ESA: “More tech companies have got involved in sponsorship since the pandemic”

The European Sponsorship Association aims to inspire, unite and grow this diverse sector through education, representation, and certification. Stuart Wareman painted a positive picture of the industry
7th Apr, 2022

2022 ESA Awards Ceremony

As in so many other industries, sponsorship has undergone a dramatic turnaround in its business model towards an increasingly digital economy. By instance, Zoom is now worth more than the world’s 7 biggest airlines combined, benefiting enormously from this unusual period. The European Sponsorship Association (ESA) aims to inspire, unite and grow this diverse sponsorship industry, through education, representation, certification and by sharing best practices and performances. Stuart Wareman (pictured below), ESA Board Director, painted a positive picture for the industry.

1) How did ESA manage to survive this global shutdown and keep up with its members?

ESA has been very fortunate. We’ve actually grown our membership base by 28% since 2019 by doubling down on providing more benefits and staying engaged with our members. The sponsorship industry as a whole suffered more than most during COVID-19 with events cancelled, postponed or curtailed, and many employees on furlough. Our role at ESA was to provide help, guidance, and content for our members to show them they were not alone and we would pull through together as an industry.

We immediately pivoted to providing regular webinars on matters related to COVID-19, NFTs, influencers and highlighting best practices in key areas. We hosted 19 webinars with over 2,000 attendees from around the world, giving our members the chance to show what they could do. We also provided a number of exclusive “round tables” under Chatham House rules where small groups of Brands, Agencies or Rights Holders could get together and share common challenges. These have proved incredibly popular at a time when traditional networking was impossible. Our marketing efforts, meanwhile, focused on member feedback via regular pulse checks. ESA’s Sponsorship Sentiment Tracker led to significant editorial and social coverage as it reflected what the industry itself was thinking about its own future, and identified the key issues it was facing.

2) In your opinion, what can be expected from the sponsorship sector in 2022? What will remain and what will change most significantly?

Each year we ask our members what key trends they’re witnessing. 2021 was obviously highly influenced by the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, but it made for a fascinating read. The pandemic has accelerated some underlying changes that were already happening: a move towards more digital and content sponsorship activations; a sharper focus on measurement and accountability for sponsorship investments; and the rise of e-sports as a credible and important sponsorship genre.

Meanwhile, other trends included a greater flexibility in sponsorships to allow for unforeseen circumstances, and a sharper focus on purpose- and community-based sponsorships to demonstrate what brands stand for. As live events continue to come back throughout 2022, we will likely see a hybrid state of events complementing each other. This will help engage those who can’t attend in person as well as those who have a pent-up demand for mass live events.

3) According to one of the latest AIM International Group surveys, 80% of corporate sponsors are interested in investing in virtual events but need interaction and support. Are you driving this big market shift to innovate your association's services?

To survive – and even thrive – during the pandemic, all industries needed to adapt and digitise to stay relevant and engage fans. F1 did a brilliant job by quickly creating nine virtual e-prix with celebrities and F1 drivers participating with more than 30 million tuning in to watch across linear TV and digital platforms. Mass events such as the London Marathon pivoted to all-virtual for amateurs with over 37,000 participating from around the world.

Significant sponsorships have been forged with relatively new technology providers that are leading this change. Teamviewer, based in Germany, has signed up with Manchester United, and Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, while Zoom is now a sponsor of F1. Digital innovation was the only way rights holders could offer value to sponsors and one of the only ways brands could activate their sponsorships. At ESA, we changed the way we provide member engagement and now hold more webinars and digital experiences.

"Significant sponsorships have been forged with relatively new technology providers that are leading this change."

4) What are the main trends that will guide the recovery and what is the overall sentiment tracker in light of the spoils of the crisis?

The sponsorship industry is pretty robust and has weathered many storms in the past. When one particular sector, for example tobacco sponsorship, falls out it is often quickly replaced. More tech and e-commerce companies have got involved in sponsorship since the pandemic and this is helping fuel confidence in the industry.

Our Sentiment Tracker has been a really helpful guide to the industry and, for the most part, has remained fairly optimistic about its recovery. We are likely now to see a far greater emphasis on digital rights and activation and a greater degree of flexibility in sponsorship contracts.

5) There is a noticeable focus on education and training programmes for professional development in your association. What kind of certification and programmes is ESA providing for partners and members?

We believe we have the best in-class programme, underpinned by the ESA Diploma, the only professional qualification in the industry. This eight-month part-time course fits around a busy modern work lifestyle and is increasingly seen as a mandatory qualification for those seeking to develop their career in sponsorship and sports marketing. ESA pivoted the Diploma in 2020 to become online-only and ran two courses to accommodate demand. There’s clearly great appetite as we saw a 90% increase in graduates in 2020 versus 2019 and attracted candidates from countries including the US, South Africa, UAE and Singapore as well as our heartlands in Europe.

This year, in an effort to support greater diversity in the industry, we are offering an ESA Diploma Scholarship so that funding doesn’t become a barrier to entry. The ESA Sponsorship Sales Certificate is becoming a must-have qualification for those who work in sponsorship sales and this too pivoted to online courses, and we held double the number usually run in one year. Finally we also run the ESA Leaders Programme, aimed at more senior industry professionals and includes executive coaching.

6) Do you consider that more than ever it is necessary to reward the best performances and policies within your sector today?

In tough times, we believe recognition and reward matters more than ever. Many in our industry have suffered a great deal and there’s been so much innovation that we created new categories for the ESA Awards – Best Use of Virtual Experiences and Best Ethical Response to COVID-19 – with a very healthy number of entries. We simplified entry requirements and the standard of entries continued to rise. The ceremony was virtual in 2021 but we plan to return to an in-person event in 2022 as we’ve all missed those major networking opportunities.

Read the "Funding & Sponsorship" HQ #102 here

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