“With Toyota as its premier partner, and the majority of its teams being sponsored by car brands, the AFL could almost be called the Automotive Football League”
– Roy Morgan Research, April 2014
Recently we looked at how automakers see sports and sporting teams with entrenched worldwide popularity, as the ideal marketing platform from which to build brand awareness, credibility and an emotional connection with billions of people.
However there is one sports league that is virtually unknown outside of Australia, with a degree of automaker sponsorship and involvement that exceeds leagues of far greater global appeal.
The Australian Football League (AFL) is the highest-level professional competition in the sport of Australian Rules football, a sport played and followed almost exclusively in Australia. In 2014, over 7.83 million Australians (41.0%) said they watch AFL almost always or occasionally on TV2 and average attendances were just short of 34,000 people per game3, making it Australia’s most watched and attended sports league.
Of the 18 teams that make up the AFL, a remarkable 13 (72%) had automaker sponsors at the end of the 2014 season. Coupled with this, Toyota has been the AFL’s premier corporate partner for the past 11 years. In essence, automakers dominate the sponsorship landscape in the AFL perhaps like no other sporting league in the world.
So why have automakers opted to sponsor a league and its teams with an appeal and audience limited to Australia only? Coupled with the AFL’s dominant viewership on TV and in stadiums, here are just a few contributing factors:
- A competitive new car market
Australians are spoilt for choice, with over 50 automakers in the marketplace. Increased choice has given rise to keen pricing, new models and expanded dealership networks. Intense competition often means that brands must spend bigger and bolder to create and maintain brand awareness, and conquest consumer attention – but they must also be seen where their direct competitors are too.
- Strong car affordability
The Australian economy has remained stable in recent years, with comparably low unemployment and favourable credit access. Current tax incentives also facilitate vehicle leasing and purchasing for business purposes. With good trading conditions and solid consumer confidence, automakers have been willing to allocate resources towards high profile promotional efforts such as AFL sponsorships.
- Strong car culture
An entrenched car culture means that amongst OECD nations, only the US, Luxembourg, Iceland and New Zealand have more cars per capita than Australia. In 2012, approximately 7 in 10 people (71%) aged 18 years and over travelled to work or full time study primarily by passenger vehicle, similar to 2009 (72%)5. About 25% of Australians choose not to use public transport due to the convenience/comfort/safety of their private vehicle5. Unlike other markets, there seems to be no trend away from the car.
- Big pool of potential buyers
According to a recent report, an estimated 2.35 million Australians were planning to buy a new car in the next four years, with more than 1.05 million currently following an AFL team1.
AFL fans intend to buy more new cars
Some fans of particular teams are much more likely to purchase a new car than others. The Sydney Swans Football Club sponsored by Volkswagen, boast over 1 million supporters, of which 188,000 (16.5%) supporters plan on buying a new car in the next four years. At the opposite end of the popularity spectrum, the Melbourne Demons Football Club has fewer supporters than the Sydney Swans have new car purchase intenders. However of their 182,000 fans, just over 39,000 are in the market for a new car. Melbourne Demons supporters are 76% more likely than the average Australian to buy a new car.1
Other teams such as the Richmond Tigers (sponsored by Jeep), Geelong Cats (sponsored by Ford in what is considered the longest sports sponsorship in history) and the Brisbane Lions (one of two teams sponsored by Hyundai) all have fan bases with a much higher than average intention to buy a new car. With Audi recently announcing an agreement with the Hawthorn Hawks for the start of the 2016 season, it may not be long until the AFL really becomes the Automotive Football League and every club has a sponsorship deal with an automaker.
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