Sponsorship brutality, Eurostartling prices and closing the roof on VAR
Sunday morning ritual. I was driving home from a run, head nodding along to Planet Rock radio* when up popped an ad: Tom Daley talking washing machines and knitwear. He was promoting British Gas as ‘proud partners of Team GB and ParalympicsGB’. My immediate response was ‘what’s in it for me?’ Or more specifically, ‘what’s in it for GB Wheelchair Rugby?’
The sponsorship market is brutal right now, especially in the Olympic and Paralympic arena. The further down the food chain you are - for which read the vast majority of athletes and all the national governing bodies working with them - the fewer the crumbs left by those who dine at the top table.
Watch the Games next Summer and you’ll see glossy sport, slickly organised and presented. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is the year-round existence of the athletes competing for glory and your pleasure. Most of those in GB kit rely almost entirely on state-directed lottery funding. Many from other countries are not so fortunate.
Personal sponsors? Those are largely confined to the true superstars, who make up a tiny minority of the thousands of competing athletes. Others may have philanthropic backers: local businesses, benefactor fans or simply friends and family. And the rules around the Games are so draconian that the competitors can barely give a shout-out for those who have backed them.
First in line at the sponsorship buffet is the International Olympic Committee, closely followed by its Paralympic counterpart, the IPC. Next come the national committees, those organisations that sort and fund the logistics involved in entering and managing each competing team. If the IOC bags Coca Cola as its soft drink partner - which it has - there’s no scope for Team GB to be sponsored by Pepsi and advertise the fact.
The national committees (in Britain the BOA and BPA) directly support individual athletes for around a month every four years. For the remaining 98% of the time they lean on their own sport’s governing body for practical support - everything from coaching to medical - or rely on their own devices.
The constraints imposed by the IOC and IPC’s rules, as well as the overriding claims of the sponsors of their national committees, hollow out the value governing bodies and athletes can offer those who may want to provide support. A warm inner glow might work for some backers, but others quite rightly desire and deserve recognition around the time of the Games that the rules deny them.
Heat your home with British Gas, buy a bed at Dreams, shop at Aldi or eat Old El Paso tacos and you will help get Britain’s teams to Paris next summer, but only on the very final leg of their journeys.
UK Sport, which hands out lottery funding, requires governing bodies to find funding for a chunk of the overall cost of supporting their athletes. Right now, the commercial marketplace is so tough that pretty much all sports are unable to raise the money asked of them. To its great credit, UKS is proving understanding of the current economic reality and is not pressing the point hard. It’s difficult, though, to see a way out of penury, especially given the constraints imposed from above by the IOC and IPC, and effectively endorsed by the BOA and BPA.
At GB Wheelchair Rugby we are fortunate to have assembled a cohort of backers who ‘get’ our cause, many of whom have stayed with us for a number of years now. Each has their own motivations; none are primarily seekers after nationwide publicity. It seems very odd to say it, but in a way we are fortunate in being small and catering for athletes with some of the most severe physical impairments. Our appeal is immediate and our financial needs are lower than for much bigger sports.
We absolutely need more such supporters, though, if we are to grow the base of our sport and give our elite athletes, and those aspiring to join their ranks, the best shot at success in Los Angeles in 2028. More on this when we launch a new campaign and appeal in the coming weeks. Meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think we can help your business by you helping us. There’s lots we can offer, even if Games-time billboards are ruled out.
* other radio stations are available, but none such fun for an ageing headbanger
One Team GB and ParalympicsGB partner is Eurostar, which has just opened up ticketing for the weeks of Paris 2024. Travel out on the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympics (if pageantry on the Seine happens to be what floats your boat) and you’ll pay at least £195. Take the train on the morning of the ceremony for the Paras and you could pay as little as £56. Almost four times the price for the Olympics? Makes Parisian hoteliers seem almost philanthropic.
Southgate you’re the one
Say what you like about Gareth Southgate’s abilities as an international manager, he’s not the safe corporate stooge some have portrayed him as. Take this refreshing observation on the impending introduction of an independent regulator for football, out of step with his employer, the FA:
“It would worry me that we’re trying to find simple solutions to very complex problems. Which is often the way in life. I haven’t read through it all because I’m… dubious that we can solve all the issues. For me, it’s another VAR waiting to happen.”
Paul MacInnes, journalist at The Guardian, claimed that “his opinions are his own and aren’t always in tune with popular sentiment”, so appearing to reveal his own bias. Is the reporter sure an independent regulator is what ‘popular sentiment’ demands, or is he being swayed by a well-organised, vocal minority because it suits his own views? I remain sceptical of the value of the looming bureaucracy.
VAR through the roof
And on the subject of VAR, would managers prefer to keep it or scrap it? The England manager is clearly sceptical. Perhaps the roof at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff can be a model. Just as both head coaches in a rugby international need to agree before the stadium’s roof is shut against the weather, why not only employ VAR in a game if both managers want it?
Short of Xmas present ideas? The latest issue of Pitch mag is out. Always a lot to get your teeth into, including this time Chris Broad on recently retired son Stuart and a nomination for the best sporting underdog. Subscription and single issue offers available here