SToK Cold Brew and Wrexham A.F.C.: Sponsorship or Stunt?

SToK Cold Brew and Wrexham A.F.C.: Sponsorship or Stunt?

Despite some high-profile outliers, stadium naming rights deals are far less frequent in Europe than in North America. So last week’s signing of Danone North America’s SToK Cold Brew brand as title sponsor of an English Football League club’s home grounds would be news regardless of any other circumstances.

But this is not just another club, this is the Rob McElhenney-Ryan Reynolds-owned Wrexham A.F.C., the only sports organization in Wales with its own FX/Hulu/Disney+ docu-series. Thus there are unique twists to the deal, as with many of Wrexham’s partnerships.

For starters, with the possible exception of deals that were inherited as part of an acquisition, this is the only known venue naming rights agreement in the world in which the brand does not offer its products for sale in the local market. SToK is a U.S.-only product line.

For rightsholders without celebrity owners and a popular streaming series to boost their profile, the naming of SToK Racecourse offers a few takeaways for themselves and their partners:

The deal is not a relevant comp. Wrexham’s unique attributes skew the appeal and value of the rights and benefits it offers to corporate partners. Wrexham’s sponsors are much like the Chinese companies that flocked to the Houston Rockets when Yao Ming was the NBA’s team’s star center—looking for the association with the player, not the team or its local fans. Brands would be seeking to associate with any club that McElhenney and Reynolds purchased.

Nor does it bolster the case for legit naming rights. Fans, pundits and other members of the public remain mostly cold to the idea of renaming venues, especially venerable structures such as Wrexham’s 159-year-old stadium, billed as “the oldest in international football.”

Although the club said in its announcement that the idea “was discussed with, and backed by, the Club Advisory Board, which is made up of supporter representatives,” the SToK deal does nothing to advance the argument that title sponsorships can be effective marketing tools for engaging with fans and communities, as the brand seemingly has no interest in doing that.

Properties and sponsors should consider announcement videos. Engaging videos with the potential to go viral have become de rigueur across many sports for player signings and schedule releases. It’s logical that sponsorship announcements should follow suit and Wrexham’s video featuring the club’s celebrity owners and some of its players supports that idea, cleverly promoting both the brand and the partnership.

The SToK reveal video was Wrexham’s second of the week, as the team also released a video unveiling the Betty Buzz sparkling beverage company as its new training kit sponsor for the men’s and women’s teams and naming rights sponsor of the owners’ hospitality suite, in addition to remaining sleeve sponsor for the women’s jerseys. The video features a voiceover from actress Blake Lively, Betty Buzz owner and Reynolds’ wife.

As always, ROI will depend on the price paid. Regardless of whether this deal is good for sponsorship, it could be great for SToK. Or not. In its first week, it is certainly generating awareness. But could the brand have forgone the naming rights and done just as well by sponsoring Wrexham’s U.S. tour later this summer? (Both SToK and Betty Buzz are sponsors of the tour.)

Whether Danone will earn a positive return hinges on its specific objectives and what the deal cost. At this point, no details on the agreement’s dollar amount or length have been revealed, although The Athletic rather unhelpfully reported that “we are likely to be talking a figure towards the upper end of the £1million to £9million ($1.2m to $11.1m) bracket that will be spread across a multi-year deal.”

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