Bill Cooper, Chief Operating Partner
Sport builds communities, engages youth, inspires volunteerism and motivates healthy values. Despite these important attributes, amateur sport organisations generally struggle for money. They can’t get sponsorship because they don’t generate media and thereby build consumer appeal, and they can’t generate media because they can’t afford to. And so the circle goes.
Of course the story is more multi-layered and would not be solved solely by generating media, but the cycle is simple and predictable.
To compound the repetitive cycle, the moment any amateur sport does uncover an injection of income, its first priority is inevitably to plough the money back into the sport. It could be high- performance coaching, better training facilities, more events on home soil that bring experience for their athletes, or grassroots initiatives to drive youth participation. And so it should be, given that these are the sport’s core mandates.
ALTER THE PATTERN
But without investing in some courageous new initiatives with new revenue streams as a goal, the pattern continues. So the question becomes, what changes can be made, what initiatives can meaningfully alter the pattern?
A year ago 25 rugby unions around the world had the courage to bid for the right to host stops on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. For a rugby union with no tested or proven commercial model for such an event it would be a huge risk. A huge multi-million-dollar hosting obligation– and no secure revenue in return.
But if effectively harnessed, the opportunity to host a stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series can represent new sponsorship, gate, merchandise, hospitality and food and beverage revenue, to name a few. It can also drive tourism and the resulting potential for grants and it can generate increased broadcast interest. Hence the merit in unions seriously considering the risk involved in hosting a stop.
In my case I work on the HSBC Canada Sevens which is wholly owned by Rugby Canada, which presides over a sport that is still amateur in its own country. The event represents a massive incremental undertaking for an organization already tasked with building the sport of rugby in Canada while fielding national men’s and women’s teams in both 15-a-side and sevens rugby disciplines. Despite the challenges however, Rugby Canada had the vision and foresight to engage a dedicated board of directors and an agency of record that expanded its capacity and ability to deliver an event of this scale, while concurrently fulfilling its core mandate as a national sport federation.
And while the event has still not been delivered (the first edition is in March 2016) and there is still no conclusive evidence that the experiment will pay off for Rugby Canada, early indications are excellent. New sponsors of the rugby family in Canada have joined, unprecedented ticket sales are quickly building towards a full stadium and tourism entities keen on seeing the success of another annual tenant on the city calendar are signing up to help mitigate Rugby Canada’s risk. Furthermore, broadcast of the event is made more compelling by virtue of it being domestic and it will thereby generate incremental coverage of the sport in Canada.
LEARN FROM THE EXAMPLE
These are all investments and boosts to the interest in rugby in Canada which would have not come without bidding for and securing the event.
Now, while other sports might not enjoy the benefit of a purpose-built template such as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series as a potential tool to drive growth, they can still learn from the example. The core learning is that looking beyond the status quo with new and sustainable revenue streams in mind is a must to break out of the pattern of amateur sports continually struggling to reach commercial sustainability.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Cooper is a 20-year loyalist to the sponsorship and event industry and serves concurrently as Chief Operating Partner of TwentyTen Corporation and Chief Executive Officer of the HSBC Canada Sevens. Bill has worked closely with a variety of sponsorship properties with an emphasis on amateur sport organisations. Previously he spent four years as Director of Commercial Rights for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and eight years with ESPN Star Sports