Sponsors riding the Champs wave for better or worse?
Dennie Quill, Gleaner Columnist
The euphoria of Champs is over. And in the harsh light of day I have been thinking about the growing trend of sponsorship of schools and athletes by big-name sports-goods entities like Nike and Puma. While we acknowledge that schools often have to look to non-government sources to address the resource needs for their athletics programmes, I believe the public needs to be told more about these sponsorship arrangements.
It is easy to see why big brands would want to be associated with our annual Boys and Girls' Championships. It is a well-organised and efficiently run sports event which draws a massive crowd and keen competitors from all corners of this country, and there is none like it in this part of the world.
However, I must confess that even without the details, I feel a tad uneasy about such sponsorship deals because I am aware that before any sponsorship decision is made or the cheque is written, company executives want this question answered: How much revenue will we generate as a result of our investment in this event?
And since we are talking here about amateur high-school sports, what are the likely strings that are attached to these sponsorship agreements?
First, it seems the brands select the schools they want to support based on past performance or the inclusion of star performers who have the potential to do well. These schools are likely to be the visible ones with brilliant coaches, supportive alumni and active parent-teacher associations. The largely unrecognised schools that are in need of most support are, therefore, likely to be left in the dust.
How about having an arrangement via the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) that says all sponsorship funds are put in a pool to be disbursed as the needs are identified? In that way, the playing field would be level for all participating schools, instead of a few highly placed ones being selected for assistance and the others being ignored.
That would be easy if that were the way of sports sponsorship, a phenomenon that is gaining momentum all over the world. It is acknowledged that sponsorship is the way to reach one's customer base and foster brand engagement. And, as competition heats up between sponsors, advertisers and agencies, all sorts of clever gimmicks are being employed.
But we must recognise that neither Puma nor Nike provides sponsorship to a team or individual because they are great corporate citizens. Their involvement in local sports has to be recognised as part of a broader integrated marketing strategy.
guard against exploitation
Here's one of the obvious benefits for the sponsors of Boys and Girls' Championships. If the athlete they sponsor becomes successful on the world stage later on, Puma and Nike will be able to ride the Champs wave with their athlete. It doesn't mean that it will necessarily be the best deal for the athlete, but loyalty will obviously play a part.
Sponsorship, globally, is a serious business, and it has to be recognised for what it is - a marketing tool aimed at increasing visibility of a brand and, ultimately, boosting market share. Marketing is all about building familiarity, trust and loyalty.
We have seen how sports sponsorship can breed intense rivalry and tear teams apart at the professional level. I hope I have said enough within the constraints of a newspaper column to start a debate on what limits, if any, should be placed on sponsorship within our schools, so we can lock out those who would seek to exploit the financial vulnerability of Jamaican students and administrators.