Why sponsors should listen to Richie Benaud

Anthony Scammell urges brands to think ahead and be purposeful in their sponsorship activation of big sports events and that they could even take advice from former Aussie cricket great Richie Benaud.

Reading through the tributes to legendary Australian cricketer and TV commentator Richie Benaud last month, former colleagues recounted advice the leg spinner had given to them as they made the transition from playing to commentating on the game.

'Don't say anything unless you can add value to the pictures' was his mantra.

It seems to me these words aren’t just applicable to the world of sports commentary. They can be equally applied to sponsorship activation.

Brands now pay premium prices to associate themselves with big sports events, teams or players, but too many are star struck in the illustrious company they find themselves and become a passive observer, simply along for the ride, rather than having thought through how they are going to really use the high profile platform they have bought.

In an ideal world, the marketing team will have already worked out the sponsorship activation plan before signing, with this thinking helping to inform the rights they negotiate.

But you’d be amazed at how often the ‘PR’ applied to these sponsorships stands for Post Rationalisation rather than a high wattage Public Relations campaign.

Sponsorships can be signed for all sorts of different reasons, of course, but a brand that takes the plunge into the world of sponsorship shouldn’t suddenly forget its purpose, hurriedly pull on a tracksuit and start behaving like one of the players.

In a world where transparency and credibility are key ingredients for corporate reputation, brands who do find themselves behaving in this way will be labelled opportunists at best.

At this point, I need to declare an involvement with UEFA Europa League Global Partner, Western Union. We have been working with the global payment services company over the last three seasons to help build and then amplify their PASS initiative.


Through PASS, Western Union has been turning every pass on the pitch into better education off it and delivering this support to secondary school children who need it through NGO partner UNICEF.  The scheme covers ten countries and not just within Europe, as befitting of an international company and tournament where players from more than 80 countries are being represented in this season’s Europa League.

Aside from the important exposure and media value that the WU brand has enjoyed over the past three seasons, Western Union has been true to its roots in using the power and reach of football to promote its main CSR campaign – Education For Better – which the company built out of the fact that more than 30% of the money moved via its services is connected to education.

Football’s response?  Overwhelming support.

Here’s last night’s victorious Sevilla manager Unai Emery on PASS:

“Values are important, the values instilled in you at school, by your family, your friends. My father instilled in me a sense of responsibility and the value of hard work and integrity. I think it’s where education comes to surface and I think it’s very positive for all the people and for all the youngsters who are participating.”

I’m not saying that Western Union has always got it right. Who does?

But the creative of PASS has been true to their purpose. It’s also been innovative and, importantly, it’s made a difference.

Going back to Richie Benaud’s words, they have ‘added value to the pictures’.

What next…

After last night’s Europa League Final, Western Union passes on the title sponsorship mantle to global courier FedEx who will be the tournament’s Main Partner for the next three seasons.

FedEx has already talked about activating against themes of ‘passion, inspiration and performance’.  

We’ll have to wait and see, but as long as what they do ties back to the company’s purpose and adds value, I’m sure they’ll deliver. 

H+K Admin

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search