IT firms race for sponsorship

2 Dec 2004

Technology companies like nothing better than a good partnership. Gone are the days when they had distributors, system integrators, resellers, and independent software vendors who used their platform. Now it’s all technology partners, retail partners, implementation partners, and so on.

This nomenclature has even extended to the world of sponsorship where well-known tech firms pony up large sums of cash, software and services for the right to be called the technology partner of high-profile football, Formula 1 and rugby teams.
Computer Associates (CA) is something of an old hand at cosying up to the big names in sport. Earlier this year AC Milan reported that it had seen a 91pc drop in player injuries during training thanks to the implementation of CA technology to collect and analyse data on players.

Last month CA flew journalists to the new UK headquarters of McLaren Racing, the company behind the McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team, to discuss how its sponsorship of the team has evolved into a technology partnership. That simply means McLaren is increasingly using more CA products and services to build the sort of IT infrastructure that a leading Formula 1 team needs these days. CA’s involvement is primarily in the areas of storage, security and systems management but, according to Jonathan Neale, managing director of McLaren Racing, CA also provides a strategic vision of how technology can be used in the organisation.

“We are not able to start our cars without IT but we are not an IT company. We are a racing team, with more than 400 people working towards achieving success on the track and only nine of these are IT personnel to deal with all of our IT needs,” explains Neale. “By working closely with CA, we are able to identify and integrate new uses of software to improve our handling of data, which has a direct impact on how well we can design, build and race our cars.”

The CA/McLaren relationship initially started as a marketing one, with the CA logo appearing on the McLaren cars during the 1997 season, but has since evolved to become a showcase for CA technology, operating in one of the most demanding and highly technical sporting environments.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) is the exclusive technology and IT services provider to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) for the next three years.

Martin Murphy, managing director for HP Ireland, has high hopes for HP’s relationship with Irish rugby. “Technology is being used in sport much more and there’s a huge opportunity for HP to help with the analysis done by Irish coach Eddie O’Sullivan,” says Murphy. “The IRFU also has its own business to run and there is a huge opportunity to provide technology to them.”

HP also has international experience in applying the latest technology in a sporting context — it installed smartcard and wireless systems in the City of Manchester stadium that has streamlined how Manchester City operates its season ticket scheme. “We hope to apply technology in groundbreaking areas,” says Murphy. “For example, using smartcards for IRFU season ticket holders could transform the process of printing tickets and posting them out. There are definitely areas where technology can improve things.”

In the meantime, Murphy is happy that the sponsorship is positive for the HP brand. Initially the partnership will deliver HP branding at
matches; IRFU player appearances at HP events and a corporate hospitality package that HP will avail of. The success of such sponsorships are clearly heavily dependent on the success of the team on the pitch. No doubt HP executives breathed a sigh of relief when Ireland beat South Africa for the first time in 50-odd years only days after the relationship was unveiled.

But with so many technology companies looking to get in on the action, it must be difficult to ensure the sponsorship delivers value for money. For example, CA is not the only enterprise IT company hoping to benefit from it’s relationship with McLaren — Sun Microsystems and SAP are technology and corporate partners respectively and their logos appear on the team’s race cars. “Our job is a systems integration one,” says Neale. “Our partners allow us to focus on getting the job done. CA concentrate on data storage, security, and the reliability of our systems. We are a race team.”

According to Mark Bridger, country sales manager for the UK and Ireland with CA, the value of the relationship comes from its technology being used in such a high-pressure and high-profile environment. McLaren collects 10GB of data at every race or test event and elements of this data — possibly stretching back a couple of years — has to be available to the team at track side and back in the UK during a race day. As a high-profile organisation it also acts as a beacon for hackers — the McLaren website reports on average 150 virus and hack attacks per day.

But the price of the actual sponsorship deal and the technology and services provided are not the only costs associated with a successful partnership with a sporting organisation. “With any sponsorship you need to spend money leveraging it,” says Murphy. “We have to ensure we build that work into our core marketing in-country. The opportunity around corporate hospitality is hugely attractive but we will closely measure the success of this. We want to make HP a household name and we will be able to measure that. The IRFU have given us a platform to work from and we are very confident it will be a success.”

By John Collins