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  • Georgie Maynard

Why backing fearless performances is scoring goals for Puma

...And why other sponsors should be taking note

For a sports sponsorship to hit that sweet spot it needs two fundamental things: first and foremost, it needs to achieve cut through, then it needs to connect with the audience.

Currently, there are few better examples for engaging an audience than Puma’s partnership with the Melbourne Vixens. This is a brand that intrinsically understands the base, most aptly demonstrated by its response to ‘that Age review’. Within two days Puma had nailed a riposte that had connected with not just the Vixens supporter base but the wider netball community. The netball family grateful that here was a brand that not just understood it, but more importantly had its back.

Puma recognises the inherent passion within the community and with the recent launch of Puma’s #WitnessFearless campaign, Puma is again upping the ante. Via this campaign Puma continues to leverage the high performance, quality and skill on display in the most elite domestic netball competition in the world. Through our BenchMark data we know 'high performance' is a key driver that emotionally connects the audience with Super Netball, and as a byproduct will connect the base with the Puma brand. But what is most noteworthy, is that Puma is taking that next step to invest heavily in the promotion of this sponsorship and netball in general.

Neysa Goh, PUMA’s Senior Head of Marketing - Oceania, recently outlined their intent to push the sponsorship even further: “as a partner of the Melbourne Vixens and Netball Victoria, we not only want to support the athletes and their fans, but we want to drive awareness and respect for this great sport. We want to demand change, not accept what has gone before and influence what will happen next.”

So why is Puma investing in netball? Netball has long been a sport that has been overlooked, undervalued and seriously lacking in exposure. Yet, the product is strong, outperforming other codes on key metrics, including enjoyment and positive culture. In terms of entertainment value, it ranks only behind the Big Bash amongst those familiar. And ironically, given the introduction of the Super Shot to make it more entertaining, four in five of those who are open to following Super Netball (over 1M Australians) already rate it as entertaining (higher than any other code’s comparison audience). Super Netball is delivering for its sponsors too. The average netball sponsorship will see two in three of those aware of the sponsorship having a positive reaction to it, this is well above the average across all sports, sitting at 50%.

This is particularly true for Puma. True North data reveals that Puma’s partnership with the Vixens ranks number one for driving first time usage of the brand amongst those aware of the partnership. A fact brought home to me personally by my daughter. She happened to be looking over my shoulder as I was viewing images of the Vixens in their Puma gear; within ten seconds she had uttered the words “Mum, when are we going shopping for that activewear we talked about?”

Puma’s partnership also benefits from a number of factors inherent to the Vixens: they have one of the most primed supporter bases for sponsorship messaging, over indexing on key demographic audiences that dial into sponsor communications; and there is a strong emotional connection amongst fans. These two factors drive stronger engagement with sponsors’ messaging.

What the Vixens need is more eyeballs. With a multinational brand, such as Puma, willing to invest heavily in promotion of this sponsorship, through full page ads in the Herald Sun and above the line advertising, then reach can grow. Although better promotion and product placement is still required, there are too many games not shown on free to air TV and no prime time slots for the sport.

Ultimately, Puma knows what it gives to the netball community, its effort will be paid back in spades, through sales of its clothing, including the newly fashioned Puma Vixens face masks. By continuing to back netball, take a stand on issues the community cares about and being an active participant in raising the profile of netball, Puma will hit that sweet spot.

Other sponsors would be wise to take note as to why Puma is investing heavily in the sport and placing its #WitnessFearless message on the front of the Vixens’ dress, a spot that had been empty for the first five rounds of the 2020 season. For this is a team that is not only delivering returns for sponsors, it is rated number one for positive team culture by its fans, currently sits on top of the league’s ladder, and half of the team are Diamonds. For the right sponsor the risks are low, whilst the returns are high, and growing.

A final thought for the Vixens players, they don’t want your pity about the absurd disparity in wages between male and female codes, or the inherent inequalities that exist for female athletes, because they are grateful to be playing the sport they love. But what they do want, is for you to witness their fight, passion, and fearless performances. They back themselves, now it’s time for sports followers, the media and sponsors to follow suit.

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