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A Creative Marketing Model: Sports Sponsorship with a Charity Focus

Monday, 31 Jul 2017 09:48   |   By Chen Yaping

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Wen Limei, a 12 year-old girl from a rural area in Guangdong Province, never thought that one day, she would act as a mascot walking out into a huge stadium filled with enthusiastic soccer supporters, hand-in-hand with a football superstar at the International Champions Cup (ICC) China. But this is exactly what happened on July 22.

Living with her grandparents, Limei started playing football 3 years ago and eventually became captain of her local team. Her love and passion for football culminated in this wonderful opportunity where for the first time an excited and nervous Limei and 5 other children acted as player escorts for the ICC China, an annual club association football preseason tournament.

To make this event unique, Chinese financial website Xiaoniu 88.com, a Premium Sponsor of the 2017 ICC China, launched a campaign earlier this year to select 6 mascots from 2 charity schools in Wuhua County, Guangdong. In addition, Xiaoniu also provided free sports apparel and equipment for poorer kids who love football and provided more opportunities for them to see football matches and get professional training and coaching. 

XGQQ, one of Xiaoniu’s rivals in the financial market, has also put public charity at the heart of its priority list when it sponsored a mass participation cycling race earlier this month.

In recent years, Chinese brands like Xiaoniu and XGQQ have been looking to engage with target customers through sports charity foundations. They believe that sports marketing with a charitable focus will deliver their values to their target customers as well as create a multi-win situation for sponsors, event operators and the public.

One of the most well-known charity endeavors were made by Chinese multinational technology company Lenovo. In 2007, as a worldwide partner of the Olympic Games, Lenovo carried out a series of related charity projects. In one of its projects, the Chinese company invited about 100 former Olympic athletes to pay a visit to almost 1500 Chinese counties. At the same time, the computer brand set up a group of around 100 young sports enthusiasts and gave them free tickets to watch the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Why has charity-oriented sports marketing been favored in recent years? Although it may not bring a direct sales increase, public charity perfectly connects corporate philosophy and sports events with their target customers.

As some sports experts have expressed, some sponsors are increasingly insisting on the  Sports+Charity model, a measurable ROI for their heavy investment being adopted by more and more brands. Creative-minded sports and charity programs can even help brands to expand their business in both the real world and the online community.

Sports franchises traditionally treat public charity as one of their missions on the pitch. For example, Barcelona had refrained from having a sponsor on their shirts but broke  tradition in the 2006/07 season by displaying Unicef’s logo on the front of their kits. When the original deal ended in 2011, the club agreed a record €150m sponsorship with Qatar Airway, which was widely criticized at the time.  

In 2016, the La Liga giants announced an extention with the world’s leading children’s charity Unicef for a further four years until 2020. This deal will see the club increase their annual donation from €1.5m to €2m and continue to advertise Unicef on the back of their playing shirts.

In the same year, Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune said that they would provide nonprofit organizations with free front sponsorship space on their shirt, for use in all their CFA Cup fixtures.

Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming also sees sports and charity as an perfect fit. He founded the Yao Foundation in 2008 after the massive earthquake in Sichuan province. The Foundation is now seen as a sports and educational charity.

"I know celebrity-effect plays a big part in charity promotion," Yao said. "Therefore, I sincerely thank all the NBA stars who sacrificed their personal time to fly across the ocean for the match."

As one of Xiaoniu executives said, people who value charity and sports are probably more open-minded and trustworthy, thus becoming their important target customers.

At the start of 2017, the financial brand, together with Xinhuo Zhenying Company and China Song Ching Ling Foundation, held a basketball camp to provide free coaching to Chinese children and help them realize their dreams.

“With the appearance of many European giants, the ICC has become one of the most popular preseason events. It has a great fan base across the world, which makes it the best platform where brands can integrate sports, charity and corporate values.” The executive added.

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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