Much like on-field activity, competition for market share in sport is equally fierce. Some of the world's biggest companies spend vast sums on aligning their brand with teams and players that embody their values to achieve influence with fans.
The sums involved are staggering. In 2018, tennis player Roger Federer alone took home $65 million in commercial endorsements from brands including Uniqlo, Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, and Credit Suisse (Source: Forbes).
Football's status for attracting significant investment is well-documented, and to broadcast the 2019/20 season of the English Premier League, Sky Sports, and BT Sport have spent £4.5 billion.
For companies partnering with athletes, leagues, and teams, the stories they create, the access to—and connection with—fans is where they see their return on investment. To attract commercial deals in the first place, governing bodies, teams and individuals need to create those stories (and followings) through their marketing campaigns.
Calum Ross, MA (Hons) Business Studies and Accounting (2013) appreciates more than most the commercial element of sport through his role at Deloitte's Sports Business Group.
"The market of sport and athlete sponsorship is changing", Calum explains. "Sponsorships that are historically based primarily on the visibility of a logo are evolving into true partnerships. By that, I mean that businesses are becoming more sophisticated in the way they analyse and understand the value of those partnerships and measuring the return on their investment.
"There is now more pressure on the individual or organisation to demonstrate the value the sponsor is receiving. More and more, we're seeing campaigns focused on data collection as part of sponsorship activation.
"Part of my role is supporting organisations by providing an overview of the market and developing their commercial strategy which forms the basis of targeted marketing campaigns.
"The market is moving quickly as bigger clubs and sports begin to target new geographies. Well-established teams like Manchester United or Barcelona find penetrating international markets easier than smaller teams or sports as their brand is already recognised globally."
Smaller sports on the international scale...have to take a more innovative approach, as they can't rely on brand recognition alone.
But not all sports and teams are created equal. Calum continues: "If we take golf as an example, the European Tour doesn't attract the same television rights packages or commercial support as its US counterpart. However, they've been innovative in their approach with digital and media content which have been successful and should assist them with their aim of narrowing the financial gap.
"Smaller sports on the international scale, like rugby for example, have to take a more innovative approach as they can't rely on brand recognition alone, but by hosting showpiece tournaments in new territories, its reach and appeal is growing.
"As we saw with the World Cup in Japan, rugby is really taking off in Asia and has a strong foothold in the USA, where there is a potentially massive area of growth for the sport."
Based in Manchester, a city with its own rich sporting pedigree, Calum is part of the team that publishes industry leading commentaries, including the Annual Review of Football Finance and the Deloitte Football Money League.
He works across a wide variety of sports with clubs, leagues, federations, event organisers, sports marketing agencies, stadia, investors, sponsors, rights holders, and public sector bodies, and has seen successful and unsuccessful partnerships.
For Calum, in any successful partnership—sports business or otherwise—the relationship has to be two-way and in the interests of both parties. Their values need to align, and they need to be able to interact and pull in the same direction.
A recent stand-out for me is the new format Davis Cup, which provides partnership opportunities that include activation to drive participation—normally a key objective of governing bodies and competition organisers—on a more local level.
There are significant financial opportunities to be had...but their true value can't be measured in purely financial terms.
"Organisations who are looking to invest in the business of sport face the challenge of identifying a partnership that helps achieve their objectives in line with their commercial strategy. Because of the size and variety on offer in the industry, it's often difficult for businesses to identify the best opportunities for them.
"Which sport do you invest in? Once you've identified the sport, what part of it do you invest in? Do you invest in a competition? Do you invest in a club? Do you invest in an athlete?
"There are significant financial opportunities to be had for sports, teams, and individual athletes, and engaging, profitable marketing opportunities for brands through partnerships, but their true value can't be measured in purely financial terms."