Gerry Nixon on a Decade of Sponsorship

On November 20th Sport for Business is partnering with Onside Sponsorship and the Marketing Institute of Ireland for the hosting of the ‘Who Won Sponsorship 2019’ event at the Aviva Stadium.

A key element of this year’s event will be a look back at the decade of sponsorship in Ireland.

As part of a partnership between Sport for Business and this event, we have interviewed a number of those who will be appearing at the event and asking them their views on the changing nature of the partnership landscape in Ireland.

In the third of our series of interviews with key speakers on the day, we sat down with Gerry Nixon, Head of Sponsorship at Vodafone Ireland for his thoughts

SfB: We are celebrating a decade in which sport and sponsorship have changed beyond recognition. What are the main changes that have impacted Sport and Sponsorship in Ireland in your view?

GN: I think the main change for me has been the quality of the offering to fans.  The passion and appetite for live sport hasn’t diminished but I think the expectation around the experience has increased greatly. 

The modern-day experience in the Aviva or Croke Park is a far cry from what it was 20 years ago.  Live sport appeals to a much wider audience now, but it also competes with so many other events taking place. 

So the onus is on organisers, as well as sponsors to help create the best experience possible for fans. We go in huge numbers to sporting events, and our fans across all sports are the best in the world – we need to ensure that their loyalty is rewarded with quality experiences. 

SfB: Do you feel that sport is closer to the fans now than ever before or further away

GN: Globally there is a strange paradox unfolding – in some ways players and sports bodies are in constant contact with fans through the power of social media, however in some sports players are so distant from fans economically, it makes a true, meaningful connection quite difficult. 

You usually remain a fan of a team for life – but the players you worship have a career and earning path to follow, so they don’t necessarily stay on the journey with you.  

That said, I think we are really unique in Ireland.  Many of our sporting heroes are genuinely accessible – they live amongst us in a way that’s different to other countries. 

I think the amateur ethos of the GAA really helps with this – but also, I think the Irish psyche of keeping ourselves, or others, down to earth is very impactful. 

That superstars of Irish and world rugby ply their trade here is fantastic.  Go to any provincial game and you will see world-class players that are based here in Ireland.

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SfB: How have the channels of communication that you use to engage with your audience changed over the past ten years?

GN: The obvious answer here is social media other digital media platforms that open up really interesting ways to engage.  This has been a huge change. 

There is a need now to have a near-constant stream of content and you need to be able to react to events as they unfold – which is great but you need to ensure the content is valuable and it is delivering on your KPIs. 

We are very lucky with our relationship with the IRFU and the players that we get great access to unique content.  But I think the biggest change in sport sponsorship over the last few years has been the realisation of its power to connect with customers on a deeper, more emotional level. 

I think brands have become more strategic in what they sponsor and how they use it- and asset holders also want to do more to help sponsors realise the value of the rights they have. 

SfB: What do you see as potentially the biggest opportunities for sponsorship professionals in the next decade?

GN: For me, the biggest opportunity for a sponsorship professional is to be part of the building of sports. 

What I think we will see more of is the trend for asset holders looking for brand and sponsors that will more than just a rights fee and some activation- they will look for sponsors that add utility and can help them fundamentally change and develop those sports for the better. 

So when we look at our relationship with the IRFU, yes its about building our brand, but its also about using our technology to help the IRFU achieve their objectives and to make our customers/their fans have the best possible experience. 

The ‘Who Won Sponsorship Series 2019’ event takes place on Wednesday, November 20th in the Aviva Stadium. Tickets are priced at €75 for individual and corporate members of the Marketing Institute of Ireland or €100 for non-members and can be purchased here.

Image credits, Inpho.ie

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