Sports events, brands and young people

Posted by Luke Mitchell on 21 May 2014 in Sponsorship

Voxburner’s latest research has looked into the response to sports sponsorship among young people and their media habits during major sports events.

We’ve examined awareness and expectations of this year’s World Cup Brazil and questioned the sponsors’ legacy from 2012’s London Olympics.

Our survey took place 30 April to 13 May and involved 1,059 16-24s across all areas of the UK.

This is an essential read for any brand or agency involved in or considering sponsorship. There’s also major insights for marketers looking to leverage sports events in future campaigns.

In this free premium article, you’ll discover answers to:

  • Did the London Olympics sponsors leave their mark in the minds of young people?
  • Who was the most remembered brand from that event?
  • Do 16-24s have any idea who’s sponsoring the World Cup 2014?
  • How will young people be watching the World Cup 2014 and following it through media?
  • What are their spending expectations during the tournament?
  • What do young people think of ambush marketing and unofficial associations?
  • Is there a market of disinterested youth consumers and, if so, how can they be engaged?
  • Does sponsorship leave a lasting impact and does it matter if brands aren’t obviously aligned with the subject of the event?

As this research is about the effectiveness of sports sponsorship, we began it with a short audit of the biggest and most memorable UK-hosted sporting event in recent times: the 2012 London Olympics.

For our 16-24 respondents, the event was a landmark occasion in their lives. They were at an age of maturity that meant they could recognise its cultural significance and undoubtedly were absorptive of media discussion.

Sponsorship had been part of that discussion, with pre-event controversy around organisers’ ‘dictatorial’ restrictions and the threat of ambush marketing. During the event the influence of brands was often scrutinised.

But what did young people remember? Had brands – officially or unofficially – associated themselves in the story of the London Olympics?

Which of these brands do you remember or associate with the London 2012 Olympics? Italics denote official sponsor of London Olympics 2012

McDonald's 53%

Coca-Cola 52%

Adidas 41%

Nike 31%

Visa 22%

Mastercard 19%

Cadbury 17%

BT 15%

Pepsi 11%

Panasonic 10%

TalkTalk 8%

Beats By Dre 8%

Apple 6%

Burger King 6%

Paddy Power 5%

Nestlé 3%

None of the above 12%

For each official sponsor we included in the randomised answer set, a rival brand was included. For example, for Cadbury we added Nestlé.

We also added Paddy Power and Beats as two unofficial sponsors who were subject of media discussion at the time of the event, one for its use of guerilla marketing tactics and the other for its ubiquitous presence on the ears of celebrity sportspeople.

In the results we see that the top three brands most associated with the London Olympics were McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Adidas – all three were official sponsors.

Of unofficial rival brands featuring high in the results, only fourth-placed Nike is significantly associated, with 31% of young people connecting it.

Perhaps the weakest evidence of impact is shown by Visa, the official payment handler of the event. There is only a 3% gap between it and rival Mastercard in the memories of young people.

In every instance however, official sponsors are remembered above unofficial.

In this example, young people remembered or associated official sponsors with the Olympics. But do they care about the difference between official and unofficial?

“It matters to me that brands celebrating a sports event are official sponsors and feature the official logo.”

Strongly agree 22%

Somewhat agree 44%

Disagree 26%

Strongly disagree 8%

It seems a majority of 66% have a view that brands celebrating the event should be doing so officially. The implication that they are not impressed by ‘unofficial’ brands leveraging sports events is strengthened in the next results.

“I mostly approve of organisers policing their events to prevent unofficial sponsors receiving publicity.”

Strongly agree 16%

Somewhat agree 62%

Disagree 18%

Strongly disagree 3%

“I usually enjoy ‘ambush marketing’ – when an unofficial partner gatecrashes an event or achieves publicity some other way.”

Strongly agree 7%

Somewhat agree 33%

Disagree 46%

Strongly disagree 13%

Often in Voxburner research about marketing effectiveness, young people appear keen to deny brands’ success at selling to them. Yet in these results we see acknowledgement that sponsorship achieves visibility, with 57% disagreeing that they “never notice sponsors or official partners”, and more revealingly 63% say the use of event-related messaging on products makes them more attractive.

“I never notice sponsors or official partners associated with sporting events”

Strongly agree 9%

Somewhat agree 33%

Disagree 45%

Strongly disagree 12%

“When shopping during a popular event like the World Cup or the Olympics, I am more attracted to products that celebrate the event in their packaging or promotions.”

Strongly agree 14%

Somewhat agree 49%

Disagree 28%

Strongly disagree 9%

Media discussion on sports sponsorship has spotlighted the relevance of certain brands to the events they sponsor. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola were accused of being inappropriate sponsors of a sporting occasion due to the ‘unhealthiness’ of their products. Others have suggested that corporate business brands like BNY Mellon – sponsors of the UK’s annual Oxford/Cambridge boat race – are incongruous at high profile events where few recognise them or the nature of their interest.

What do young people think? The majority are not concerned.

“When it comes to sports sponsorship, it concerns me when the brands don’t fit with the type of event”

Strongly agree 14%

Somewhat agree 26%

Disagree 54%

Strongly disagree 7%

World Cup 2014 sponsorship

Given the awareness and attitude shown by young people in the research to sports sponsorship, it’s interesting to next look at the forthcoming World Cup Brazil 2014. While anticipation is beginning to build for June’s competition, at this stage media coverage and discussion is relatively low level and there has been no significant attention on particular sponsors.

In the chart below, we have marked official sponsors and, again, selected unofficial rival brands to match against.

Which of these brands do you associate with the forthcoming 2014 World Cup Brazil? Italics denote official sponsor of London Olympics 2012

Adidas 30%

Coca-Cola 30%

Nike 26%

Budweiser 14%

Emirates 13%


Pepsi 12%

Mastercard 12%

Visa 11%

Carling 10%

British Airways 8%

Hyundai Kia Motors 5%

Beats By Dre 5%

Paddy Power 5%

Burger King 4%

Volkswagen 3%

None of the above 35%

World Cup 2014 consumer intentions

While around a third of young people could not identify a single sponsor involved, of those that believed they could, the results follow a similar pattern to the post-Olympics results.

Official sponsors are mostly recognised above non-official. Nike manages to be associated by a strong 26%, yet it falls behind official sponsor Adidas. Official sponsors Budweiser and Emirates are associated more than unofficial rivals Carling and British Airways. Again, it’s Visa whose return on investment may be threatened, with slightly more young people associating the unassociated Mastercard with the event.

Moving away from sponsorship and onto other questions that marketers are interested in, we asked respondents about their plans for World Cup Brazil. If the trend towards home entertainment initially concerns businesses that rely on footfall, they will find a more positive takeaway further down, in the plans of those not intending to watch.

Thinking of this summer’s World Cup Brazil, where are you most likely to watch the important games?

At home with family 33%

At home with friends (or at their home) 22%

In a pub or public venue 14%

At home alone 5%

Other 1%

I won't be watching 26%

Next two questions only answered by respondents who will NOT be watching the World Cup

Which of the following are you likely to do as an alternative to watching this summer’s World Cup Brazil?

Go shopping 63%

Go to the cinema 57%

Travel abroad 45%

Visit museums or places of interest in the UK 40%

Go to a concert or gig 36%

Go to the theatre 23%

Play sports 17%

Other 12%

Which of the following statements applies to you?

“I expect to spend more money on activities this summer to avoid watching the World Cup” 27%

“I will try and avoid pubs and other public places that will be showing sports” 83%

Returning to the three-quarters majority who will be watching the World Cup, we investigated the role of food, drink and merchandise in the experience and their spending expectations.

When you’re watching a sports event with other people, how important to you are the following

Food - Very important 43%, Quite important 46%, Unimportant 11%

Drink (alcohol) - Very important 28%, Quite important 38%, Unimportant 34%

Drink (non-alcoholic) - Very important 30%, Quite important 53%, Unimportant 17%

Clothes (eg team shirt) - Very important 15%, Quite important 29%, Unimportant 56%

Accessories (eg hat or flag) - Very important 9%, Quite important 29%, Unimportant 62%

Which of the following are you likely to do MORE of during this summer’s World Cup Brazil?

Purchase alcohol 51%

Order takeaways 49%

Play sports 31%

Go shopping 25%

Go to the cinema, gig or an alternative event 21%

Buy newspapers 15%

Travel abroad 11%

Media consumption

Finally we explored how young people will be following the tournament and which devices they will use to view games.

How often do you expect to be using the following devices in relation to this summer’s World Cup Brazil?

Standard TV - All the time 35%, Regularly 51%, Not much 12%, Not at all 2%

Laptop or PC - All the time 15%, Regularly 40%, Not much 32%, Not at all 13%

Mobile phone- All the time 16%, Regularly 32%, Not much 32%, Not at all 20%

Radio - All the time 5%, Regularly 20%, Not much 41%, Not at all 34%

Tablet - All the time 10%, Regularly 22%, Not much 31%, Not at all 38%

If not watching a game, where is the first place you would turn to during the World Cup Brazil to follow the match progress?

Website e.g Sky Sports, FIFA, BBC 61%

Twitter 20%

Radio 5%

App 6%

SMS alerts 2%

None of these 5%

Other 1%


Young people are more supportive of event organisers and official sponsors than some might expect, on side with them in the commercial protection of their assets and appearing to frown on those that try to break the rules. We know this generation is generally more conservative and ‘brand friendly’ than previous youth generations, so some may think this response relates to a desire for fairness and rule-playing. But qualitative follow up with our Voxburner Academy indicates it’s more about being classy. Marketers may not realise young people’s understanding of their tactics.