Exclusive Comments: Sunshine Coast Lightning Top True North Emotional Connection Ladder
he latest Bench Mark report from True North Research has seen the Sunshine Coast Lightning record the highest emotional connection for any Australian sporting club.
Speaking to Ministry of Sport about the Super Netball club’s success in terms of emotional connection, True North director, Georgie Maynard, said the Lightning’s strong emotional connection score translates well to sponsorship outcomes.
“They are the perfect example of a strong emotional connection to a team translating to those strong behaviours you want to see, be it awareness and engagement with sponsors, preparedness to spend money on merchandise or engagement with social media,” Maynard told Ministry of Sport.
“Amongst the Sunshine Coast Lightning audience, there is a high level of emotional connection, and this represents a great opportunity for sponsors.
“Those familiar with the team have the highest recall of at least 5-plus sponsors of the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
“This flows through to strong engagement with sponsors’ messaging, particularly building positive sentiment and trust in the sponsors’ brands.
“Furthermore, the Lightning are performing strongly in a number of areas; this gives sponsors more options around how best to activate the sponsorship, and enables sponsors to leverage a range of brand values through the partnership that are aligned with their own brand strategy,” she said.
Discussing the 2020 Suncorp Super Netball season and how the Lightning’s commercial strategy changed due to COVID-19, Sunshine Coast Lightning general manager of commercial, Matthew Williams, told Ministry of Sport: “It’s probably similar to every winter sport when it first hit, when it really started to get quite serious in March, there was a lot of unknown for us, and I think for the whole league.”
“If we didn’t get a season away, it would have been close to catastrophic for the sport, so the work that was done by the league to get the season up and running here in Queensland was massive for us.
“Commercially, at first there was a lot of concern around how we would be able to retain our sponsors, retain our members, and engage our fans, but from a couple of weeks in, there was a shift to us having this really captive audience that’s in lockdown at that particular time and not just here in the Sunshine Coast, but right across the country.
“There was a real opportunity that if we had some engaging content, particularly with our players that we could utilise, it was a really good opportunity to grow some familiarity with our fans and as a result deliver benefits for our commercial partners.
“Within a week, we shifted and started talking to our partners about how they wanted to engage; it was quite a unique period of time we may never see again where we had this really captive audience where they were at home and looking for things to do and ways to engage with people, and with brands, so it was a really good opportunity that we jumped on and since have seen some real benefits carry on through this season and into next year,” Williams said.
Speaking about the shift to digital-focused sponsorship activations, Williams said the players were quick to understand the value of it all.
“It made you think digital first, it was always a big part of our approach and strategy, but it just shifted to make you think of that first,” Williams said.
“For us, we’ve got such a loud but relatively limited capacity venue that sells out every game, you look at that audience on game-day, plus 60,000-plus on digital channels for the Lightning, for us it needs to continue to be a real focus.
“Even on game-day, not just thinking about the 3,500 in the venue, but the 300,000 plus watching on Channel Nine, and how we engage with those people throughout the game has been a really key focus for us.
“The other key element for us was the players themselves realising the value in it and how they could support us and what it does for their own individual brands.
“A lot of them had some real fun with it.
“Digital was always a big part of it, but now we think digital first,” he said.
When asked what drives the focus on emotional connection within the Lightning, Williams said the values the club has at an organisational level through to the playing group is key.
“A lot of how engaged the fans are with everything around the team comes from the focus on the values of the organisation,” Williams said.
“The players and staff have a big input in the organisation’s values and the players live that day in, day out and I think fans and the public can see through things that aren’t genuine and there’s a real genuine want for our players to be out in the community supporting our members and fans, they understand their role in sport in Australia.
“That’s been the real difference, the players understand the value of getting as many netballers to the game as possible and having them engage with our club.
“That’s been what’s really driven the emotional connection with our club…
“We’ve had a lot of feedback and positivity from our partner network, a few are still understanding how they can best utilise that, but the big one is how highly we rate in trust and respect in the underlying elements of emotional connection,” Williams said discussing the response from the Lightning’s sponsors after recording the highest emotional connection.
“For an organisation to partner with us, the amount of trust and respect they earn from partnering with us, and they can further build on that for their own organisation is the real value there.
“Without a doubt, for organisations like Downer, Sunshine Coast Council, Hostplus, Technology One, that’s the real driver for their partnership with the Lightning.
“Even a lot of the new partnerships we signed this year including WISE employment which we announced last week, are all built around mutual values as organisations.
“We want our partnerships to be more than just a logo on a dress, the QI media value is really important in that they’re getting brand exposure, but if they can get that further depth and connection for their organisation as a result of partnering with the Lightning, that’s the real benefit that they will see long term.
“One of the results that came through really strong that Georgie (Maynard) discussed with me when she did the deep dive into the Lightning was around the leadership of the club, which I think was a bit of a masterstroke of bringing Noeline (Taurua) in as the head coach for the first three seasons, someone so experienced in the sport and so well respected.
“As a result, a lot of what she implemented in year one has rolled through, Kylee (Byrne), our new head coach was the assistant coach here, so there’s this real bringing people through as part of those values that have been set, and I think that’s been the key difference for us.
“Whilst the club has had a lot of success, they’ve really stayed humble and engaged with the community and have been really great brand ambassadors for our partner network, and from my experience, they’ve been the big things on driving that emotional connection for our club,” he said.