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Sports sponsorship was slow to get off the ground in the Middle East, but as brands develop more vibrant and sophisticated approaches, the game is changing.
February 22, 2010 4:12 by Rania Habib
Fedorczuk also says that, while the sports marketing discipline is very young in the region, a number of brands have taken on the challenge and succeeded in establishing lasting partnerships.
“There’s one brand that stands out for me, and that’s Emirates,” he says. “They’ve got a clear, long-term, global strategy and a clear, long-term commitment. With football they sponsor Arsenal, Hamburg, and other clubs, and they sponsor rugby and other sports relevant to their destinations.”
He says another regional and global brand is Pepsi. “They combine the emotional benefit of sports marketing with their commercial goal,” explains Fedorczuk. “They have talent searches, local activities in the market, branded content, testimonials in advertising, Facebook groups, and media sponsorships of leagues. It’s one of the few brands that have the financial ability to do all that.”
Bashar Abdulkarim, managing director of Relay, Starcom’s sports marketing division, recalls a time when brands in the region were inactive in terms of sports marketing. But times have changed, he says, particularly in the past five years. “I remember in the late ’90s, brands like Snickers and Mars never used to do activities,” he says. “But they started investing in grassroots activities around 2005 with football events around the region, and then expanded into different markets, and invested in their brand identity. Snickers organized three-on-three football games, for example, and their brand identity was very edgy and underground.”
Kilalea also cites Emirates as a brand that has identified the right sports to fit the company ethos, but says that all brands can successfully align themselves with sports.
“In terms of local sports, Etisalat has been the headline sponsor for the football league,” he says. “I can understand the association, as football is the most popular sport in the UAE, so they reach their target.”
And many other regional brands have started realizing the potential of sports marketing and sponsorship, Kilalea says, and have worked hard at making their brand ethos fit with sports. “Sports marketing and sponsorship is an effective medium, and it cuts through the clutter,” he says. “Above-the-line media is now extremely fragmented, but with sports you’re cutting through that.”