Sports sponsorship gives brands the exposure and positivity that very few properties within the Irish market can achieve. Research from the recent Rugby World Cup 2015 has shown that 90% of the coveted 18-24 year old Irish consumers were aware that Heineken (a World Wide Partner of the Rugby World Cup) was associated with the tournament. Aer Lingus’ sponsorship, which was only agreed with the IRFU in April, resulted in a 54% of Irish consumers feeling more positively towards the brand – the most of any sponsor. Opportunities like these come few and far between, and clever brands have to create and activate an effective sponsorship strategy to stay ahead in the market.

The Republic of Ireland’s unlikely qualification to Euro 2016 has compounded and complicated the opportunities for brands next summer. The Rio Olympics, the All Ireland Championships finals, and the UEFA Euro 2016 finals will all take place within a 100-day period. Although this is will be an incredible period for Irish sport, having three high-profile sporting tournaments so close together means that tough investment decisions will have to be made by brands.

The GAA will remain a central feature to the Irish summer sporting calendar next summer. Although viewing figures will likely take a hit due to clashes with the Euros and Olympics, the longevity of the tournament allows for a broader activation strategy for brands. The All Ireland final, which will take place in September next year, is scheduled during the Rio 2016 Paralympics. The Paralympics is arguably a more attractive property for sponsors than the Olympics, as there is a greater story to tell with each athlete. Although this might not impact the All-Ireland finals viewing figures hugely, it will likely have an effect on the activation budgets of sponsors during September 2016.

The Rio Olympics will bring new aspects to the games, with rugby and golf being included for the first time since 1924 and 1904 respectively. Although viewing figures and sponsorship fees are much more difficult to predict with individual sports people than teams, when Team Ireland stars such as Katie Taylor and Rory McIlroy are in action the nation will be watching.

However, the biggest opportunity for brands next summer lies with the Irish football team in France. The geographic proximity of the Rugby World Cup 2015 in the UK lead to a massive increase in interest levels, especially with casual fans, compared to when the tournament was hosted in New Zealand in 2011. 527k viewers watched the RWC 2015 final between New Zealand and Australia, peaking at 701k viewers. This was a 22% increase in average viewers when compared to the 2011 final.

The Euros in France will only be 1 hour ahead of the Irish time zone, which is perfect for broadcast advertising and evening viewing. In contrast, Rio 2016 will be 4 hours behind Ireland, meaning some key moments could happen in the early morning or during working hours. This is bound to have an effect on TV viewership at least, though not necessarily dampening interest levels.

Added to this, fans who travelled to games during the Rugby World Cup 2015 had much higher awareness and affiliation with brands who were sponsoring the tournament. With Euro 2016 being held so close there is likely to be a large number of Irish fans travelling, and therefore a great opportunity for onsite activation.

The summer of 2016 will be an incredible 100 days for Irish sport, with goals, medals and glory all within the grasp of our nation’s leading sporting heroes. It will also be an incredible six months for brands within Ireland, with the opportunity to make a considerable difference to market share, awareness and sentiment. Next summer the battles off the field will be fought just as hard as they are on it.

By Adam Hetherington, Business Editor