Partnerships without Boundaries: The Power of Partnerships
A partnership involves two or more brands coming together to achieve an objective. Often, these may be for commercial aims, but there are many reasons why brands choose to forge a relationship with another and the power of a partnership is not to be underestimated.
Head of Commercial Partnerships at Lancashire Cricket, Liz Cooper, explores the reasons behind why brands do sports partnerships, and how they have evolved at the Club.
A partnership-first approach requires businesses to re-examine its structure and objectives to potentially disrupt the market and its traditional practices.
The first step in creating a successful partnership has to come from the business itself, and they need to identify the specific challenge they want to solve, or objective that they want to achieve. I believe opportunity drives collaboration, whereby if a business sees an opportunity to enter a new market, collaboration creates an entry point into that market.
When breaking it down further as to why businesses do partnerships, there’s eight key areas that I think are the driving force behind the decision.
1. Brand Awareness
It’s not uncommon for a business to want to increase their brand awareness. Quite simply, when partnering with another brand, particularly in sport, there is the opportunity to drive exposure. When looking to create a partnership, brand awareness is the traditional sponsorship model which immediately springs to mind.
As part of a partnership package, you will receive brand exposure in a market that you are trying to penetrate. In sport, has been typically done through boarding around stadiums. Whilst this is important, the preference is to combine a more direct approach via multiple digital platforms.
The power of sport is that your brand gets seen and you can directly speak to an audience you’ve not really had the opportunity to be in front of before. It’s about reaching the customer (the who) and highlighting the values they consider when buying into a new brand (the what), which in turn, will convert them into buying into your brand.
An example of how we’ve been able to achieve great brand awareness is for our Principal Partner and Naming Rights Partner, Emirates, through the Catch-a-Six activation.
Emirates wanted to launch a partnership activation that would build brand awareness and drive favourability for the brand, while creating a cricket-focused fan experience. In 2016, we collaboratively launched Catch-a-Six, an activation where fans could actively take part in the game by trying to ‘catch a six’. Since the launch, this has taken place at every Lancashire Lightning vs Yorkshire Vikings Vitality Blast game, the biggest game in domestic cricket.
The competition has grown and evolved year on year, with 4,000 fans given Fly Emirates branded caps across key stands in the stadium and if a, ‘six’ is hit into the crowd, and a fan wearing the cap catches it, they win a prize courtesy of Emirates.
The activation is always covered by media on the day, including live broadcast on Sky Sports, and in 2018, almost one million viewers saw the Emirates branded caps, providing a great opportunity to drive brand exposure.
What’s more, in 2018, the Lancashire Lightning vs Yorkshire Vikings fixture at Emirates Old Trafford was the second most watched domestic game this decade, only pipped to the top spot by the same fixture at Headingley, highlighting that the power of sport really can propel your brand to be seen by a new and highly engaged audience.
This is where we provide the platform for brands to stand out and differentiate themselves from their competitors.
When we partnered with Leasing Options, the market in which they operate was incredibly crowded, and the partnership was a tool to enable them to stand out. They wanted to promote the brand digitally and create imaginative activations, which is how the Leasing Options Terrace was created. Lancashire Cricket provided the platform for the brand to disrupt the marketplace and increase their market share.
Leasing Options were able to use both domestic and international cricket as hospitality, where they could invite key business partners to the games, offering a unique networking opportunity. In addition, the brand also interacted with fans, running a social media campaign for them to be able to win places on the Leasing Options Terrace in an informal atmosphere with fantastic views of the pitch.
3. New Product Launches
When a brand is looking to launch a new product, particularly if they are expanding within the marketplace, a partnership can provide the opportunity to expose the brand and make themselves known within the market, through a collaboration with an already established and well respected brand.
If a brand is moving to the North West, partnering with Lancashire Cricket is a great platform to launch their new product or business. We’re proud to be Lancashire Cricket, we have a proud heritage and a rich history as the Red Rose. Not only that, but we have fantastic links with 331 recreational cricket clubs and 50,000 households around the county, so can offer an unrivalled platform for brands to communicate to the community.
One of the most unique things about a sports partnership is that fans really connect to the sport and the club they support. They’re proud to be associated with their team and this has usually been passed down the family through generations. Fans connect more with a message from a club rather than just an advertisement, as it’s through a platform that’s meaningful and relevant to them, offering a unique opportunity to target a core audience.
A great example of how this works is with our Official Higher Education Partner, UA92. As a new university, they’re a great challenger brand who are looking to disrupt the marketplace and the traditional views that are associated with university courses. But, one of the key considerations was how can they create a positive reputation and trust in the market, when they haven’t yet created the credentials to do so?
It’s through partnerships with different brands in the North West that they are able to deliver credibility and Lancashire Cricket provides them with a platform to tell their story to the right market.
4. Client and customer experience
One of the advantages of a partnership is the ability to combine a client and customer experience that is really valuable to the brand.
A consideration that brands take when merging the client and customer experience is a hospitality experience. Our partnerships can be tailored to a brand to include corporate hospitality and tickets to both domestic and international fixtures. The ability to offer a high value event to a key audience is a huge draw for partners. Plus, the duration of a cricket game as opposed to a football match for instance, allows companies to begin to create valuable and long lasting relationships in a private environment.
Building on the client and customer experience is Thomas Cook Sport, who created the Thomas Cook Sport Terrace and stand, on the edge of the outfield. It’s a great platform for them to be able to bring their customers right into the heart of the game and offers a unique cricket experience.
Lancashire Cricket has designed the stadium with both fans and partners in mind. There’s something for everyone and that’s a draw for business as it creates an enhanced experience for fans. Wherever you may be seated in the stadium, we know that each area is perfectly tailored to a different audience, which offers a great way to communicate your message.
It’s not just the cricket season where we can communicate to a brand’s audience. We believe that as a family of partners, the best way that we can achieve results is by working together all year round.
One of the great things about partnering with Lancashire Cricket is that we have the ability to introduce partners to new markets and new businesses, as we engage with clients and cricket during both match days and non-match days. For example, our pre-season tour in Dubai offered the chance for UA92 to join us and connect with one of their key audiences in the UAE. We provide the opportunities to entertain their own clients in their own environment.
We create behind the scenes events, both in the UK and abroad, to provide a platform for business networking where we’re actively putting partners together. That’s an experience that money can’t buy, because you’re making connections with the right people.
When considering UK events, we have the Partners Cricket Day, an exclusive, invite only event, where partners can come along and play on the hallowed turf at Lancashire Cricket, and bring their own guests, clients and employees too. It’s a unique experience to play cricket and build relationships.
5. CSR Investment in Sport
This is an area that is so important, to both local clubs and Lancashire Cricket. Corporate Social Rsponsibility (CSR) is integral to a business’ functionality, and offers the chance to give back to the local community. Partners want to grow the grass roots game and participation because they love the sport.
As a Club, we’re in a fantastic position to be able to offer these initiatives. As I’ve touched on, our links with the 331 recreational cricket clubs across the North West is unparalleled. We’re really proud of the work that the Lancashire Cricket Foundation does across the number of clubs in Lancashire and beyond.
The AO Volunteer of the Month programme which was launched by AO and the Club was a great CSR initiative which was created to engage the wider Lancashire community. The programme recognised the hard work and dedication that keeps the cricket clubs across the county running. In addition, the objectives were to raise brand awareness and build trust for AO across the North West, through placing the brand at the heart of cricket.
The programme provided cricket clubs with the opportunity to nominate the unsung heroes of their club, and the prize was a large screen television for the clubhouse and a personal gift from the AO list of products. Current and former Lancashire Cricket players presented the prizes to the winners at their cricket clubs, before the winners were nominated for ‘AO Volunteer of the Year’, which was presented at the Lancashire Cricket End of Season Awards.
The programme enabled the brand to give back to the community and generated fantastic results, gaining over 250,000 impressions on social media, 15,000 video views from the unique content which was created and 4,000 website views.
In the industry, a great CSR example is the SSE Wildcats partnership, where they are sponsoring the girls and women’s FA cup. They’ve made a commitment to grow the game of football across the community and are creating opportunities and pathways to play.
6. Data and brand alignment
Partnerships provide the opportunity to access a new database and reach a new target market. As a challenger brand, partnerships provide a gateway to access a new market through an established and respected brand.
With sports partnerships, it is usual to have access to the organisation’s database. At Lancashire Cricket, we’re able to segment our data, so that you can ensure your message is reaching the right audience and tailor it to different messaging and campaigns. This enables a brand to be able to tap into a new audience and open up a line of communications with an audience that they have not necessarily been able to reach before.
7. Internal engagement
Sports partnerships create an internal engagement opportunity for a company and a means to incentivise staff through unique, money can’t buy experiences. They’re a great way to recognise staff’s hard work over the years and help drive the increase in staff awards, to fuel a positive workforce.
As a Club, we’re able to offer our partners unique experiences that really incentivise staff, such as staff engagement trips to the ground, a hotel stay and cricket hospitality tickets. This is a particularly useful initiative for businesses who have recently relocated to the area and are looking for new ways to motivate their staff.
As I mentioned earlier, our Partners Cricket Day is a prime example of how we are able to take the game and deliver an incredible event for our partners, who can bring their own guests to take part in a once in a lifetime experience.
8. Connecting with your core audience
One final point I think which is touched on throughout this piece, is the ability for a partnership to connect with a brand’s core audience.
All of the reasons about why people do partnerships really is brought together through the ability to reach a relevant and engaged audience, to grow a business, whether that’s commercially or through community initiatives.
For a partnership to succeed, clear communication is essential. By using open and effective channels of communication, there will be no misaligned expectation. It’s important to remember that working collaboratively is the only way to fuel growth, innovation and creativity, enhancing the partnership and its results. Developing value-aligned agreements that focus on common goals are key to ensure a long and successful partnership.