Business of sport: Building volleyball's commerciality
12th February 2018
Sport is big business. That may be obvious when looking at the billions of pounds floating around in Premier League football, or the glitzy life of motor racing. Sponsors and commercial deals are visible everywhere from competitors’ kit and stadium venues, to the names of competitions and even clubs.
The most successful sports work with commercial partners to generate revenue, which can be invested back into making the sport more enjoyable for participants and fans.
While our sport might not be on that level, it is easy to forget that volleyball too is a product. The volleyball community invests its time and money into enjoying the sport. Having that community also means that volleyball has appeal to sponsors and commercial partners.
The Volleyball England Marketing and Commercial (M&C) Working Group has building the commerciality of volleyball top of its priorities.
“Developing new revenue streams is absolutely essential,” says Independent Marketing and Commercial Director Ian Wall, who is the lead for the group. “The previous level of funding is no longer there for volleyball, so we cannot be over reliant on Sport England funding. Increasing commerciality and generating revenue from sponsorship and partnerships will put the sport on a more stable financial platform and mean a higher level of service can be provided to the volleyball community.
“Work is already underway to develop the commerciality of volleyball and the group recognises that it is important that we do not lose sight of the sport side and the focus on those enjoying volleyball.”
How to build commerciality?
While volleyball may be a minority sport in the UK, that does not mean it does not have commercial value. Sport England’s most recent Active Lives survey revealed that there are over 60,000 people playing volleyball in this country. There are hundreds of volleyball clubs in England and the sport has many values that would appeal to brands.
“It is an exciting sport that is played across all ability levels,” says Ian. “It is played by both genders, across almost all ages, disability is no barrier and volleyball can be enjoyed by the whole family. The volleyball community is highly motivated and exposure to this community will certainly benefit sponsors.”
As a starting point to develop commercial partnerships, the M&C Working Group identified the products its believes would be most attractive to sponsors. The group is now working to develop sponsorship deals for these events.
“We chose the products we think have the most commercial value,” explains Ian. “These are the National Cup Finals, the Inter Regional Championships, and the National Volleyball League. We don’t want to make the task too big and not achieve anything, so are focusing on these as we think they are currently most marketable to sponsors.”
The list does not just focus on the top tier events. The thinking behind the list was because these competitions produce exciting narratives and have the best potential for public interest, from being attended in person, to online interest on social media and the website. The M&C Working Group is now producing business articulations, highlighting the commercial value of these events to potential sponsors.
Finding commercial deals in time for these events in 2018 will be a challenge but Ian believes it is not because the events do not have commercial value.
“We need to speak to the right people,” says Ian. “Finding the right contacts to speak to at companies is the biggest challenge we face. We have got products that would appeal. If you look at some of the deals that other sports have secured, there is no reason why our events will not appeal and bring companies to the attention of large audiences.
“We would be very happy to hear from anyone in the volleyball community who may be able to suggest suitable contacts. My email details are on the Volleyball England website.”
Developing commerciality of the sport could also require innovation too. Sports that generate new excitement and engage with bigger audiences have the potential to gain more backing from commercial partners, who are looking for as much exposure as possible. Many sports have adopted innovative approaches and the M&C Working Group discussed experimental ideas that could encourage more people to watch volleyball.
“We are looking at staging a fun event, where the rules of the game are changed to build excitement,” says Ian. “For example, a shorter match format, similar to the concept of T20 cricket, was just one of the ideas generated. There were also discussions of new ways for the audience to watch and engage with it.”
The M&C Working Group are working to create an experimental competition, outside of the current calendar of events, to trial some of these ideas. These innovations are still being discussed and the group will look to get the ideas and thoughts of the Volleyball England membership.
A bigger profile
While developing commerciality of the products Volleyball England already has to offer, the M&C Working Group recognised the need for a long-term strategy to make its products even more commercially attractive. The key to achieving this is building the profile of volleyball.
The immediate priority of Volleyball England is to get to know its core market - the people who are involved on a regular basis. Getting to know the core market will help profile building of the sport in two ways: The profile of events and competitions can be built within the core market and those people are also vital to spreading the word about volleyball further afield.
“The whole volleyball community has a role to play in promoting the sport,” says Ian. “All our members are ambassadors. They are crucial to developing the sport in the UK. They showcase the sport to lots of people and the more they talk about volleyball, the more it helps to build its profile and bring new people into the sport.”