In Marketing Sportivo, Sponsorizzazioni Sportive, Sport Sponsorship, Sports Marketing

When the pandemic started back in March and the nations were forced to introduce lockdowns, we all had to stop. At first we thought, or rather we wanted to delude ourselves, that sport could go on smoothly, maybe behind closed doors, without an audience… then we realized that it was not possible to do it safely and therefore also the sport industry stopped. For the first time in history. It was in fact hard to believe that contact sports, above all, could be safe to play; football, basketball or rugby, are sports where players come into contact with each other continuously and they run, they sweat, they breath heavily; almost impossible to keep your distance, it’s not in the nature of these disciplines.

In other sports, however, international travel has become a major obstacle; how could you be be able to compete in America or Asia when most of the teams are based in Europe? Traveling was not safe anymore and nations started closing their borders and introducing quarantine rules; so traveling had to stop as well.

As a matter of fact during the lockdown, sports organizations had to rethink and review all fixtures and schedules and find new solutions so to be able to play again. Every single aspect had to be checked and revised: new calendars, new safety procedures and restrictions, implemented regulations, testing system for all players and staff, rigid bubbles to be respected.

They have done everything in their hands in order to create a secure and safe environment, everything that was possible so to be able to resume playing, even without an audience, but at least be back live. MotoGP has resumed with a widely modified calendar, tennis has managed to play two Grand Slams, football has restarted behind closed doors, just elite athletes run the London Marathon, all the other entrants run on their own. Slowly and with some obstacles to overcome, we have been able to start again. But what awaits us in the future months? It is quite evident that companies that do invest in sports will ask themselves the same question.

In this unprecedented time all live entertainment (such as cinemas, theaters, concerts, shows) has practically closed down. Restrictions in every country are getting tighter and we will soon find ourselves at home, in front of the screen, on the sofa, even more than before; live sport therefore , will become one of the very few live entertainments available and people will appreciate and treasure it.
Companies will definitely go on communicating through sport, its social relevance in this moment is pretty evident, but they will have to select the right sporting discipline even more accurately than before.

What sport should companies invest in?

Generally speaking, when you are about to choose the sport or team to invest in you have to take a number of factors into account. The main ones are those linked to the values of the discipline you are willing to sponsor; they must be consistent with the brand or product’s identity. You then have to value the popularity of the discipline, the target it refers to, the audience and its territorial diffusion and so on. From today onwards, however, it will also be necessary to consider another element that not only joins those previously mentioned, but somehow overwhelms them all: the chances that the sport event/championship/tournament will be canceled or not due to infections rates.

Will live sport be played without interruptions?

It is clearly not possible to guarantee that races, matches and championships will always be played without interruptions, or suspensions or changes to the calendar but it is also true that there are some disciplines that are less likely to be interrupted than others. These are all those disciplines in which social distancing of athletes is guaranteed by the very nature of game.

Contact sports such as rugby, football, basketball, in recent days cycling (see the Giro d’Italia) and combat sports do generally expose athletes to continuous physical interactions that can potentially increase the transmission of the virus. It will be more difficult to protect the health of those who actively participate in these disciplines rather than, for example, tennis players and car drivers or motorcycle riders.

Food for thought.

Attitudes, behaviors and activities must adapt to this unprecedented situation. Companies that invest in sport must ask themselves if it is not worthwhile to look around and move towards safer shores, perhaps without interrupting what is already in place but by equipping themselves with a safety net that can be leveraged if necessary.
It would not be the first time that two realities from different disciplines coexist under the umbrella of the same sponsor. Think of Pirelli, just to mention one, sponsoring both football with Inter and F1. Pirelli will certainly not be short of communication topics or automatic visibility linked to events.
And if the resources are not those of Pirelli or other big companies and you have to make a choice, then perhaps it might be safer to move towards sports that have a lower “risk”.
Among these the most popular are certainly F1, FormulaE, MotoGP, Tennis just to name a few and they would allow to connect and engage with international audiences.
In some countries there are other very popular and highly effective disciplines, including sailing in the Southern Hemisphere and in the United States or anything related to horses and golf in England and again in the USA. These are clearly some quick examples of opportunities and one can certainly go deeper based on the needs of each single company and brand

Sport testimonials and endorsers

If you are going to sponsor an athlete you still have to make some considerations about it and be sure to have all the information on how to mitigate the pandemic risk. While it is absolutely true that a winning athlete is a very important and strategic asset for the company investing in his/her, it is also true that it is all about one single person; if your athlete gets sick and cannot play a match or ride a race, the company has no alternative left.

The risks here are surely counterbalanced by the explosive potential of communication represented by having a “celebrity” available (when they win) who ensures to your brand global visibility and commercial returns. Think Jordan, Tiger Woods, Valentino Rossi, Cristiano Ronaldo just to name a few.
The general good rule to refer to in our opinion could be this one: sponsoring a single athlete represents a greater risk than sponsoring a team, a team represents a greater risk than sponsoring a league or a championship…. it is up to the company then, and to the agency that gives them consultancy advices, to have all the strategic information (risks, dangers, opportunities and benefits) and evaluate them carefully. Sponsorships should never be a gut choice, but choices driven by datas.

What shall we do in the end?

In short, there are plenty of opportunities to look into and they would give you the chance to reduce the risk that the pandemic will completely disrupts the communication activities that you have planned and that are linked to sport sponsorships
Try to take these tips into account and, as far as possible, the next few months should not be holding any big surprises.
If you want some more examples of how two and four wheels could suit your needs please do not hesitate to contact RTR Sports Marketing at

Can we help you sign your best sponsorship deal?

Riccardo Tafà
Riccardo Tafà
Managing Director for RTR Sports, Riccardo graduated in law at the University of Bologna. He began his career in London in PR, then started working in two and four-wheelers. A brief move to Monaco followed before returning to Italy. There he founded RTR, first a consulting firm and then a sports marketing company which, eventually, he moved back to London.
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