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
Abdulkarim says that, while the popularity of football in the region provides the obvious opportunity for brands looking to capitalize on sports marketing, that very popularity also proves a problem. “When we discuss sports in the region, usually 80 percent of the activity falls into football, because the main interest of target groups here is football,” he says. “The lack of interest in other sports in the region makes sports marketing limited; it makes football cluttered. Chevrolet used to be known as one of the key supporters of the game along with Pepsi, but then three years ago they realized they should pull out, because it was a cluttered field and was not giving them return on objectives. When you have interest in athletics or basketball, for example, you can maneuver with different ideas and different kinds of activation.”
Yet Fedorczuk believes that, in spite of the cluttered field, a lot of brands are still trying to get into football, though the effort is often lackluster. “They’re doing it halfheartedly,” he says. “They put up boards in stadiums, but there’s hardly any brand that has a really coherent strategy.
“The opportunities for ready-made solutions to invest in are limited as football is the only sport that’s really accepted regionally,” he continues. “You can invest in [another] sport and totally own it, but with football it takes a long-term commitment. … The most successful partnerships are brands that have been involved with sports for decades. Brands need to do that here.”
With the sports marketing industry being so young in the region, Abdulkarim says that brands are still hesitant to put their budgets towards sports activation and sponsorship. “They feel more secure with media like television, or PR activity,” he says. “The main reason they feel that way is because of the measurement aspect; the data provided [with sports] is return on objectives (ROO) rather than return on investment (ROI). The market doesn’t offer the data specific to ROI for [sports] activation yet.”
Leverage, longevity, linkage, language. Hollins stresses the importance of the four L’s, especially in an emerging market such as the Middle East. He is confident about the continuing prospects of the discipline in the region.
“I think there’s enormous potential, as there’s a clear interest in both sport and sponsorship, at grassroots and consumer level, and at a commercial level,” he says. “It’s a nascent market, but overall it’s in good health.”