Raising a sports profile – across every channel

The Henley Royal Regatta will be available to view from around the world via live streaming this week. It is incredible to think that the last time the Regatta was broadcast was in 1968 by the BBC, with highlights last seen in 1976 provided by ITV. Given the success of British rowers at a number of Olympic Games and World Championships in that time – you have to wonder why or how the sport hasn’t grabbed more coverage, or attracted bigger sponsors in the same way that British Cycling has.

We know that sponsorship can massively increase the awareness and reach of a brand, but a shrewd brand partnership can positively influence a sport at the same time. Jaguar Land Rover’s #FeelWimbledon campaign at this years Wimbledon Championships is the most recent example. But in 2010, Sir Dave Brailsford, alongside Sky, had the ambition of inspiring a million more people to take up cycling. Team Sky’s ambition was ‘to win the Tour de France within five years.’ Teamwork is the key to everything – fostering the right relationships that can mutually elevate both parties. With 15 UK wide locations planned for Sky Rides this year, and a year on year increase of Britons regularly cycling (there are now 1.5 million Britons regularly cycling each week), those grand ambitions were achieved.

Success at Le Tour, at London 2012, and most recently Sir Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record has obviously helped raise the profile of British Cycling massively – but British rowers fared pretty well at the London 2012 Olympic Games too. In fact, they were the GB Rowing Team’s most successful games, not just of the modern era, but all time. Their medal haul included four golds, two silvers and three bronzes with GB finishing as top rowing nation for the second successive Games. So why has it taken rowing so long to gain momentum? Granted, it’s harder to row to work than it is to cycle – but television airtime and a lack of notable sponsors seems to be the most dominant part of this vicious cycle.

But rowing IS gaining momentum. As well as the live streaming of Henley, 2015 also saw the first women’s Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities – sponsored by Newton Asset Management – and passionately championed by the firm’s CEO, Helena Morrissey. Through the persistence of Morrissey, the women’s teams raced along the same course, in front of the same spectators and broadcast to 200 countries, billed with equal importance to the mens race. This was a great example of how the right sponsor can not only help to provide important funding – but can also increase the visibility of a sport to attract future athletes and captivate bigger global audiences.

With the 2016 Olympics in Rio and 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang rapidly approaching, how do lesser known sports raise their profile to attract the right sponsorship? In rebranding the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association we have seen that their younger athletes attract a large number of followers through social media – with Lizzy Yarnold and Amy Williams boasting over 120,000 Twitter followers between them. But converting a social following to valuable sponsorship is a much harder task. Sponsors need to feel aligned with a sport on every level – both in terms of shared values and in public perception. They need to feel confident that the athletes and the sport will raise their profile in the best ways, and to the right audiences. In uniting their two sports, the BBSA realised that they needed a brand that not only embodied the success of their athletes, but one that potential sponsors would want to appear next to.

Elevating the profile of sport through good branding, rewarding sponsorship, engaging social media content and TV coverage is merely the beginning. Converting this into a legacy of consistent support and growth beyond a single event is the most important part. Gaining recognition at club level is hard. The kudos of sponsoring at amateur level doesn’t reap such a high ROI as with the professionals, with even lesser known sports suffer exponentially. Clubs rely on the good nature of volunteers and supporters who have grown with a club – more often passed down through generations. The stakeholders within a successful sport – from the medal winning athletes, teams and coaches, through to the board members, investors and sponsors – have the ability, and responsibility, to work together to build the best relationships that will benefit the good of every sport.

For now, all you need to do is sit back, relax and watch a bit of the Royal Regatta >

Photo Credit: Mark Ruscoe

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