With the T20 Men’s World Cup now underway in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah (UAE), and Al Amarat (Oman), Peter Wood talks about the development of the ICC’s sponsorship approach. He sizes up the opportunities for brands looking to capitalise on the world’s second most-watched sporting event.
Is the ICC getting smarter in structuring different types of sponsorships?
It’s become savvier. Restructuring of the ICC major events schedule midway through its eight-year rights cycle, culminating in the 2023 Cricket World Cup in India, has undoubtedly increased the commercial appeal of the governing body’s partnership proposition. As a result, the ICC has increased the T20 World Cup frequency to biannual and created the World Test Championship while protecting its prize asset, the Cricket World Cup.
The move has boosted the attractiveness of events to cricket lovers in some of the biggest markets; more frequent T20 World Cups will particularly appeal to Indian fans who love the shortest format of the game.
Crucially, the new roster of events has grown appeal to brands. As well as retaining existing and long-established partners such as Oppo, Emirates and MRF, new partners from dynamic digital/tech categories have become partners at various levels. For example, Booking.com and digital education brand BYJU have come in at the partner level, while digital financial companies Upstox and FTX have joined at a slightly lower level of rights.
What are the big opportunities for T20 World Cup sponsors?
Sports fans love the traditions that come with mega-events, and this extends to brands. For example, one of the most talked-about activations in India around this year’s T20 is the resurfacing of broadcaster Star Sports’ ‘Mauka Mauka’ campaign. For fans, these campaigns become part of the anticipation and enjoyment associated with big tournaments.
While most partners (especially new ones) can’t expect to become part of tradition straight away, having a long term positioning in cricket based on vital fan insight will set brands up for tournaments to come.
A clever positioning must be backed up with the innovative use of core ICC branding rights. It’s these rights that can elevate partners above other brands – including national team and player sponsors – baying for the attention of fans.
The abundance of pitch-side advertising space allows the ICC to be clever in carving out meaningful branding opportunities for partners. The ICC is also tailoring digital assets to suit partners’ objectives, whether it be content engagement through ownership of match moments or stats or more performance-based approaches through the ICC’s significant email database.
So there are myriad opportunities, but it’s vital that partners have clear objectives and (supported by the ICC) they grasp the moment to deliver a business return. This means having the correct rights and a sufficient activation budget in place.
How can brands activate innovatively to make their presence felt?
The month-long explosion of excitement that World Cups deliver means sponsors need to be set up correctly to maximise the opportunity to cut through and see a strong return on objectives. For maximum impact, this takes the form of well-designed rights packages (e.g. unique rights such as Trophy tour, pre-match moments and exclusive content) as well as disruptive creative ideas delivered to fans at the right moment.
Brands that create an ownable territory that makes them relevant to fans will see the most significant impact to stand out. But, equally vital is having a distribution plan that allows this story to build and cut through the noise amid the thrills and spills of daily matches.
What do you make of the ICC’s raft of financial partners and another in the educational space?
Ahead of the T20 World Cup and upcoming events in India, the ICC made a strategic decision to partner with lots of financial companies trying to connect with Indian fans. It’s excellent commercially for the ICC. But it will be interesting to see how the ICC helps these brands stand out and engage with fans. Notably, some of these brands have other cricket relationships (e.g. ambassadors) that will help them differentiate.
An interesting new ICC partnership is BYJU, the education technology company. Adding to their sponsorship of the Indian cricket team, they are using the ICC partnership to raise awareness further and demonstrate their educational ethos through the lens of cricket. Education services are not a common partnership category for major international sporting events, but this illustrates how a brand or category can deliver stand out by bringing a unique message and area of focus to cricket lovers.
How significant is the ICC’s multi-year partnership with financial services company BharatPe?
The Bharatpe agreement, along with other partners signed midway through the rights cycle (byju, FTX, Upstox, Nium), is significant as it demonstrates the appeal of the new events schedule to brands. It also highlights that the ICC’s 2015-23 rights cycle requires flexibility for both the rights holder and brands wanting to come in.
The biggest question is how the ICC approaches rights sales from 2023 onwards and the schedule and location of events. To date, the ICC traditionally recruited global partners for eight years and added event partners at a lower level of rights around each tournament. The ICC could look to continue this model. Or it might shake things up and move to an event by event approach.
Are brand ambassadors worth investing in?
Big names and influencers can help brands connect with their audience, particularly in cricket-mad nations such as India. However, brands must think carefully about the role of talent in their communication; if a brand wants access to an ambassador to tell their story, a legend could be a better option than a player who will not have time around playing commitments. Where there is a focus on players, brands tend to sign multiple talent deals to increase the chances of backing a solid performer during the tournament.
MRF is an interesting one. It has combined a long-term ambassador deal with India captain Virat Kohli with ICC sponsorship to communicate the power of their bat range (and, by extension, their tyre business). This creates brand visibility and positive perception and rubs off on their premium/quality perceptions.
The deal offers two key learnings: think long term with ambassadors, as the short-term performance on the pitch can be unpredictable and fans fickle; consider availability limitations – most activation is social/image-based, not telling a deeper brand story, as Kohli commercial availability for shoots is likely minimal. Also, there may be some restrictions imposed by local cricket boards (e.g. BCCI in India) to protect their commercial partners and reduce the risk of guerilla association with Team India.
When the new rights cycle is introduced, we look forward to seeing progressive partnership rights opportunities with it. For example, better access to cricketing legends and ambassadors as part of ICC tournament rights would aid many brands to bring their cricket stories to life.
If you’d like to speak to Fuse about how your brand can play a meaningful and authentic role in sports and entertainment – email us at [email protected] or drop us a line in the comments below.