ANALYSIS: Rathbones' Sports Sponsorship Deal Part Of A Trend; Benefits And Pitfalls

Mark Shapland Reporter 14 May 2014


Rathbone Brothers' recent sports sponsorship deal is part of a trend of wealth management firms supporting events such as golf tournaments, motor racing circuits, rugby competitions and yachting. It can be an image-booster - but there are also risks.

The image of Rathbone Brothers, one of the UK’s oldest investment houses with a history going back to the age of men in wigs and frock coats, is not one that is normally linked with the cult of youth. But like many of its rivals, this firm is using sports sponsorship to keep its image fresh.

The UK-listed company has recently announced it will sponsor Lacrosse Scotland – an event for under-19-year-old women, until 2017, with the World Championships to be held in Edinburgh next year. (Separately, to see latest Rathbone results, out today, click here.)

“Rathbones’ investment will support the growth of the sport and ensure the best possible experience for players and supporters at events,” said David Macaulay, head of Rathbones’ Edinburgh office. “Our partnership will ensure players are getting additional support and supervision as the sport continues to grow in popularity,” he said.

Such sponsorship isn’t surprising. Sport represents health, success, clean living and being a winner. It lets customers know that the firm is going places and is the right organisation to support. According to Steve Mandicea, managing director at sponsorship agency Prism, sports sponsorship in the UK has boomed since the London Olympics two years ago. Sponsorship can potentially make companies better known to the general public or make them seem more human, he told this publication.

“Sport can add value through notoriety and prestige - Formula One is a classic example,” Mandicea said. “It can also just be that the management is interested in a certain event like Royal Ascot or Wimbledon. In some instances it can also make a company appear more human,” he continued.

One of the most high-profile sports sponsorships in recent years by a wealth management firm is that of Formula 1, with Swiss bank UBS sponsoring the season and getting considerable exposure as the racing competitions are screened around the world. In the mainstream banking market, Barclays, the UK bank, has had a long-standing sponsorship arrangement with the English Premier League; in the Six Nations Rugby tournament, Royal Bank of Scotland is the main sponsor. Rugby players have been known to get covered in blue ink as they take a tackle on the grass sprayed with the RBS logo. And Liverpool Football Club is sponsored by Standard Chartered, with the latter bank’s relatively low profile in the UK – but high profile in Asia and Africa – no impediment to the deal.

There is sometimes, however, a disconnection between the sports event, person or team and the image that the company is trying to convey. For three years energy giant npower spent millions sponsoring the Football League, while EOn did the same with the FA Cup between 2006 and 2010. The sponsorship came at a time when energy companies were accused of ripping off customers and under-investing in future energy needs. As a result, they were heavily criticised for having their priorities all wrong.

But perhaps the most famous fallout in recent memory was between Tiger Woods and Accenture. Woods was hired by Accenture in 2003 as the company went under a “rebranding exercise”. For the next six years Tiger and Accenture were inseparable - deluging the public with adverts that appeared around the world in airports, metros, buses, and other service. They included images of Tiger looking at his ball that had landed on a rock in a creek surrounded by water with the dramatic slogan "It’s What You Do Next That Counts. We Know What It Takes To Be A Tiger. Talk To Us To See How We Can Help." However, when a scandal erupted about the golfer’s private life, Accenture acted swiftly and ditched him shortly after the affair broke.

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