Questions of clutter
10 May 2012
Saturday May 19 promises to be a great day for sports fans. But it remains to be seen whether it is such a great day for sponsors.
Let’s have a look at the menu. As an aperitif there’s the beginning of the Olympic Torch Relay’s UK journey to London, for entrees a choice between the Scottish FA Cup Final, what promises to be an outstanding rugby union Heineken Cup final and the ‘richest football match in the world’ as Blackpool and West Ham United battle it out at Wembley for a place in the promised land of the English Premier League. Then that evening Bayern Munchen hosts Chelsea in what promises to be the richest of desserts.
This is the sporting equivalent for a wait for a London bus. An eternity passes with nothing and then a whole lot come along together.
Now this time of year has always been massive for sport and a year which includes UEFA European Championships and the need to clear the decks for pre-tournament friendlies and training camps was always going to put pressure on the schedulers.
But the result is a tremendous amount of clutter which, in total, has the potential to rob each and every one of these separate events of what should be a more intense and excusive media scrutiny. While that may not bother the committed fans of individual teams or sports, it must have an impact on the vast majority of the television audience on the one hand and the coverage online and in the following day’s print media on the other.
Rights owners sell sponsorship to their events on the basis of their ability not only to attract an audience but to create a deep level of engagement with that audience. Each is sold as unique in its own right and these major finals are positioned as the climax of a season-long relationship between sponsor and event.
So the question is, do the events – and therefore the sponsors – lose just a little something when they are shoe-horned into a packed day of sport and become far from the only game in town. What will they be talking about on May 21? What will be top of the conversational agenda on May 21? The Champions League final or how either Blackpool or West Ham made it back to the big time?
The clutter puts fresh focus on UEFA’s decision to move its showpiece Champions League final from midweek to Saturday night. When the move was announced the logic appeared entirely credible. But things haven’t really worked out.
On a Wednesday night the Champions League had the media agenda pretty much to itself. Wednesday is a night when millions around Europe are only too happy to flop in front of the TV and relish the game.
Saturdays are different and audience figures from the Manchester United versus FC Barcelona Champions League final at Wembley – one of the most attractive match-ups you can imagine – only came second in the UK ratings to one of Simon Cowell’s talent shows.
Just a week ago we saw the historic FA Cup, which despite its rich heritage is becoming one of football’s fading brands, played at 5.15 in the afternoon on a day when other teams were in Premier League action.
The FA has to understand that you can’t continue to sell a property to the public – as well as broadcasters and sponsors – on the basis of its historic role as a crucially important season-ender when it is scheduled in this way – on a day when other games compete for the spotlight and way before the end of the season. These scheduling decisions are helping rob some of football’s blue riband events of their primacy, importance and ultimately their value.
This is a personal perspective of Kevin Roberts, editorial director of SportBusiness Group.