion and an interest second to none, and the fans’ appetite for engagement is difficult to satisfy. Combined with the strong identities of club brands, this makes that there is enormous room for effective digital activation towards a broader audience of football lovers. I, therefore, don’t think the channel is the limiting factor, although good marketing as always will make the difference.
At the same time, the sheer number of betting brands vying for the fans’ attention obviously creates strong competition for their wagers. I may be wrong, but I expect this will unavoidably result in industry consolidation, limiting the punters’ choices to the strongest and most differentiated brand propositions.
SBC: You will be managing the SBC Sponsorship Forum at BOFCON 2018; what key learnings do you want clubs and operators to take away from this special event?
JK: Football sponsorship is the main marketing expenditure for bookmakers, while betting is the main sponsorship category for clubs. This means that they have a strong, common interest to evolve football sponsorship into the highly effective marketing tool sponsorship can be, seeking maximum added value for fans.
At present, the opacity of the market for betting sponsorships, the lack of awareness of the different opportunities out there, and the wide variation in the clubs’ offering in terms of rights and support, together cause an under utilisation of sponsorship’s power.
Considering both the importance of betting sponsorships and its intrinsic possibilities to engage fans, I hope the SBC Sponsorship Forum will contribute to creating transparency, helping bookmakers elevate their use of sponsorship and clubs their sponsorship offering.