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Mastercard’s association with Australian Open is another step in the evolution of sports sponsorship

Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Feature
16.70K   //    05 Feb 2018, 13:21 IST

Roger Federer Australian Open 2018
Roger Federer at the 2018 Australian Open, with the Mastercard logo prominently visible in the background

If there’s one thing that can be said about Mastercard’s ‘priceless’ marketing campaign, it is that the tagline has stuck like few others have.

“There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Mastercard.”

I hadn’t realized that it has been over 20 years since we saw the first set of ‘priceless’ ads. 20 years is a long time for a single campaign to be running so pervasively; somehow, the whole “money can’t buy everything” idea hasn’t yet gotten old.

It makes sense, then, that Mastercard would look to capitalize on the recall value of the priceless campaign. And that’s exactly what it has been doing in its foray into the sports sponsorship domain.

I had earlier talked about how Mastercard has gone all out in its efforts to improve the fan experience at the Australian Open. With initiatives like Priceless cities (of which Melbourne is one), the ‘Served’ app, the AO Fanbot on FB messenger, and the priceless surprises for Mastercard users, fans at the Open are being attended to in a way that they have never been before.

But, as Sarah Pike (Mastercard’s Australasia VP of Marketing and Communications) told us, the Australian Open is not the only event that Mastercard has earmarked in the sports domain. The financial services giant has also tied up with Cricket Australia, thus ensuring that it has both of Australia’s summer sports covered.

‘Mates, mischief & memories. Priceless.’

That’s the tagline being used for the cricket tie-up, and it’s not hard to see why. Cricket, perhaps much more than tennis, is a group experience for the fans. You get together with your friends to watch a match, or even with random strangers who somehow connect with you through a common love for the sport, and create indelible memories in the process.

The ‘Barbie Army’ campaign is the best encapsulation of that. For years the English cricket fans had been sticking it to the Aussies through the ‘Barmy Army’ and their hilarious chants, but now Mastercard has given Australia a chance to respond.

Australians love their sport, and they love their barbecues, and that’s what the Barbie Army is all about. Fans in the stadium fill the air with their ripostes to the Barmy Army, while fans at home gather around their barbecue pits and join in the chants. It’s a celebration of cricket that’s both fun and mischievous, which is probably why it was such a big success during the Ashes last year.

In addition to the Australian Open and Cricket Australia, Mastercard has also partnered with the Rugby World Cup (to be held next year in Japan), the UEFA Champions League final, the Open Championship in golf, the French Open in Paris and a few other select sporting events. The fans can expect plenty of surprises and fun activities organized by Mastercard at all these events, which can only enhance the whole sport-watching experience in general.

A question needs to be asked here though: why? Why is Mastercard attaching so much importance to sport sponsorships?

The answer lies in data. Specifically, the consumer spending data, which reveals some fascinating insights into how an entire economy can benefit from a single sports event.

As we were informed by Sarah Quinlan, the Senior Vice President of Marketing Insights at Mastercard, the spending patterns during the Australian Open are markedly different from any other time of the year.

First, the obvious: tourism sees a big jump, as people from all over the world descend on to Melbourne for their two weeks of tennis entertainment. But aside from that, even the overall domestic spending in Melbourne rose 3.6% during the Open (in 2017).

This increased spend is not just on commodities. Instead, more people visit bars (28% hike), eat out in restaurants (21% bump) and pay for hotel rooms (9% increase).

Quinlan repeatedly stressed on how people these days spend more on experiences than commodities, and the data reveals exactly that. Ever since the economic downturn a decade ago, the idea of using your money to create long-lasting memories has become deeply entrenched among consumers all over the world. Buying fancy gadgets and jewelry is passé; travel and adventure are the new luxuries that people are craving to be able to afford.

What better excuse than a sporting extravaganza to help tick both the travel and adventure boxes? Fans would do anything to be able to see Roger Federer play before he retires, or experience the full heat of the Aussie-English cricket rivalry. And once these fans reach the city that hosts the event of their choice, they also look to soak in the local culture, taste new cuisines, and in general do things that they’ve never done before.

Like many other organizations, Mastercard is looking to get the inside track on the treasure chest that is sports sponsorships. And if my trip to Melbourne Park this year is anything to go by, the sports-watching experience is only going to get better and better for the fans.

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Musab Abid
EXPERT COLUMNIST
I am an absolute tennis nut if ever there was one. I can spend hours together on tennis - watching it, talking about it, playing it, analyzing it. Other than that, I am a fairly normal guy, with a penchant for reading, writing, and trying to convince everyone around me to agree with me.
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