Sports sponsorship: What does a business get from its partnership with a major English Premier League soccer team?

Manchester City and Manchester United walk out into the Etihad Stadium on April 27, 2017
Martin Rickett - PA Images | Getty Images

"The ultimate reality TV," is how a top executive at one of England's most high-profile soccer teams describes sport and its impact on an audience.

Tom Glick, chief commercial officer at City Football Group, parent company of Manchester City Football Club, is talking about the business of sport and how he looks for sponsors, the brands that contribute to the almost $4.5 billion revenue that the Premier League made in 2014-15. Manchester City – or simply City to fans – is currently fourth in the Premier League and counts Nike, Nissan and SAP among its global sponsors.

"I think there's been a recognition that sports works. Not only is it the ultimate reality TV but it's a great way to engage a consumer or to engage somebody that's running a business," Glick told CNBC anchor Carolin Roth in the latest episode of Marketing Media Money.

"So you know there's 50, 60, 70 categories of businesses that are using sports effectively. So we start by looking at… the leading businesses in those categories to find potential partners that we might have a conversation with, learn about what they are looking to achieve and hopefully get far enough that we can come back and bring some solutions."

How Man City chooses its sponsorship partners

And it's soccer that generates the most sponsorship, rights and merchandise dollars globally, bringing in more than $20 billion a year, ahead of second-placed American football which took $13 billion in 2015.

Dan Jones, head of Deloitte's sports business group, said that while sport in the U.S. is very commercial, there's nothing like Europe's footballing heritage.

"America is sort of been seen as leading the way in commercialization of sports. But they do cast an envious glance across at Europe because Europe's got football and football is 'the world sport'," he told CNBC's James Wright in Marketing Media Money.

"So NFL - fantastic property, fantastic competition, fantastic spectacle - but [it] doesn't necessarily travel brilliantly outside the U.S. Baseball the same, ice hockey the same, [they have] strong avid fans around the world. But nothing unites the world sport-wise like football," he added.

Which sport is the richest?

Recruitment consultancy Hays has been a sponsor of Manchester City since 2013, helping it hire people on and off the pitch, and in 2015 became recruitment partner to its sister club, New York City FC. Hays won't disclose how much it's spent on the partnership, but chief marketing officer Sholto Douglas-Home claims it has resulted in an "extraordinary" amount of engagement among clients, candidates and consultants.

"And I think it was the transition from just looking to build awareness of us as a company to actually helping people get a much stronger sense of our values and our purpose. And it was that kind of transition that made it a very easy decision [to renew the initial three-year deal]," he told Roth.

Hays' sponsorship goes beyond branding the TV-friendly pitch perimeter on match days, said Glick. "It's hard to say that the perimeter messaging with hundreds of millions of people watching is not the most important thing. I think it used to be... But I think my answer today is the content that we put out digitally and socially on our and [Hays'] platforms in other places, because this allows us to tell a story to position Hays as the leader and the aspirational brand."

Translating boardroom know-how onto the pitch

Hays is currently running video interviews with Manchester City footballers Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Gaël Clich talking about their careers on its website.

"The most powerful content that we put out is where there's some really clear synergies between a player and their own career, and how you can kind of compare and contrast that with everyday people in that in their professional careers," Douglas-Home told Roth.

"The environment, the organization, that Manchester City create for the players has a lot of resonance of how people should look at their own organizations and their own career management, so that's really probably the thing that struck us most in terms of how people engage with our content."

Hays doesn't look for a single return on investment figure for its sponsorship, but Douglas-Home said social media shares and likes as well as client and staff engagement are tracked.

The future for the partnership? It could be Chinese, according to Glick, with a private equity consortium from China investing $400m for a 13 percent stake in City Football Group in 2015. "China is an area that we'll be spending time together, it's a big sport. It's a big market for football right now. And both of us have identified this as an important market for us."

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