UK Athletic’s divorce from Aviva is no surprise

Sports such as gymnastics, athletics and swimming will be hoping that the London 2012 Olympics will provide a shop window to potential sponsors wanting to cash in on the expected success of English sport.

If the likes of UK Athletics can’t convince sponsors of the virtue of sponsoring domestic athletics during the Olympics, then it never will.

That is why it is little surprise that UK Athletics
is poised to introduce a new multi-sponsor strategy and end its long-term sponsorship deal with Aviva, up for renewal at the end of the year.

Aviva’s yellow, blue and green branding is scorched into the heart of UK Athletics, branding stadiums and athletes alike; it is a sponsorship that has worked well for both parties for nearly 15 years.

But now UK Athletics is hoping to get more bang for its buck, hoping to ride on the success of the Olympics, ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the World Championships’ in London three years later.

Working with a number of brands will not only likely boost UK Athletics revenues, but will present it with new branding opportunities.

Interestingly, last year McCain, the frozen-chip company, ended its £1m a year sponsorship deal with UK Athletics.

Did McCain believe its sponsorship had become an annexe to the Aviva juggernaut? If so, could this have prompted UK Athletics to introduce a new model?

Well, this is one argument.

The alternative being that Aviva wants a change of direction, and is content to focus its sporting efforts on rugby and football (in the shape of Norwich City), thus freeing up £8m a year for something more pressing and customer-related than sponsoring athletics.

Eight million pounds may be small beer to the UK’s biggest insurance group, which made an operating profit of £2.1bn in 2011. However, £8m could for instance go some way to improving, say, customer service.

Moreover, the company has vocal and combative shareholders, investors who helped oust chief executive Andrew Moss because they thought he was getting paid too much. Investors who might kick up a fuss about an £8m sponsorship deal.

So maybe UK Athletics knew which way the wind was blowing on this one and in a PR coup, is selling it as a strategy shift, a new direction under its new commercial chief.

It just reads a lot better for UK Athletics than being axed by the company that has helped underwrite its fortunes the past 15 years.

  • Martin Thomas

    The irony of the best sponsorships is that the profile of the sponsor ultimately drowns that of the rights holder – the Stella Artois tennis tournament and Mars London Marathon all suffered from this problem.