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The Right ‘Rights’ – Lessons from the Cisco London 2012 Olympics Sponsorship

- January 9, 2012 - 2 Comments

Correctly conceived and creatively executed sponsorship is a powerful marketing tool.  Why else would the Fortune 500, along with millions of other businesses big and small, invest precious marketing dollars in the discipline?  As mentioned in my previous blog post, the first step in successful sponsorship is having clear objectives, whether those are aimed at brand building, commercial gain or stakeholder engagement.  Clearly articulated SMART objectives are a pre-requisite for achieving the second most important aspect of successful sponsorship – securing the right ‘rights’.Rights are what the sponsored party (often known as the rights-holder or, occasionally, the sponsee) offers to a brand in exchange for cash, value-in-kind or marketing-in-kind. The challenge is that rights-holders will package up less attractive rights with ‘hot tickets’ in order to try and maximise sponsorship revenues.  The job of a sponsor is to negotiate hard-to-unpack bundled rights and only pay for those elements that will directly contribute to achieving the corporation’s sponsorship objectives. Another tactic used by rights-holders is to bundle up packages of rights that target particular industry sectors, offering sector exclusivity in exchange for a premium price.  This results in a range of sponsors such as the Official Automotive, Wine, Bank Partner etc. 

 The ultimate proponent of this formula is the Olympic Games.  First the rights are divided between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the local Organising Committees (OCOGS), with the IOC reserving 12 key industry sectors for their own partnerships.  These are currently sold in 4 yearly cycles, with a ballpark cost of $100 million allowing these sponsors access to a Winter and Summer Games and the right to leverage their partnerships globally.

The OCOG meanwhile gets busy structuring its own exclusive categories and markets them with the right to promote the partnership within a single country border.  LOCOG, the organisers of London 2012 next summer, now have around 50 partners structured in three tiers with examples including Cisco as Official Network Infrastructure Supporter and BP as Official Oil and Gas Partner. 

The challenge of this complex sponsor landscape, especially when you have sliced and diced your rights as thinly as described above, is avoiding ‘category creep’.  Managing sponsor communications to keep within their narrow category definition is a real headache for both rights-holder and sponsor.  Cisco, for example, cannot talk about network endpoints like computers or mobiles without permission from Acer and Samsung respectively, but you can imagine how challenging it can be to explain the network’s contribution if permission is withheld.

However, at the recent European Sponsorship Association annual conference, a new concept of categorisation started to emerge: structuring rights around concepts like Intel being the official sponsor of innovation at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival or Kraft-owned Cadbury’s chocolate as Official Treat Provider for London 2012.  This takes rights management for both sponsors and rights-holders to a whole new level – do you know many brands that do not want to promote themselves as innovative?

This move from functional demarcation to emotional distinction plays well against a background of brands increasingly recognising that they must differentiate or die.  In the short term I anticipate something of a bun-fight as early adopters on both sides try to negotiate their way to this new paradigm, with some inevitable casualties along the way. Outcomes will be interesting: banks as Official Transparency Sponsor, Courier companies as Official “next best thing to a hug” provider or Cisco as Official “Human Network” Supporter perhaps?

Learn more about the Cisco London 2012 Olympics Sponsorship:

Cisco’s London 2012 site

Cisco UKI Facebook page

Business Ready 2012 LinkedIn page


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  1. Hi Neo, Of course I will update you with any partnerships that I spot that embrace this approach but it may take a while for robust case studies to trickle into the public domain. I do hope anyone who sees something noteworthy will therefore post the information here as I do not presume to have a total understanding on the details of all sponsorship relationships worldwide!

  2. "In the short term I anticipate something of a bun-fight as early adopters on both sides try to negotiate their way to this new paradigm, with some inevitable casualties along the way." - that is so true. sharp observation. I wonder what will be next year. Keep informing us please.