Biathlon is the epitome of a television sport, as the World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany shows year after year: On average, more than 5 million viewers followed the live broadcast by German network ARD – numbers really only trumped in Germany by the king, soccer.
The start of the 2017/2018 biathlon season in Östersund, Sweden also provided good ratings. “Biathlon remains the clear number one,” says Dieter Gruschwitz, Sports Manager at German public broadcaster ZDF.
It makes sense that the sport of biathlon is also attractive as an advertising platform for many companies. Of special allure in biathlon are competitions like pursuit races or mass starts, along with the seasonal highpoints like the World Cup in Ruhpolding, which traditionally takes place in mid-January, and in 2018 will move from January 9 to January 14.
Erdinger supporting biathlon since 2008
“It’s the same for us as it is for the countless viewers in the arena and at home watching TV. They’re fascinated by the superb performances by the likable athletes, the exciting combination of skating and shooting, as well as the splendid atmosphere at the World Cup locations,” Philipp Herold tells ISPO.com.
He’s the head of the Sponsorship department at the private brewery Erdinger Weißbräu, which has been engaged in biathlon since the 2008/2009 season. “We trailer specific to the sport, and that way we anchor our brand with viewers emotionally before the broadcasts even start,” explains Herold.
In September 2017, Erdinger reported that its contract as a sponsor of the Biathlon World Cup had been extended until at least the end of the 2017/18 season. “As a crowd puller, the sport offers the ideal prerequisites for anchoring our brand emotionally with viewers,” says owner Werner Brombach.
In addition, Erdinger Non-Alcoholic supports world champions like Simon Schempp, Andi Birnbacher, and Erik Lesser. On board as brand ambassadors are biathlon legends like Olympic champion Magdalena Neuner (you can read an interview about her life after her active career here >>>) and Michael Greis.
In the 2017/18 season, the Biathlon World Cup will make stops in Sweden (Östersund), Austria (Hochfilzen), France (Annecy-Le Grand Bornand), Italy (Antholz), Finland (Kontiolahti), Norway (Oslo), and Russia (Tyumen). For Erdinger, who sees its engagement as international, these are (according to a company spokesperson), “enough opportunities onsite for the ambassadors for Bavarian joie de vivre and hospitality to strengthen their existing customer relationships and make new friends.”
New in the circle of big biathlon sponsors is Hörmann. “Through our partnership with the International Biathlon Union, we reach 500 million viewers across Europe every year,” says Christoph Hörmann, personally liable partner for the door and gate manufacturer. “This sport enjoys major popularity in some of Hörmann’s highly important markets, like Germany, Russia, and Scandinavia.”
IBU and Infront Austria focusing on exclusivity
The biathlon governing body International Biathlon Union (IBU) and its marketing partner Infront Austria are consciously focusing on a limited sponsorship concept.
In order to emphasize the exclusivity of its partners, there is now only one title sponsor (BMW) and five premium sponsors (Viessmann, Hörmann, DKB, Erdinger Non-Alcoholic, Bauhaus). These will be present at all Biathlon World Cups and the World Championship.
Infront’s sponsor concept has long since been considered a groundbreaking example for other winter sports. The marketer has a contract with the IBU until 2018.
ZDF sports boss: Biathlon is number one with TV viewers
Fans of public television biathlon broadcasts can rejoice over the telegenic sport for a long time: In May 2016, IBU and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) extended their contract until 2022.
Biathlon broadcasts are the epitome of a ratings guarantee for ARD and ZDF. “Biathlon has been number one with TV viewers in the past few years, and will continue to find high viewer numbers in the coming season,” said ZDF sports boss Dieter Gruschwitz.
Public broadcasters only pay a low eight-figure sum for it each year. Lots of return for not a lot of money in comparison to soccer, where Bundesliga rights require an investment of nearly ten times as much.
Because the TV rights for biathlon are so coveted and even RTL wanted to get in on the action, a few years ago there were even legal disputes surrounding the allocation.
Magdalena Neuner drives BMWs now
The athletes don’t get nearly as big a slice of the pie. “I’m not as rich as everybody thinks. I was a biathlete, not a soccer pro. The millions people wrote about aren’t true, unfortunately. But I don’t want to complain,” Olympic champion Magdalena Neuner once said on the topic of money. In the winter of 2016/2017, she went on a break as a TV expert – Neuner had had her second child in November 2016.
“I’m an athlete at heart, and will hold onto my interest in biathlon my whole life – then I’ll try to convey that to viewers,” explained Magdalena Neuner in a major interview with ISPO.com in November 2015. What isn’t foreseeable yet is how long I can be a brand ambassador for my partners like Erdinger Non-Alcoholic, Audi, or Adidas.” There was one change with the automotive partner, at least: Magdalena Neuner now drives with title biathlon sponsor BMW.
Other active athletes are also working on marketing concepts: taking over for Simon Schempp is the Marcus Höfl Management-Group (MHM), which also supports sports greats like Franz Beckenbauer and Maria Höfl-Riesch.
BMW: “Biathlon is an outstanding platform”
BMW is also presented perfectly as a title sponsor on the biathlon TV broadcasts. “For years, biathlon in Germany and Europe has evolved into a spectacle that excites people both at the tracks and on TV,” explains Friedrich Edel, Head of Sports Marketing at BMW.
“With its combination of precision, technique, and endurance, biathlon is fascinating to fans. These properties are an excellent fit to the BMW brand, and make the sport an outstanding platform for us.”
The special thing about biathlon is also that the sport and all of its players are always open to new innovations. That’s true for new competition formats, but also for new cooperation concepts.
World Cup hosts Ruhpolding and Oberhof, as well as the World Team Challenge at Schalke, each taking place at the turn of the year, have been swapping experience since winter 2015/2016 in the work group biathlon3.
Schalke also helping with event marketing
“We all benefit from the cooperation as biathlon 3. Schalke especially can relay specialized knowledge in the field of event marketing,” says Moritz Beckers-Schwarz, Managing Director of FC Schalke 04 Arena Management GmbH.
At Schalke, in the heart of German soccer, over 40,000 viewers get excited for the spectacle of biathlon every year. The exciting sport thus makes its way directly to the customer.
Sponsors and partners of the BMW IBU World Cup:
- Title sponsor: BMW
- Premium sponsors: Viessmann, DKB, Hörmann, Erdinger Non-Alcoholic, Bauhaus
- Data and timing sponsors: IFS, Polar
- Contractual partners: Infront, Eurovision
- IBU Supplying Gold partners: Adidas, BMX, Zeiss, Lapua, Fischer
- IBU Supplying Silver partners: Alpina, Atomic, Anschütz, SRB, Casco, Holmenkol, Briko, Leki, Odlo, Rex, Barnett, Rossignol, Madshus, One Way, Salomon, Roeckl, Rottefella, Start, Toko, Swix, Novaped Sports
- IBU Supplying Bronze partners: Marwe, Larsen Biathlon
- TV rightholders: European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – ARD und ZDF