Editorial

Sometimes I find myself longing for the days of Charles Dickens, you know when they covered those provocative table legs with stockings, sex jokes were more subtle, and you threw a ragamuffin in the clink (or worse) for stealing a loaf of bread. Things weren't perfect back then, but at least stealing was stealing. If you stole a horse or a bag of oranges, you knew if you were caught, you'd pay.

Sometimes I find myself longing for the days of Charles Dickens, you know when they covered those provocative table legs with stockings, sex jokes were more subtle, and you threw a ragamuffin in the clink (or worse) for stealing a loaf of bread. Things weren’t perfect back then, but at least stealing was stealing. If you stole a horse or a bag of oranges, you knew if you were caught, you’d pay.

These days, the slogan of the Coalition Against Satellite Signal Theft, ‘theft is theft,’ seems like some kind of joke. Now, more than ever before, theft is not always theft.

For instance, if you copy an mp3 from some guy’s computer in Japan through a file sharing service like Kazaa, are you stealing? If you do it in the U.S., probably. If you do it in Canada, yes, then no, but the Heritage Minister promises to make it yes again.

And then there are those satellite signals. Is buying a grey market satellite receiver the same as stealing some kid’s bike? Some kid like the one in that famous Canadian Tire commercial, who’s been waiting for a bike for years? I don’t think so. No one thinks so, except the folks who own broadcast distribution undertakings (BDUs) or get revenue through channel subscriptions.

Now I’m no lawyer, so I don’t want to get into an argument about what technically constitutes stealing this week, but the point is, it’s a notion that’s become a lot more abstract than it used to be.

This brings me to backdoor sports sponsorships, the subject of Lisa D’Innocenzo’s cover story. Here we have an even fuzzier example of what constitutes theft, because what’s ostensibly being stolen is the power of various sports brands, be they the NHL, the World Cup or the Olympics.

It seems that as marketers have been sifting through their expenses looking for anything that might relieve a bit of pressure on their gasping margins, stuff like million-dollar Olympics sponsorships are coming under scrutiny.

You can almost hear the questioning: ‘What sort of ROI are we getting on that sponsorship, Jack?’ ‘Are we getting $2 million in incremental sales?’ ‘What if we took that money and upped our frequency on TV?’ And Jack would be stuttering away, ’cause proving ROI on those kinds of expenditures is pretty tough.

And then someone has a bright idea: ‘What are we really paying for anyway? Will people notice if we don’t have those little coloured rings in our ads? What if we sponsored amateur athletes directly, and cut out the middle man?’ And that’s exactly what Molson, for one, did.

Now Molson knows that some people who see a promotion touting their sponsorship of the ‘See You in Athens Fund’ will think that Molson is an Olympic sponsor, some will recognize it for what it is (an end run around the Canadian Olympic Committee), and others won’t care: If Molson is supporting amateur Canadian athletes, that’s all that matters.

The COC is probably not happy about this, of course. And I can totally sympathize: It puts a lot of time, effort and money into organizing Canada’s Olympic effort, and Molson seems to be benefiting from all of its hard work without giving the COC a dime.

But a trend towards leveraging the power of sports without paying mega-bucks for official sponsorships seems almost inevitable. Every marketing vehicle in the country is being called upon to prove the ROI on ad dollars received, and I don’t see why the COC, the NHL or the National Lacrosse League would be treated any differently.

The fact is, if what the COC was offering beyond what Molson can get by directly sponsoring amateur athletes was worth a million bucks, then Molson would pay a million bucks for it. Evidently, however, they haven’t been convinced of that value.

Duncan Hood, editor, Strategy