Is it worth sponsoring a losing sports team in the hope it might one day win?

The Black Caps’ performance at the World Test Championships last week gave the team’s sponsors that coveted opportunity to bask in the glow of a victorious team.

The perennial heartbreak kids of the cricketing world finally delivered a victory and showed the world that they have the mettle to grind out a win in testing circumstances.

For key sponsor ANZ, this moment was 25 years in the making.

The bank has stuck with the team through some traumatic ups and downs, including two World Cup final defeats and periods of horrific form.

All organisations do, of course, want to be associated with illustrious champions, but ANZ general manager of data and marketing Astrud Burgess says that you need to take more into account than just the performance on the pitch.

“Loyalty is part of it, but we’re business people,” Burgess tells the Herald.

“There are numbers that we look at that tell you whether a sponsorship is contributing to the work you want to do and whether it’s helping to grow your brand.”

Burgess notes that sponsorship decisions shouldn’t be solely based on the performance of the team on the pitch.

“One of the things we always look at is how many people care about cricket and netball,” she says.

“It’s no coincidence that we’re with the two biggest sports after rugby in terms of participation at all levels. You need to know that people are still engaged with the sport.”

This longer-term approach is also evident in Vodafone’s long-running sponsorship of the Warriors and ASB’s continued commitment to the Classic tennis tournament despite the fact that the event was cancelled during the pandemic.

In addition to the level of interest, Burgess also notes that the conduct of the individual players can have a big impact on whether it’s worth the risk to keep backing a team.

The image of the Black Caps as nice blokes willing to extend their hand to a fallen opponent goes a long way toward giving the sponsor confidence that’s worth keeping the investment going. Rather than the obvious scenes of victory, these are moments that ANZ pushes in its brand advertising.

But the point about individual players also comes at a time when sports stars are more concerned with the personal brand than ever before.

This was seen recently when Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo removed a Coca-Cola bottle from the camera shot and urged viewers to drink water. This move sparked a domino effect, with other stars also removing the product out of frame.

These actions can be deeply damaging to a brand that pays handsomely for the right to have its products on display in the vicinity of these superstars.

Burgess says the answer is not to lash out and chastise the players for breaking the rules.

“Those players are really aware of their brands now, perhaps in a way that they weren’t many years ago,” Burgess says.

She points to the example of England star Marcus Rashford, who has campaigned incredibly hard to give lunches to school kids in recent years.

“When you see the power of someone like him to do good, I think athletes feel a real responsibility to make a difference. And they may also start to become uncomfortable if sponsoring brands don’t represent who they are.”

Burgess says this tension isn’t going anywhere in the coming years and that brands will have to become used to existing in the context of sports stars who are commercial entities in their own right.

Burgess says that if someone were to turn on ANZ, her response would be to have a conversation with the player and find out what they’re uncomfortable with.

“I’d also like to let them know what our brand stands for and why they should feel comfortable representing it.”

This task is obviously more difficult for much-maligned sugary drinks, alcohol or fast food brands, but it does point to the need for companies to evolve the perception people have of them if they’re looking to bask in the glory of victorious sports stars.

The reality is that money alone is no longer enough to guarantee that you’ll be taken along for the ride.

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