Put the Story First: What Sports Marketing Can Learn From Wrob, Wryan and Wrexham

By Pete Jackson, Head of Planning at Trouble Maker

You’ve just spent a king’s ransom on that big sports sponsorship. The deal will parachute you into the hearts and minds of a new audience group, leveraging the sport’s excitement and credibility as well. You’ve also done your due diligence. The value of the package has been checked by a third party, the bundle of assets seems fair, global markets appear to be bought in and we know how much it will cost to activate. Everyone was very happy… until as it turned out, it didn’t really move the needle.

How could this have happened?

To answer this question, let us pop on our hard hats, and pay attention to a gloomy narrative that has been developing over the last 20 years – as advertisers, the story is a short and scary one: most people ignore most marketing messages as the examples here, here and here illustrate.

And even if it does move the needle, experts in the field argue it only benefits a handful of enormous brands, and more importantly it ignores the meaning that people are extracting from your sponsorship assets. Why are you there? What do you stand for? What value are you adding?

The heart of the matter is this. We need to stop prioritising the spreadsheets and the valuations and begin to prioritise storytelling.

The Welcome to Wrexham juggernaut can teach us many things about sport but one element marketers may pay attention to is Wrob and Wryan’s focus on storytelling. And here are three key lessons we can take away.

ONE: Prioritise storytelling at the OUTSET

We love a scorecard in our industry. What assets will we get? What is the target audience overlap? The cost to activate? Competing category sponsors in the sport? Regional penetration anyone?

What about prioritising storytelling above all of these? Given all the evidence above citing people’s complete ignorance to most marketing messages, we should really consider how we stand out!

If you watch the Welcome to Wrexham documentary, you’ll hear Wrob and Wryan talking about how they decided which football club to buy. They used a scorecard including cost, fan numbers, latent fan potential, catchment area, club history and a few other elements. But at the top of the list was storytelling. Wrexham’s story was the defining variable, and one key reason why the takeover is seen by many as being so successful thus far. As many have pointed out, the documentary itself paid off the initial $2.5 million investment.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  • How will this sponsorship come to life for fans?
  • What might we need to request in the contract for us to make this happen?
  • What licenses, agreements and rights might we need?

TWO: Integration moves you from sponsor to PARTNER

Many in the sports marketing space will countenance the ambition to be a partner to a property or team, versus just another sponsor. One key way to do this is to fundamentally integrate your brand into the audience experience. Wrob and Wryan have not just bought a football club, they have completely integrated themselves into the club and the community. From funding local programs, to investing in the women’s and disability teams, to the close relationship they have with the players, coaches and support staff.

Microsoft does this brilliantly. As technology partner of La Liga, it has co-developed ‘Beyond Stats’ – generating completely new on-pitch data that makes fantasy football managers purr. By integrating into the fan experience, it has been able to leverage this in diverse storytelling touchpoints such as editorial, social content and influencer/player tie-ins. Its presence in La Liga goes beyond badging and genuinely attempts to improve the fan experience.

Key questions:

  • Instead of buying a package of off-the-shelf assets, could we partner with said property or team to improve the experience for fans?
  • If they don’t offer this – maybe someone else will?
  • Would partnering with a lesser-known property or club be worth it, if we were able to strike up a symbiotic partnership where both parties benefitted?

THREE: Goals and measures with HEART

When Wrob and Wryan bought Wrexham, they publicly released their Mission Statement on the club’s website“to grow the team, return it to the EFL in front of increased attendances at an improved stadium while making a positive difference to the wider community in Wrexham”. If you break down this goal, there are clearly identifiable and concrete measures to track success, but the inclusion of the impact on the wider community gives it substance and heart. It is one of the elements of this story that has brought in supporters from North America to Iceland.

Key questions:

  • What are the goals (and subsequent measures of success) that give this sponsorship more heart?
  • If storytelling is at the heart of our investment, how do we know if it’s resonated with people? How might we measure that?

Scorecards. Valuations. Numbers. GWI and YouGov. They are great, but only part of the story. There is a big risk in optimizing for these factors at the expense of clarity over how you will show up. When standing out in any channel is so hard, why would we not consider up front how we entertain, help or add to the experience of fans? When 85% of all communications aren’t meeting the threshold of attention to be remembered, maybe it’s time to make storytelling a primary decision-making tool.

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