Brand management done right

Dear John,
You seem to think that advertising, corporate sponsorships, and brand extensions
will be our Society’s salvation.

We don’t.
And we’re confident there’s another way.

Consider, for instance, the case of
Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament in the world….

June 27, 2011

All That Glitters Isn’t Sold:
Wimbledon’s resistance to corporate dollars
keeps it rich

by L. Jon Wertheim

Now that Wimbledon has started at the All England Club, we are being fed the familiar images of quaintness and gentility: players walking into the arena, their all-white attire contrasting with the green of the lawns; blades of grass standing militarily upright on Centre Court and, of course, the obligatory strawberries and cream. The cameras pull back, and we see fans taking afternoon tea; and then pull farther to show Big Ben and the London skyline.

Yet for its undeniable charms, so much of Wimbledon’s real appeal stems not from what you see, but from what you don’t see. You’ll notice that there are no corporate logos splayed on the playing surface. There are zero courtside billboards or rotating signs. No luxury suites with flat screens, stocked bars and carving boards to make the actual sporting event feel like so much background hum. During breaks in the action, note that there is no music, no sponsored dot races on the scoreboard, no unnaturally peppy cheerleaders or mascots air-cannoning T-shirts provided by still another sponsor. At no time will you hear the phrase, “Brought to you by… .” …

Wimbledon has a reputation for patrician elegance, even snobbishness. In truth, it’s the most populist and least mercenary sporting event going. On television it looks like a Victorian era garden party. On the grounds it more closely resembles a minor league baseball game.

A management consultant would spit-take his Pimms pondering how much money the tournament leaves on the table each year. In 2010, for perspective, tennis’s U.S. Open set a record for sponsorship revenue, with $60 million. …

Alan Mills, the longtime tournament referee, was once asked why the event bypassed so much revenue. He seemed confused by the question. It was pointed out, for example, that the U.S. Open took advantage of its real estate, going so far as to slather corporate logos on the umbrellas that shield the players from rain and sun during changeovers. He responded with a confused look. “If we did that, I suppose it wouldn’t be Wimbledon, would it?”

No, it wouldn’t.

Still, for all the money it passes up, Wimbledon makes out fine. The tournament doesn’t disclose financials but last year reported a “surplus” (never the gauche “profit”) of more than £31 million ($50 million). Who knows how much of that comes from the equity of tradition, from being singularly resistant to easy money? Maybe the moral for sports properties is this: Sure, you can make money from selling your soul. But there’s also value in hanging on to it.

Read the whole thing here.

  • Therese

    Wimbledon does it right. NGS, Discovery, etc. have sold themselves out for the green paper.

    • Hi Therese — What’s especially interesting is that Discovery is a publicly traded company, so its executive team is held to account by Wall Street. But NGS? No stockholders. No union. No membership organization. It’s just John Fahey responding to … well, I’m not sure exactly what John responds to. 

      Or, put another way: Counting the money at the end of the year can be a helpful barometer of your performance & value, but it can’t be the only one. 

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