Leveraging Sport Sponsorship for Brand Positioning

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Raheem Akingbolu writes on brand positioning and how the sponsorship of the just concluded Higher Institutions Football League by Stanbic IBTC will deepen the brand’s influence in the youth segment of the market

In modern marketing, companies and their brands are competing heavily to hold existing and to gain new marketing share. For this reason, smart brand promoters look for credible platforms to connect their target audience.
In recent time, sports and music sponsorship have become important tools used in this regard and they are also important sources of income for sports entities and entertainment companies.
Both are fast becoming the most potent platforms for marketing because of the affinity between fans and the teams or music stars, as the case may be.
In advanced nations, handlers of top brands always find the two areas tempting because they are the easiest routes to the heart of the teeming youth population.

Though the use of sports and music sponsorship as brand equity building tools is not new in Nigeria but not many financial brands invest in such marketing platform.
Besides, the Nigeria’s entertainment industry provides music personalities and other celebrities to connect with, that cannot be said of sports because there are no viable local football leagues.
As a result of this, most companies have been restricted to music as the major platform to connect consumers.

HiFL Sponsorship
It was good news few months ago, when the Stanbic IBTC Group announced its sponsorship of the Higher Institutions Football League (HIFL), which kicked off in various centres across the country in August. Tom-tom from the stable of Cadbury Nigeria also leveraged on the competition as official candy with huge branding support during the final.
Though, the bank had stated that the sponsorship was in tandem with the company’s determination to help grow and develop a vibrant and productive youth population, observers were quick to point out that the decision to support the tournament might be the platform needed by the Stanbic IBTC to conquer the youths market.

According to Stanbic IBTC, their involvement was equally informed by the need to foster unity among the youths, the future leaders, and development of sports as well as the economy using the HIFL platform.

Last week in Lagos, the investment paid off as university students and other football enthusiasts gathered to celebrate the winning team –the University of Agriculture, Makurdi and the winning brand – Stanbic IBTC Holdings.
At the Agege Stadium, Lagos, the UAM Tillers defeated UNICAL Malabites in a penalty shoot out to go home with the trophy.

Earlier in the morning of same day, OAU giants had defeated UNILORIN Warriors to emerged 3rd in the winners’ roll call.

While Ebuka David Odenigbo of the University of Agriculture, Markurdi, UAM Tillers, was named the HiFL Elite Player of the year, special recognition was also given to three players in the league; Olumofe Seyi James of OAU Giants, Charles Ufot of UNICAL Malabites and Ogunronbi Hawal of UNILORIN Warriors.
It was also a moment of accomplishment for the nation’s only female coach, Priscilla Mlumun Vande of University of Agriculture, whose team; UAM Tillers, carted home the trophy.

Stadium Branding
For the promoters of the Stanbic IBTC brand, the competition was an opportunity to warm the brand into the hearts of various university students as every tool was explored to reposition the brand.
Aside stadium branding, Stanbic IBTC created huge presence through kit endorsement, branding of the display panels around the football pitch; branding of fans bid and products display.

Chief Executive, Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc, Mr. Yinka Sanni, expressed his delight to be part of the competition.
He said: “We are enthusiastic about our sponsorship of the university league. The sponsorship is in line with our objective to engage the youth in talent-moulding and character-building initiatives and our determination to contribute to the development of sports and by extension the economy.”

Meanwhile, the organisers of the league commended Stanbic IBTC for its boldness in sponsoring the HIFL.
According to them, the sponsorship was invaluable to the success of the varsity league, even as they promised to sustain the tempo in the years ahead and “convince our sponsors and indeed Nigerians that collegiate sport is ripe in Nigeria.”
Organised by Green White Green (GWG) Sports, the maiden edition of the league featured the top 16 universities from across the country.

The teams played a total of 30 games over a 14-week period to determine the winner.
Explaining the rationale for HIFL at the draws ceremony in Lagos, CEO of the Green White Green, Alhaji Shuaibu Gara-Gombe, said the HIFL is conceived as a platform for students “to exhibit their talents to the world.”

According to the Director, PACE Sports and Entertainment Marketing, Sola Fijabi, whose agency recently inaugurated the league, there is a connection between brand building and sports that has not been fully explored in Nigeria because of lack of strong sporting platforms. He stated that for discerning brands, HiFL is another platform for connecting with consumers. According to Fijabi, the spread of the tournament and potential opportunities abound.
“HiFL has been designed to address the needs of every brand. Here, we are referring to over 60 per cent of the population in Nigeria as prospective customers of any discerning brand. That is huge.

“Opportunities such as kit endorsement/branding; branding of the display panels around the football pitch; branding of fans bid; products display amongst other sponsorship opportunities are available.

“The beauty of these profound opportunities is that brands may simply tap in for their corporate social responsibility programmes,” Fijabi said.

This was also the position of a Marketing expert, Babatunde Oguntuase, who argued during an interview with THISDAY that there has been serious vacuum in the nation’s marketing space, adding that the recent development will boost sports and brands marketing in Nigeria.

“Unlike what we have in the entertainment industry, sports in Nigeria are event driven and that is why it has failed to command necessary followership.

“Sport is key to marketing, especially when it comes to reaching out to the youth segment of the market but unfortunately there is no strong local football league to serve as positioning vehicle for sponsorship and advertising. “That is why we must all rally support for PACE in its new endeavor to open up that segment and create opportunity for our brands,” Oguntuase said.