By Martin Walsh
SPONSORSHIP in sport has changed dramatically over the course of the last two decades.
Now, virtually every sport is linked to a brand, with many becoming so synonymous. The sponsor, rather than sport itself, has become the recognisable public image. The demographic boundaries have also altered and gone is the time when a sporting organisation just accepted a cheque (with glee) and it was job done, game over.
Now it’s much more: a partnership with options especially when the sporting spectrum embraces its sponsor to explore other avenues. Like politics, sports sponsorship is local, national and international, and a thriving West Cork company, Clonakilty Blackpudding, has spanned all three domains.
According to its MD, Colette Twomey, sponsorship is important.
‘It’s necessary for all organisations really because some can’t get the help from government,’ she says.
It doesn’t always have to be about money.
‘Whether it is t-shirts for an event, a box of sausages for a fundraising barbecue, we (Clonakilty Blackpudding) were always doing that parochial sponsorship,’ Twomey adds.
Sport remains a huge part of the Clonakilty Blackpudding diet – be it rugby, GAA or rowing locally to soccer and motorsport on a national level and the latter on an international scale.
‘Ballygurteen’s Michael Keohane (British Formula 3 race winner) was the first individual that took our logo internationally. Of course, we had the local rallies; lads got a couple of bob and put the logo on their car. I can recall Michael racing in Valencia and there was a great buzz. It was great to give him that support,’ Twomey says.
While motorsport always seems to attract the company sponsorship, Clonakilty Blackpudding’s involvement with Cork City was a new departure.
‘We had never ventured into the soccer sector. Locally, here in Clonakklty town we had the GAA, rugby and rowing. At the time Cork City was a club that were finding themselves. They were searching for something and I really admired them as they were at the bottom but they had enthusiasm and passion; all the ingredients to make it work and it worked,’ Twomey says.
The fact that Cork City, and in particular under manager John Caulfield, went on to have success could be seen as a lucky deal. Not so according to Colette.
‘No. Luck is opportunity and gut. You see the opportunity and the timing was right for us with Cork City. We saw that they were at the starting post and ready to take off,’ she says.
Another successful association came via the backing of the Irish Tarmac Championship that coincided with the West Cork Rally – eventually – becoming part of the series. Was there an ulterior motive? Prefacing the response with a smile, she responded in business like fashion.
‘Geographically, the Irish Tarmac Championship was so strong up north with the Donegal and Ulster rallies, even Galway. Our marketing plan was to push product awareness in those areas. It was creating a love of the product at the tastings.’
The one characteristic that surfaced during what transpired to be a four-year term was camaraderie.
‘There was a great buzz. We would arrive at the service park and quickly we formed a great relationship with EARS (the Mallow and Fermanagh-based tyre supplier). We would hook up to their generator and the lads would even help Patricia unload the vans. The kind of relationships that we built up you could never do them across a boardroom table. It was very successful,’ Twomey says.
Not surprisingly, sponsorship requests arrive on a regular basis, albeit some of the generic type that really don’t succeed. Her view of sponsorship provides an insight.
‘It’s more partnership built and that is the way we prefer it. You have to activate it (sponsorship) and it’s more than just signing the cheque. The enthusiasm and passion, nobody could buy that,’ she says.
So how is sponsorship calculated or judged? ‘Our first year with Cork City promoted Clonakilty Blackpudding. Then we switched to promoting Clonakilty sausages and it was a wise move,’ Twomey explains.
‘You can’t say that that business came directly from this or that, you look at the whole package, something works and we know that tastings work. A billboard can’t tell you that the blackpudding or sausages are good.’
Organisers of the Irish Tarmac Championship were fortunate that Colette’s son Ed competed in rallying.
‘That helped, he knew a lot of people that we didn’t so he was the conduit initially.’
But just to underline the company support for the sport, she opined, “Even before Ed was born, we were involved through competitors on the West Cork Rally and Clonakilty were always enthusiastic.’
Ideally placed for an overview given the array of sports the company sponsors, Twomey says, ‘Every sport is different, we have the local GAA, rugby and Ring rowing club and hopefully we will always have them. They are such different audiences. Geographically, they are also very different.’
Prior to the company’s return to Clonakilty with its manufacturing plant, the support of the Irish Tarmac Championship helped enormously.
‘At that time we didn’t have our manufacturer hub here in Clonakilty and the sponsorship helped to keep the profile. We were always conscious of doing something for Clonakilty as we weren’t employing many locals at that time,’ Twomey explains.
The sponsorship ethos is not about the what’s-in-it-for-us factor. She says: ‘That’s not the main criteria. It’s how worthy you are, akin to a position with the company.’
Twomey acknowledges that sponsorship awareness also plays a key role.
‘You have to be able to work with general public, they are very astute. There are some sports that I or indeed the company wouldn’t like to be involved with.’
Acutely aware of the role of sports associations in the local community, she added: ‘I really admire people that put time and energy into clubs. I put time and energy in business and it reaps its rewards. These people are volunteering and putting in time after time. What’s in it for them ? The success of their clubs. And sometimes they are not appreciated. Without them the community falls apart. The country owes them a debt.’
So what has Twomey learned from the rallying association?
‘It is such an individual sport in many ways but there is teamwork there as well. It has some real loyal and enthusiastic followers, real die-hards and the weather is not often very favourable.’
Finally, the secret of Clonakilty Blackpudding …
Well, that’s a different story really.