Authentic sponsorship – a win for athletes, fans and internal teams

June 15, 2015

By: Leslie Walsh

Two exciting events dominated women’s sport last week – the FIFA Women’s World Cup kick off and, perhaps lesser known, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. And while FIFA continues to inspire debate around ethics and equality in sport, KPMG’s backing of women’s golf is a shining example of the strategic role sponsorship can play in communicating a brand’s values and generating employee pride.

For the first time in its 60-year history, the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) dropped its name from its title championship and partnered with the men’s tour to host the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. More than a name change, as Golf Channel’s Randall Mell puts it, “the size, weight and scale of the LPGA’s flagship event have been magnified tenfold.”

In addition to a first-class venue (Westchester Country Club) that has played host to more than 40 events on the men’s tour, a contract with a major media network (NBC ) and a $3.5 million purse (the second highest on the women’s tour), the tournament included a women’s leadership summit that attracted notable leaders (66th U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among others) and welcomed “250-300 next-generation business leaders.”

So what’s the big deal? And why should anyone in charge of her organization’s reputation or talent development team take notice?

A report by PwC on the global sports market, suggests worldwide revenues for sports sponsorships will reach US $45.3 billion this year; a sizable investment that, when done right, has great potential to foster internal brand ambassadors and achieve a greater ROI.

As a psychologist and human resources lecturer at King’s College London Department of Management, Martin E. Edwards has measured the impact of sport sponsorships on employee perceptions and agrees with other researchers that this work is especially relevant “given the increasing interest paid by the HR function in the management and image of the brand.”

In a recent study, “The Olympic Effect: Employee Reactions to their Employer’s Sponsorship of a High-Profile Global Sporting Event,” Edwards surveyed employees of companies in the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden that sponsored the 2012 London Olympics. His research confirmed that “the benefits of such sponsorship do not just come from ‘leveraging’ the reputation of the sponsor to an external audience; the employees will also respond positively.” Moreover, when employees support such sponsorship activity, “they are more likely to feel a sense of pride in their employer and judge the organization as having socially responsible credentials.”

Beyond naming rights, KPMG’s sponsorship of women’s golf is an authentic extension of the brand. In conversation with the Wall Street Journal, John Veihmeyer, global chairman of KPMG International, spoke about the initiative, saying: “This is a critical business initiative for us. This tournament and this external visibility is such a natural outgrowth of a large number of things we’ve been doing internally over a number of years to sustain and continue to build a strong culture of inclusion.”

That culture of inclusion has attracted recognition for KPMG including workplace awards. It was also a key theme delivered by one of the firm’s Toronto-based partners at a recent women’s leadership conference last month where a proud contingent of KPMG employees applauded from the crowd.

Sports sponsorship should be more than slapping a logo on a high-profile event. When partnerships are purpose-driven, companies can tell a more meaningful story that will not only resonate with their customers and prospects but employees and potential recruits.

Leslie Walsh is vice president of FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice in Toronto. You can reach her at leslie.walsh@fleishman.ca.