Sponsors often negotiate signage rights and leave it at that. Last month we saw another finish to the Suncorp Super Netball season. We attended the Suncorp Super Netball first home game of the season for the Sunshine Coast Lightning. It was a sell-out crowd and with a new-look stadium there was plenty of excited build-up. Sunshine Coast Lightning were the stars of the show. As a club, they were polished. They had all the merchandise, bunting, fan cards, posters, smoke and flashing lights to generate great excitement for its fans.
Netball is the most played sport in Australia, and at the time, Sunshine Coast Lightning were the back-to-back premiership winners. Sunshine Coast Lighting sponsors are USC, HostPlus, HCF, Downer, Nissan, Game Clothing, Rebel and Hot FM. What were any of them doing at the sell-out home game? Nothing – except for the locally owned radio station which had giant inflatables and a game to shoot the most hoops. Well done Hot.
The problem is these are national brand names that aren't activating locally because the sponsorship negotiations are being conducted in Sydney and Melbourne. There is no local buy-in and no accountability.
So who wins? The club wins because they're getting the sponsorship dollars to produce the slick merchandise, the pre-game and in-game entertainment and opportunity to charge more for tickets. The fans win because they've got a first-class spectator experience. Sadly, the sponsors lose. I can guarantee you no one is going to take out a home loan because they were naming rights of the Super Netball. They weren't there in the stands, banging their feet on the floor with every goal scored. They weren't giving out co-branded lip gloss to the girls and they weren't popping up in Insta feed with live game commentary (every teenage spectator was still on their devices). They missed the opportunity to shoot their own goals.
As just another spectator in the crowd, to me it seemed like they didn't really share the passion. They didn't earn their chance to belong in the hearts and minds of the thousands of people that night. Let's hope the 2020 season brings more action for the spectators where this passionate fanbase are ripe for the picking.