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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Derrick

Brand-led sponsorship: the way forward

Updated: Jun 6, 2022

For years, sponsorship in sport has been about the commercial return, the highest bidder and/or the longest term. Sometimes it may be the perks in it for the employees and players too. But either way, the brand fit has often been left to the side and not considered when making sponsorship or partnership decisions.

Authenticity in sport is expected by fans, as is transparency. At the same time, fans are becoming more-and-more savvy to influencer marketing and sponsorship activation. They know when their favourite brand or player is promoting a brand they would like, wear, use, enjoy in their personal lives vs one that quite clearly paid a good figure.

And yet, we cannot ask brands to forget the commercials altogether. Some sports have broadcast but many rely on sponsorship deals to keep them afloat. So how can we get this balance right via brand-led sponsorship?

A quick definition. Brand-led sponsorship is when you use your brand to identify and negotiate sponsorship deals. It's where each brand can help the other either by providing mutually benefitting services or by filling a gap that may exist. It may even be the partnership a brand needs to educate audiences both existing and new.

We've identified five drivers that, depending on your business objective(s), can underpin a successful brand-led sponsorship. Lets get into it:

ONE: PURPOSE DRIVEN The desire to educate, promote and/or activate your brand purpose. Also known as the purpose partnership. Purpose partnerships are growing in popularity as fans seek brands who know who they are, their reasons to exist and are seen to have a soul rather than dollar-sign-eyes.

✅ Example: M&S Food x 4x FA’s of the UK: Eat Well Play Well.

M&S being the nation’s supermarket, football being the nation’s sport. All brands involved have purposes focussed on the nation’s health, wellbeing and activity but haven't necessarily put the emphasis on it of late, relying more on the pitch or the caterpillar cakes ;)

Below are the different purposes* which show just how aligned this partnership is:

  • M&S: "Enhancing lives. Every day."

  • The FA / England Football: “For All"

  • Irish FA: “Promote, foster and develop football for all across Northern Ireland”

  • Scottish FA: “The Scottish FA exists to promote, foster and develop the game at all levels in this country”

  • FA of Wales: “Creating a leading football nation”

*most FA’s don’t explicitly pull out their purpose but these are their underlining strategy, visions or goals which are often fancy words for purpose. FA’s if you need any help with shining a light on your purpose, give us a bell.

TWO: FAN ENGAGEMENT DRIVEN The desire to grow, diversify and/or better your audience in an authentic way. When you create a brand-led partnership, your fans are more likely to be more loyal and for longer. If fans don’t believe your partnership is authentic you risk not only alienating them from the partnership brand but from yours too.

✅ Example of it done right: TikTok x Women’s Six Nations. A brilliant way to grow the audience for Women’s Six Nations with TikTok’s majority female and incredibly active audience. More so, as TikTok looks to grow its sport offering, especially in the women’s sport space, this is a win-win as women’s rugby continues to grow in Europe.

❌ Example of it done wrong: NEOM x BLAST. Not only did it out NEOM in the spotlight for the bad, it also angered BLASTS incredibly loyal fanbase, seeing many turn their backs on the esports brand for good.


The desire to offer the fan a more inclusive and unique experience that enhances their viewing. As the way we view sport continues to change and diversify especially in the virtual space, a great partnership is one that improves the experience of your fan whilst growing the audience of your partner brand (see point TWO).

✅ Example: Food delivery services x sports teams. There are a number of these so we haven’t chosen a specific service or team but you get the idea. A brilliant no brainer, built from the insight that food delivery orders increase more than 25% before a sports event.


The desire to improve or rebuild the brand brands reputation in an authentic way. Yes, there is that word again. This one has got to be done carefully or brands risk hurting their brand more if seen to be covering a bigger problem with a bandaid. A clever partnership allows the affected brand to essentially piggy-back off the partner brand’s better reputation and brand perception. But it must be believable.

Example: eBay x Love Island. Love Island has had a pretty good run over the years but after a bout of terrible scandals and a bigger spotlight on the show's effect on the climate, producers knew change was needed if the show was to survive. A big issue was around sustainability and fast-fashion through its partnerships with the likes of fast-fashion brand Pretty Little Thing. The new partnership with eBay fashion has signalled huge change is afoot from the Love Island brand and expectation is now that more change will be seen. Not without a disclaimer that this could of course quickly become a bad example but for now, in Love Island we trust. (Aware this is non-sport too but I loathe fast-fashion and this one excited me) .


The desire to build a sponsorship portfolio of like-minded brands that reflects who you are, giving fans 'gettable' examples of what you're about. Understanding the personality of your brand enables you to make decisions about your brand quicker and more easily, from defining the tone of voice, to the look-and-feel through to your partnerships and activations. The better your persona, the more your fans understand who you are as a brand and what you stand for; and the more they notice when something just simply isn’t ‘you’. It’s also a lot easier to sell your brand vision to a potential partner!

Example: Wimbledon. You’ll be hard pressed to find a partnership that doesn’t match the Wimbledon brand persona. And that’s why so many have been around for decades, it’s a mutually beneficial partnership. From Lanson Champagne to Ralph Lauren to Rolex and Jaguar. All makes you immediately understand the personality behind Wimbledon.

As ever, please comment, share, like and extend the conversation! What other brilliant brand-led sponsorships are out there?

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