Sport Sponsorship: The power of a message through real cases

Damian Bott of PSV and Jason Lucas Luijckx of Team Liquid reveal in a webinar from the Johan Cruyff Institute on sport sponsorship what the key elements are of their tailor-made partnerships: PSV with Brainport Eindhoven and Team Liquid with Alienware and other brands in the esports industry

Sport sponsorship value is evolving as the world around it changes. There has been accelerated shifts in the way rights holders sell their sport sponsorships and brands activate their partnerships, according to the latest report ‘2021 Global Sport Marketing Trends’ by Nielsen Sports. There are new ways to engage fans and create stories, and millennials have become an important target group to connect with.

Tailor-made deals are key in sport sponsorship today, but whether you are a football club with a long and rich tradition like PSV Eindhoven, or a leading brand in the young esports and gaming industry like Team Liquid, there are a lot more similarities in what we can share and learn from than we might perhaps think.

“That is why we were delighted that two speakers, representing PSV Eindhoven and Team Liquid, prepared presentations for a webinar on sport sponsorship partnerships, to take us into their organizations and explain how sponsorship has evolved into a powerful marketing platform for their organizations, as well as for their sponsors and the stakeholders they work with today,” says Richard Denton, academic director of the Master in Sport Management Amsterdam and lecturer of the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona from Johan Cruyff Institute, and the organizer of the webinar.

The Brains

DAMIAN BOTT
Damian is head of marketing & media at PSV Eindhoven. He dives into the unique and historic sponsorship relation the club has with Brainport Eindhoven, to further promote the region as a global leader in knowledge, high-tech and innovation.

 

JASON LUCAS LUIJCKS
Jason is the senior partnerships manager at Team Liquid. He delves into the management and sales side of sponsorships within the esports industry and some exclusive and long-term partnerships, one of them with Alienware and the Alienware Training Facility in Utrecht.

 

RICHARD DENTON
Besides his academic work for Johan Cruyff Institute, Richard has been working in the sport marketing and entertainment business for a variety of international brands and sport events. He was also managing director of the leading Dutch sport marketing agency Trefpunt-Prism, and he was manager of sponsorship and partner sales at Dutch football club Vitesse.

PSV’s partnership with Brainport Eindhoven

Right at the start of his presentation, Damian Bott reveals that “we put Brainport Eindhoven on the chests of our PSV players, which is quite unique, as it is a region and not a big brand that is—I assume—on the most important spot of every football club around the world: it’s jersey.”

Sport Sponsorship: The power of a message through real cases

Noni Madueke of PSV Celebrates 1-0 with Brainport Eindhoven on his chest.

“It is a partnership focused on innovation, vitality, entertainment, talent development and talent recruitment. For everyone within and outside the region”

Brainport Eindhoven is a remarkable region, and a brand owned by 21 cities in the south of the Netherlands. The five launching partners, now six, are committed to promoting this region brand. Not a company, but a region as a football club’s premium partner. To further promote Brainport Eindhoven as a global leader in knowledge, high-tech and innovation, five top Dutch companies and PSV joined forces in a cooperation that goes beyond sponsoring. “It is a partnership focused on innovation, vitality, entertainment, talent development and talent recruitment. For everyone within and outside the region,” says Damian.

It has existed since the start of the 2019-2020 football season, when the parties announced the new initiative. Toon Gerbrands, general manager of PSV, said about it: “The main feature of this concept is that the traditional main sponsorship is abandoned. We call it a premium partnership, there are no end dates to this sponsorship and new parties can step in along the way, as it is a self-evolving system, which is really unique in sports marketing and the sponsorship world.”

“We call it a premium partnership, there are no end dates to this sponsorship and new parties can step in along the way”

The five companies that committed themselves as premium partners to Brainport Eindhoven, and as such also to PSV, are Philips (also the founder of the club in 1913 and in its name, which stands for ‘Philips Sports Association’ in Dutch), ASML, VDL Groep, Jumbo Supermarkets and High-Tech Campus Eindhoven. Later, Royal Swinkels joined Brainport Eindhoven as the sixth premium partner.

“The premium partners have the ambition to put the Brainport Eindhoven region even more prominently on the world map, as an international leader in knowledge, high-tech and innovationy”

The companies have the ambition to put the Brainport Eindhoven region even more prominently on the world map, as an international leader in knowledge, high-tech and innovation. “Eindhoven is the home of innovation,” Damian explains, “it is a small city and the smallest city to have a European Cup winner, but we call it Europe’s Silicon Valley, because of the many opportunities for business and innovation. PSV’s worldwide exposure helps to put the region on the map, nationwide and worldwide, and that’s important since we are in great need of new talents. Currently, we have over 15,000 job vacancies related to IT and technology in the region. The brand also evokes feelings of pride and empathy with the region, for everybody who is working and living here, both natives and expats. So, we all support the capturing and retaining of talents in the region.”

“The region Brainport is in great need of new talents. We have over 15,000 job vacancies related to IT and technology in the region”

From the start, Damian was involved when the premium partnership Brainport Eindhoven was created, and he admits it was a complex and long journey: “There were many parties at the table and within PSV we also needed time to reflect on our DNA and mission, to align them with our future goals and the goals of our premium partners.”

“Since its origins, the PSV slogan has been ‘Unity creates Strength’ (Eendracht maakt Macht),” Damian continues, “which was exactly what our founder Philips did when it took the initiative to create PSV, and it is still at the core of our existence. The club was founded in 1913, because so many people came to Eindhoven to work for the Philips company, and it was Philips’s vision to also provide entertainment and relaxation for the workers, to play and stay vital, for a more productive future.”

Sport Sponsorship: The power of a message through real cases - Johan Cruyff Institute

Activation of the brand Brainport Eindhoven: ‘Our story behind the shirt’. Photo: Raoul Hollants Photography.

“We still believe in connecting people to do things together, from employees so they can play or watch football, to other companies and government bodies to take initiatives together,” Damian says. “So, the PSV story is clearly linked to Brainport Eindhoven, where we are doing the same: standing side by side, making the impossible possible, a story of hard work and pride, of loyalty to the city, to the ones that stood by us. We realize we are not the biggest, but we will always aim for the stars, by outsmarting the competition to create our future. You can see those values of PSV well reflected in Brainport Eindhoven.”

“The PSV story is clearly linked to Brainport Eindhoven, where we are doing the same; the values of PSV are well reflected in Brainport Eindhoven”

“With this in mind, we defined a long-term strategy towards 2030 and we changed our focus towards the market, meaning targeting audiences,” explains Damian, “and we have defined four target audiences for PSV, which we find in the Brainport Eindhoven partnership as well. We believe in connecting with all these audiences, because in the end unity creates strength:”

  • Fans: “Making every fan a star”. Our fans are the greatest. They deserve the best with customized content and personal interaction—in the stadium and online—and we’ll expand our traditional fan base to engage a more diverse international audience. And make everyone feel like a star.
  • Players: “Turning players into stars”. Our players are resources that grow and build value. Smart scouting and innovative training technology strengthen our talent pool and reinforce our position as a ‘springboard to the super clubs”. We also give up-and-coming young teammates the platform to develop their personal brand, engage with fans and build star power.
  • Partner & sponsors: “Treating our partners as stars”. Our partners make it possible—on the hoardings and behind the scenes. We’ll work together with tech companies in the Brainport region to build valuable partnerships that allow them to gain insights from our data, showcase innovative technology and engage with fans.
  • Employees: “Make employees feel like stars”. Stars aren’t born, they are created. Our employees are the beating heart of the organization. They are the ones connecting all stakeholders and will let them feel like stars. And only happy employees can make happy customers.

Team Liquid’s partnership with Alienware and other esport brands

“Some people see Team Liquid as an American organization, because of our Team Liquid League of Legends team from Los Angeles, which plays in the League Championship Series (LCS). But nothing could be further from the truth! Team Liquid was founded in Utrecht and has always had a large presence in Europe,” says Jason Lucas Luijckx, senior partnerships manager at Team Liquid.

“For us, it is nearly the opposite from PSV, since everything is newer in the young esports industry. Team Liquid started 20 years ago, which is actually a relatively long time in esports. This makes us interesting for partners, because our fanbase has a bit more loyalty and pedigree, and we have built a huge network of players, internationally and locally.”

Sport Sponsorship: The power of a message through real cases - Johan Cruyff Institute

Celebration esport winners ESL One Cologne 2019. Photo: Rich Lock.

“The main reason sponsors are interested in esports, is because it targets a younger demographic audience: 75 percent of fans are 35 years or under,” according to Jason, who adds that “it has become hard for marketeers to reach that audience, because they don’t read newspapers or watch traditional TV anymore. Esports, on the contrary, has proven really powerful for sponsors to connect with this young target group.”

Jason provides us with data about League of Legends, the biggest esports league worldwide, which he compares with ‘traditional’ sports:

  • League of Legends is the third most popular league in the US among younger audiences (18-34). So, one esports league alone (and there are many more), is competing with big American leagues like the NBA and MLB.
  • The 2021 Super Bowl had over 96 million viewers on television, while the 2018 League of Legends World Champion finals had almost 1 billion viewers, mostly through live streaming.

“We continue to experience an enormous rise in esports regarding revenues, viewership and sponsorship interests. We normally use a global approach in activating sponsorships. Esports are played online and everywhere, things in our community are very international, and the tournaments are played all over the world, although we sometimes apply a more local approach, when games are popular in a certain region,” Jason explains.

“To some it might be ‘just a game’ but for us it is sport and competition, and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to contribute to an industry and a community we love”

“And we treat our business very seriously,” he continues. “To some it might be ‘just a game’ but for us it is sport and competition, and we feel a deep sense of responsibility to contribute to an industry and a community we love,” Jason says. “We have over 100 athletes with 20 different nationalities. Our League of Legends team is comprised of two Danish players, a UK player, an American player and a South Korean player—covering three continents. Team Liquid participates in 15 sports—or games—and for each of them we have a different team, coaching staff, training and hardware requirements, and different types of athletes, with different skill sets, etc.”

“We have over 100 athletes with 20 different nationalities. Our League of Legends team is comprised of two Danish players, a UK player, an American player and a South Korean player—covering three continents”

“In addition to the athletes, we have a support staff of more than 120 people, that do the jobs you also see at traditional organizations, in HR, sponsorships, sales, marketing, legal, etc. And finally, we have our Alienware Training Facilities in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and in Santa Monica near Los Angeles. These facilities include training equipment, housing and rooms for the players, and a kitchen with a chef that provides healthy meals three times a day.”

“Another way you can draw a comparison,” Jason continues, “is by looking at the athlete and shirt. When you look at a PSV football player and a Team Liquid esports player, you will notice immediately they are both very fit—there are a lot of false stereotypes about gamers that are fortunately not true at all—and our major logo placements are on the sleeve and the shoulder, and not on the chest, because monitors block the front view.”

“When you look at a PSV football player and a Team Liquid esports player, you will notice immediately they are both very fit, and our major logo placements are on the sleeve and the shoulder, and not on the chest”

“So, what aspects do we consider in sponsoring?” continues Jason. “We work mostly with endemic sponsors, such as Alienware, HyperX or Twitch, that are native to gaming, and sometimes with non-endemic sponsors, who are intuitively familiar with what our fans care about, such as Honda, IMC, Bud Light and SAP. A good brand fit is very important. Our fans, the online community, care about social causes, such as diversity and inclusiveness, and since esports is so connected to the internet culture, the values of our sponsors need to be aligned with that.”

Sport Sponsorship: The power of a message through real cases - Johan Cruyff Institute

“Each of the brands interested in working with us has a very specific goal in mind, so we only offer customized sponsorship agreements that really cater very specifically to them,” concludes Jason, “the most important features of our sponsorship agreements are:

  • Category exclusiveness—for example with Alienware, hardware manufacture for gaming and esports, part of DELL. It’s probably the closest thing you’ll find in all esports globally, to a traditional title sponsor partnership. We feel very lucky to have them on board.
  • Experiential—because esports is constantly evolving. There are plenty of things that were successful of course. But there is not much of a proven track record, since everything is evolving so fast. A lot of the sponsorship activations we do are done for the first time.
  • Content deliverables are normally YouTube videos, social media posts, etc. All the things you can imagine that are traditionally part of sponsorships.
  • Strategic initiatives and innovation. With Alienware and our training facilities, we worked on breaking the stigma of an esports athlete being unhealthy. And we look more beyond our traditional fanbase now. For example, underprivileged kids there are various parts of the world where kids do not have online access. Or girls—some people tell young girls that esports is not for them, that it is only for boys. Esports is becoming more inclusive, in that sense.”

Richard Denton concludes…

“Although esports is considered new and different to football, there are many similarities,” says Richard. “For example, the way athletes perform off- and online, or the way the fans and followers engage with their favorite teams and players, whenever they have the opportunity. Our passion for sport, in combination with technological and social evolution, creates new opportunities for companies that find sport sponsorship a good vehicle to engage sports participants and viewers. Through these powerful partnerships, they can offer tailor-made platforms which all stakeholders can benefit from, whether your sport roots evolved in the last 20 years or 100 years ago.”

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