We have three home nations competing in the UEFA European championship finals for the first time, heightening excitement and making the tournament potentially even more valuable for brands.

But are the official sponsorship channels the best route for businesses to take or are there more cost effective, creative and engaging alternatives?

The imagination of British football fans will come alive as England, Wales and Northern Ireland join neighbours Ireland on a tour of French fields this summer. Tension is set to reach unprecedented levels, particularly as England and Wales have been drawn in the same qualifying group.

With more nations overall, and with more at stake within UK's pressure-cooker football community, this is arguably the biggest opportunity brands have ever had at the Euros. However, the official UEFA sponsorship opportunities are limited and fought over rabidly, with the winners charged huge amounts to take up a slot.

So if you’ve missed out, either through being beaten to it by other brands or because you’ve been priced out of the market, does that mean your Euro 2016 is over even before a ball has been kicked? As far as official sponsorship goes, yes. But is that such a bad thing?

There are so many brands competing for the attention of fans through official channels that your campaign needs to be very special to stand out and many tend to blur into one. Also, official opportunities don’t tend to offer anything particularly creative, and are quite traditional, using TV and pitch-side advertising that fans have become highly adept at tuning out of whether they’re at the match or watching from their sofa. This suggests, therefore, that brands currently aren’t getting the best value for money through the massive spend they are placing via official channels.

Then, of course, there’s the question of whether associating your brand officially with UEFA is actually harming it rather than bringing benefit, with current president Michel Platini embroiled in corruption charges relating to his work with global footballing body FIFA, which increasingly look likely to stick. This means there has, arguably, never been a better time for brands to look for an alternative route to reaching the millions of football fans who’ll be avidly engaged with Euro 2016.

Official routes tend to be too generic. They don’t add any value to the fan experience. As such, they are either ignored or viewed as an irritation, neither of which is going to generate a positive impression. If brands can somehow tap into initiatives that actually heighten the enjoyment of fans by driving the conversation or delivering rewards then they are likely to make far more of an impact – and a positive one at that.

Enter a new generation of mobile gaming apps that allow sports fans to get more involved in the action by allowing them to compete with others across the globe in terms of sporting knowledge and intuition or connect with and challenge their friends more easily. There are prizes up for grabs for the best players and the chance to make fun wagers with their friends – “I bet you a case of Stella that Wales beat England 2-1.” All of this is ethically managed, as no money changes hands through this upcoming gaming genre of social betting, with wagers relying on good old fashioned trust between friends.

The opportunities for brands to get involved in such game apps is multi-faceted, innovative, unique and highly engaging, allowing them to tap into the customs and nuances of fan culture in a way that is often by-passed by traditional sports marketing initiatives. The options can include in-app accreditation and advertising slots, product placement from the app’s competition store, and fulfillment of sales of sponsor products in social wagers made by the app.

To get the most from this kind of sponsorship, brands should ensure that apps are multi-platform, covering both iOS and Android, that they truly add value to the fan experience through offering prizes through open competition and social wagers through closed friend groups. They should also look for opportunities that reach beyond the app itself through initiatives like the creation of app-related content for sponsor’s social media sites, or product placement in the app’s social media messaging system. Choose carefully, though, because if you find the right one for your brand, you’ll become a key part of the Euro 2016 fan debate, which could make you one of the real winners of the tournament.

By John Owrid, Chairman of social game developer Sporting Mouth

 





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