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Dec 15, 2015
Sponsors can answer Murray’s call by building the sports they invest in

Fresh from Great Britain’s Davis Cup win, Andy Murray recently made comments in the press that he is worried about where the next generation of British tennis talent will come from. He hoped that the victory would kick the LTA, the British tennis governing body, into action. But he wasn’t optimistic, saying that talking to the LTA about the future of British tennis is a waste of time.

Any lack of action certainly isn’t due to a lack of money. The LTA is extremely well funded through the Wimbledon Championships, from which it receives around £30 million every year, but this is failing to encourage more people to take up the sport. Participating rates are falling. Six years ago, nearly a million people in Britain played tennis at least once a month. That has now dropped to 694,000, with the biggest decline in the 16-25 age group.

This isn’t to say that there is good work being done. My daughter has benefited from the free training and grass-roots community work of the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative, and Aegon is doing good work supporting British junior tennis through the Aegon GB Junior Fed Cup.

This is a good example of sponsor activity, but I’d like to see sponsors playing a more active role in answering Andy Murray’s call to arms. What can these large international brands do to help nurture the stars of the future, not only in tennis but other sports?

At Sports Revolution, we have always argued that brand sponsorship should be so much more than a name-badging exercise. With the volumes of money involved in a lot of sponsorship deals, they should be seen as long-term investment in that sport, in its fans, facilities and everything else that helps a sport survive and thrive.

A good example of the positive role sponsors can play can be seen in women’s rugby.  The Rugby Football Union recently announced that for the first time they will have the same sponsor, a wealth management company, Old Mutual Wealth, for both the men’s and women’s game for the 2016 autumn series. The four-year agreement will see Old Mutual Wealth become title partner of the England Men’s and Women’s autumn internationals, and it is the first time England Women will have a title partner for their autumn series.

This is similar to when Italy joined the women’s rugby Six Nations Championship in 2007. The Six Nations committee then formally adopted the women’s tournament, and the title sponsorship by Royal Bank of Scotland was extended to create a parallel tournament with the men’s competition. This obviously made a big difference to both the profile of the tournament and the women’s game and subsequently made it even more valuable to the sponsors.

These are both examples of sponsors taking a big step in the right direction, and shows that with the right strategy, brands can not only grow their profile through sport, but build a sustainable future for the sport itself.

 

By Kelly Williams

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