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Telling stories through sport
Juliet Adelstein is the CEO of Ganapati Malta and Ganapati Europe Holding, part of the Ganapati group – a global group of companies comprised of offices and game studios, which provides the international igaming markets with unique, immersive content.
In the cluttered sports sponsorship landscape, it is increasingly important for brands to adopt creative activations – especially from the highly competitive gambling space.
Betting and gaming brands have little hope of establishing a fruitful presence through such arrangements, though, unless they are treated as true partnerships rather than sponsorships and, crucially, a story can be told.
Juliet Adelstein, CEO of Ganapati Malta and Ganapati Europe Holding, has an appreciation of this, having previously worked in the European sports division at the Dentsu agency.
Ganapati, which has offices and game development studios around the world, is in the process of building on its B2B foundations by exploring B2C offerings and, according to Adelstein, commercial partnerships in sport are set to play a significant role.
However, she insists that the emotional narrative that underpins sport has to be leveraged effectively to achieve an optimum return on investment (ROI) – and that is no longer possible by simply plastering a logo on a playing shirt or on promotional LED boards around a stadium.
“For any brand that’s trying to trigger a reaction from an individual, sports sponsorship is very effective,” she says.
“Brands can come across in a very natural and authentic way, especially in industries like ours, where betting and gaming is something that can go hand-in-hand with the experience of watching sport. If you have a sports property that is telling the brand’s story – and not just showing its name – then that is a powerful proposition.”
The importance of storytelling
From Ganapati’s perspective, the “storytelling” approach is likely to include the creation of bespoke games featuring the sports star or property.
“We will never agree simple endorsement deals in sport; we would work with the athlete,” she adds.
“In most cases it will probably be an individual athlete as it is easier to use a single person’s image, but we would collaborate with them throughout the entire process to make sure they are happy with the image, the game and the timing of its release.”
Adelstein believes that the days of brands “expecting to see a difference” purely from branding exposure through a traditional sponsorship deal are over.
“The figures in sports sponsorships continue to grow, but brands are going to end up throwing money down the toilet if they are not careful,” she adds.
“Creativity is important, but the onus is not just on the brand in that regard. Sports properties need to give brands the freedom and flexibility to explore creative activations if they are going to continue to expect the high fees in return in the years to come.”
Adelstein is keen to highlight the wide range of opportunities in sport, with different partnerships enabling a tailored approach to tap into specific target demographics. Moreover, in sports such as football, the hierarchy of clubs – from the giants of the game through to “challenger clubs” and below – present prospective sponsors with a range of options.
According to Adelstein, it is vital that the partner brand reflects the status and story of the sports property itself. Therefore, the biggest club, or the most famous name available, might not be the best platform for the brand.
“The partnership has to be well-matched and it’s a two-way street,” Adelstein adds. “Firstly, you have to make sure that the demographics fit. Even if a property or athlete has a lot of followers, if they are not the right market for you, then it’s pointless.”
Adelstein argues that the status of the property and the partner brand have to be complementary, so they can grow together.
“A challenger brand should be marketed alongside a challenger team, rather than one at the very top of the table, otherwise there is a danger that the partner’s message will get lost in the noise and the impact will be diluted,” she explains.
“Secondly it is important to become part of the property’s family, so the fans and even athletes feel like they have a connection with you.”
In establishing that connection, Adelstein says, it is vital not to overstep the mark. Despite record levels of investment in sport from gambling companies, the relationship between the industry and sport has arguably never been so uncomfortable.
Several international and national federations have turned their back on betting and gaming while regulators are scrutinising the presence of gambling companies in sport like never before.
Looking ahead, one of the key challenges will be for the industry to “make sure that things are done properly so that we don’t create a need for further regulations”, Adelstein says.
“Self-regulation is at the heart of this, and we have to behave in a mature and sensible way,” she adds. “I think there have been mixed messages until now, but it’s up to us to tell the story of how regulated operators can help keep sport clean and to self-regulate so we are never seen as taking advantage of people’s vulnerabilities.”
Aside from the challenges, though, the emergence of esports is providing the industry with an unprecedented opportunity.
“It’s a whole new sport, let alone a sports sponsorship opportunity,” Adelstein says. “It’s a very exciting sector and it tallies with the increasing number of ways to consume sport online, so I think there will be years of very interesting progression.
“Moving forward, more generally, I think we’re hitting a peak of what sports can ask of brands in terms of fees. However, a well-executed and well-timed partnership can ensure a positive ROI.”