TicketManager | Isn’t It Ironic: Large Markets Can’t Always Offer Strength in Numbers

Critical mass is an important concept for sports and entertainment partnerships. Simply put, sponsorship and related commercial opportunities must have both the potential to impact a minimum number of people and provide enough assets and benefits to be viable.

This is not an issue for major sports events and leagues in the U.S., but below the top tier of competitions, smaller rights holders are often challenged to produce enough reach to justify significant sponsorship investment. The same is true in other countries as well.

In the U.K., three organizations in the sport of athletics are trying to clear this hurdle (pun intended) by banding together to present a united commercial opportunity. UK Athletics, the sport’s financially challenged national governing body, has teamed with the organizers of the TCS London Marathon and The Great Run Company—producers of road running events across the U.K.—to form a new company, Athletics Ventures.

Although they are not the first discrete rights holders to conceive of joining forces, many previous attempts never got much further than the idea phase, as the realities of structuring revenue shares, accounting for existing relationships and general governance issues knocked the best laid plans off track. So kudos to the three British organizations for even getting to the starting line.

The joint venture will seek new corporate support for athletics, offering opportunities from grassroots activities to national events and the U.K. national teams in a “playground to podium” sponsorship program. The new company was formed in time to capitalize on interest in the sport surrounding the Paris Olympic Games, and in addition to commercial representation will oversee the 2026 European Athletics Championships in Birmingham, England and the annual World Athletics Diamond League event in the U.K., as well as bid to host the World Athletics Championships in 2029.

With the potential for similar cooperative efforts to deliver bigger partnership opportunities for other sports, some might expect to see similar joint initiatives in the U.S. But that is unlikely given the size of the home market.

Consider a parallel effort to combine forces for athletics and road running in this country. While the U.K. venture needs only three organizations to cover the amateur grassroots, Olympic, road race and major marathon spectrum, a U.S. JV would require at least twice as many parties to the agreement. The chances of getting that many signatories to reach an accord on all the details are decidedly low.

So while in most instances, the size and scale of the U.S. market is a boon to those seeking sponsorship investment, here is a least one case where the opposite is true.