The fourth round of English Football’s FA Cup will be underway this evening as League Two (football’s fourth tier) side Cambridge United take on tough opposition in Manchester United. It’s ties like these that get fans nostalgically talking about the “magic of the FA Cup,” when tiny clubs have the chance to become giant killers. But on the commercial front, that FA Cup magic appears to have lost its sparkle.
The FA Cup is still without a sponsor, despite the competition — open to everyone from the top teams down to village pub clubs who play football in their spare time — kicking off back in August. Previous title sponsor Budweiser pulled out from its £9 million-a-year deal last season and the Football Association has had no luck in finding a replacement.
The FA is still understood to be looking for a partner for 2014/15 and has set an asking price of up to £10 million per season going forward. But Business Insider has spoken to several sponsorship industry insiders who all said it is unlikely the competition will pick up a new sponsor this season — and that it will probably struggle in the seasons to come.
The FA declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider.
There’s a number of reasons why The FA Cup has “lost its luster” over recent years in the eyes of brands:
There are better competitions out there. As Jon Stainer, UK managing director of sports market research agency Repucom, told us: “There’s no doubt the FA Cup is still the competition for the masses, that celebrates underdogs and inclusively, but overshadowed by other competitions.”
Repucom’s SponsorTrack poll, which is nationally weighted and based on the responses of more than 10,000 people, found the FA Cup comes below the UEFA Champions League, Premier League, and FIFA World Cup in terms of consumer interest. Considering the sheer amount of domestic teams involved in the FA Cup compared to the Champions League, where only a handful of the top English sides take part, that’s worrisome.
Click to enlarge the chart below.
How the FA Cup is packaged commercially. Unlike the League Cup competition, in which brands become a title sponsor (It is currently named The Capital One Cup), FA Cup sponsors are only listed as the “presenting partner.”
Tim Crow, CEO of sponsorship agency Synergy, told us: “The way the FA Cup has been marketed and packaged by the FA misses a trick. ‘Presented by’ is a bit clunky and makes it seem more commercial and even American in a way. Amongst media and consumers, the FA Cup sponsor is not mentioned, more often than not. Last year, ‘Capital One’ was mentioned far more than ‘Budweiser’ [in relation to each competition.]”
Crow also believes the FA Cup is marketed to brands in a way that it only appears to become a hot property once the third round takes place in January.
“Much of the value actually lies in the period from August to Christmas, the real value lies in all those stories [of the smaller clubs and of community-level narratives]. Those ‘giant killing’ stories have become a bit hackneyed,” Crow says.
How the FA Cup has changed in the eyes of fans. The FA Cup Final used to categorically be the last game of the football season. Now that honour belongs to the UEFA Champions League Final. The FA Cup has also changed in other ways along the years, most notably in odd kick-off times. Holding a game on a Friday night is great for broadcasters, but can be met by ire form travelling fans.
Ben Cronin, business director at the sports marketing division within Starcom MediaVest Group, told us: “The tinkering with match dates and kick off times is evidence of the pressure on the Cup to react to the interest in other premium club football competitions, notably the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League. This has only been compounded during the life cycle of this latest sponsorship by not consistently being able to guarantee that the final is even the biggest English football match on offer that day.
All the sponsorship experts we spoke to did agree that there is still a chance for the FA Cup to pick itself back up and become a more attractive marketing property. It went without a sponsor for more than four years in the early-to-mid noughties when AXA ended its sponsorship in 2002.
Here were some of their suggestions:
- The FA market itself better to overseas sponsors in areas like South East Asia where there are increasing levels of interest in English football and its traditions.
- Get the product right at a football level: Stop holding finals at Wembley in London when the two finalists are from the North of England, for example.
- Package the FA Cup up with other rights within the FA stable.
- Offer up actual title sponsorship.
- Better educate brands about the opportunities that lie around activating their sponsorships in the early stages of the competition.
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