An untapped sport sponsorship opportunity: Arnolds Classic Africa 2016.

For those who never heard of the Arnolds Sports Festival, it is a multisport event that celebrates and showcases numerous sporting codes. Named after (you guessed it), Arnold Schwarzenegger, the seven-time Mr Olympia, Hollywood star and former Governor of California. Arnolds Classic Africa 2016 was held at the Sandton Convention Center, Johannesburg, South Africa at the end of May 2016 (this being the inaugural event on the African continent). The festival saw over 10 000 athletes compete within 47 sporting codes, and ±20 000 spectators over the three-day event; a great opportunity for sporting brands and athletes to be recognised, as well as sport sponsorship to be explored.

I was fortunate enough to attend the last day of the festival with a friend, with the full intention of soaking up what Arnolds had to offer from all avenues.  With so many different disciplines to see (and checking my watch to ensure that we did not miss the Powerlifting + Benchpress Championships) it was hard to choose which sports to watch, not to mention the exhibition, filled with every nutrition brand you could possibly think of!

The sporting codes we managed to spend some time enjoying:

  • Sports Aerobics, Fitness + Hip Hop: Watching the focus on the children’s’ faces, further entrenched the power of sport in my mind.
  • Gymnastics Aerobics: Graceful and beautiful.
  • Ringball: First time watching this sport, I was a little confused, as I had netball in mind.
  • Cross Fit Throw Down: It was hard for me to walk away from this sport!
  • Zumba Demonstrations: Such a great energy.
  • Strongman Amateur Finals: I stood there with my mouth open, in awe of their strength.
  • Archery: After having an insightful discussion with the Manager of the team, my understanding of the sport has grown. Do you know that we have a gold medal winning archery team representing South Africa at international competitions?
  • Powerlifting: This is a sport that I have learnt to appreciate over the past 8 months, understanding the dedication it takes to be at the top.
  • Fencing Demonstration: A sport that has always fascinated me. A real treat to watch live.

What was most rewarding, and a common thread throughout all the sporting disciplines, was the pure intensity that each athlete displayed when competing. This may sound like an obvious statement to point out, but it is pertinent for brands to be aware of within a sponsorship space.

There has been a trend over the past few years with companies wanting to extend their reach and awareness through sponsorship of participation sports. I am not referring to the the big name sponsorships, (there are only a select number of companies that have the capital to spend, and a select number of the big name sponsorships), but the companies with the smaller budgets for marketing and sponsorship.

Take running for example, the sport has grown dramatically over the past four years alone. Running events that would never usually sell out, are sold out before the morning of the event, forcing athletes to purchase the entry prior to the race. Companies are beginning to truly understand the benefit of supporting participation sports. They provide a platform to engage directly with the participant, as opposed to the on screen awareness of a company sponsoring a professional sporting fixture. Don’t get me wrong, those sponsorships are incredibly prevalent and most definitely give a positive ROI (if leveraged effectively), but not all companies can afford the rights fees to sponsor the likes of the UEFA Champions League.

At Arnolds Classic Africa 2016, there was a captive audience of participants and spectators to engage with. Unless all the action happened in the first few days, not one sponsor of the event particularly stood out on that Sunday. Yes, branding on the walls was present, but no engagement per se took place that made me resonate with a sponsor and want to purchase the product there, or in the future.

This only provides an opportunity for Arnolds Classic Africa as well as the sponsors, to better leverage the partnership for the next event. By focusing on experiential brand activations to engage and allow the audience to resonate with your brand, you create affinity, loyalty and brand trust. This will aid in Arnolds greater goal of promoting bodybuilding, exercise and healthier living in the world.

As touched on earlier, the sponsorship of participation sport has grown over the years, as well the sponsorship of individual athletes. The sport sponsorship opportunities are endless, you just have to open your ears and eyes to the possibilities, and then be able to tell those stories so that your target audience listens and resonates with your brand.