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Barclays’ Global Sponsorship Group leader Nathan Homer: China is an unmissable market

By Yutang Sports, assisted by Jonathan Powell in London 16 May 2016

Nathan Homer leads Barclays’ Global Sponsorship Group, managing partnerships around the world, including the Barclays Premier League, ATP tennis finals, Springboks and the Barclays golf activity. He also covers arts and entertainment with the Donmar and the O2, plus leadership events with the government, regulatory and other stakeholders, such as the World Economic Forum. Prior to this, Mr Homer led Procter & Gamble’s Global Sports Marketing division, including the Olympic Games’ “Proud Sponsor of Mum” TOP Partnership program.       

Yutang Sports: Where is sponsorship going, what are the current trends and the direction?

Nathan Homer: “In the industry as a whole, in the traditional markets, that’s the US, the UK and most of Europe, the old sponsorship model, of sticking your badge on something, is changing significantly. Most brands are wide into asking: ‘who am I trying to talk to as my customer, what is it I need to try and tell them, and how does connecting with this help to tell my story?’ In the Premier League, we’ve gone from a model of just association; ‘associate Barclays with football and that will drive a bit of brand warmth and trust,’ to now, where we are much more into seeking to talk to people about the role Barclays has in society or their lives. If we do that as a finance company, it’s dull. If we can find a way of doing that through football, it’s more interesting. An example might be if we want to talk to wealth targets, we hold an event, where Premier League owners and managers speak and people will come and listen. It’s because they want to hear about the sport, and on the side we can present the Barclays wealth management business element.”   

Yutang Sports: What do you see as the important elements in a working relationship between rights holders and sponsors? 

Nathan Homer: “Branding and media value is nice, because you want that, but partnerships are now much more about the rights holder being willing to work together to create genuine stories. I say to rights holders: ‘you need to get the money in, but as much as you can, you must know the story you want to tell, and which brands are the best to tell that story. The brands are the marketing vehicle. If you run an event, you spend money to market it yourself, or get the right partners who will tell the story with their spin on it. The simple version of that is if you were to get no money from a brand, but they spent millions promoting your event. It could be the best sponsorship deal you ever do.   

“If you don’t have a legitimate reason to be part of the story, fans will either ignore you or reject you. It can harm your brand. If you are just present because you sponsor it, with pitch side branding or whatever, they will basically accept you. But if you are ‘trying’ to be part of it, their passion, their world, but there is no reason for you to be there, you just ‘jar’. They don’t understand why you are there. But if you are genuinely part of the story, can find an angle to be part of it, one that gives you a role, the fans are happy for you to be there. It’s easier for some brands than others. For example, imagine a beer company sponsor that always gives the fans free beer. Fans will like that company. But for services like a bank, it is harder to do. We can do it by showing we understand football fans, by giving what we get from the sponsorship back to the fans. To sell products we need people to consider us, and feel warm towards Barclays, to like Barclays as much as possible, feel warmth towards the brand. Then when it comes to the more product focused message, the fans can put the two thoughts together in their own minds.”

Yutang Sports: How can sponsors better handle a crisis situation with an athlete or property?

Nathan Homer: “I used to run P&Gs Olympic campaigns, and in the Olympic Games there are always tension points. In London, the big tension was with tickets, and pricing and availability, in Russia there was the anti-gay law, then there is all sorts of doping scandals, and I was on the Gillette sponsorship when the Tiger Woods story broke. There are lots of things that can come up. But there is one thing that never changes, which is that if you are ‘prepared’ then you can react quickly and properly. You’ve already thought about it, and decided if you are going to participate. It will either be their sport or profession, or their private life. If it is their profession, you are going to need to comment. Being prepared, knowing if you are going to comment or not, to participate in a discussion or not, these certain scenarios are foreseeable in many ways. But nowadays, it’s very hard now for sponsors not to comment, when it’s about the property you are sponsoring, the organization, tournament or the athlete. People expect you to have a point of view, and not having one leaves you open to being perceived as negative. You have to be prepared to step in. But the smart way is to avoid the ‘no comment’ but not get involved in the debate. You need to find neutral ground where you ‘seem’ to have commented, or made a stand. This is unless you were a brand that ‘wanted’ to become part of the story, by making a strong stand against what has happened, and burn your bridges. It’s about knowing your brand, and understanding what stepping into the debate means.”

Yutang Sports: Can you talk about your case study, of the Leicester City fan presenting the Barclays’ Premier League trophy to the Leicester captain recently?

Nathan Homer: “We looked at what has been successful as we do our activation of the Premier League, and found quickly that fans are more interested in stories about fans. How do we link to a big moment, such as the end of season trophy presentation? It needed to give Barclays an unmissable role, and it was Barclays’ choice of who presents the trophy, and it plays off a ‘rooted expectation’ such as a senior executive coming out to present it. Now a big corporate sponsor has given a fan the chance to present it.  Then we pick someone who has an amazing story, on top of that. By nature people want to ask him, ‘how did you get to do this?’ And of course, he is immediately going to say: ‘Barclays decided to give a fan the chance to present the trophy.’ It’s all part of the story. There is warmth to it. When we’re asked why we did it, we can say: ‘We’ve always known football is all about the fans, we’ve always known that, always given tickets to fans, so giving a fan the ultimate moment just seemed a natural extension of what we’ve already done.’”

Yutang Sports: Can you talk about the China market, and how do you see the Chinese Super League evolving there? 

Nathan Homer: “China is an unmissable market, but you need to have some in-built knowledge of the market before you go in there. The biggest question about the CSL for me is; will they be able to persuade enough class players to go in live in China? The world’s best will always be willing to play in Europe, flexibly. Most players would go to the USA, it’s not thought of as challenging to go and live in Chicago or Los Angeles, and it’s an English speaking country.  Even in England, some players won’t go to Manchester, but they will go to London. I think this is China’s biggest challenge. Rightly, or wrongly, they may ask ‘is it the kind of place I want my family to live?’ The footballer might be willing to go anywhere, but not the family.” 

This article was assisted by Jonathan Powell, contributing writer of Yutang Sports at The Telegraph Business of Sport Conference in London.

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