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Learning by Example: eBay’s Award-Winning U.K. Sponsorship

Sponsorships done exceptionally well are powerful reminders of what rights holders and their brand partners can accomplish together. They also can spark ideas for new endeavors or improving existing ones.

In that inspirational vein, and because it may not have made it onto the radars of many in North America, let’s take a look at eBay’s “Small Business United” campaign, which centered on partnerships with all 72 clubs in the English Football League and recently won Sponsorship of the Year at the U.K. Sponsorship Awards for 2022.

Beginning at the start of the 2021-22 season last August, the three-year program provides sponsorship benefits at EFL matches to local small business owners who sell their products through eBay’s marketplace. While not revolutionary in concept—a company that has small businesses as customers passing through sponsorship rights to said businesses is not a new model--Small Business United stands out for its timing, execution and results.

Essentially, eBay seized on the idea that community pride in local football clubs could be leveraged to build fan support for local businesses—many of which had been priced out of the market for football sponsorship packages even before the pandemic—and interest in helping them recover. Each small business receives stadium signage, on-shirt branding and matchday program ads—in addition to social and digital assets—paid for by eBay.

In terms of timing, the campaign was developed to address the negative economic impact of COVID-19 on both small businesses and the league while also capitalizing on the excitement of the return to full attendance.

Prior to its launch, published reports estimated losses for U.K. SMBs at $158 billion Sixty-one percent of small business owners reported that they had had serious financial concerns at some point during the pandemic and more than two million said they were unable to access government financial support. At the same time, the EFL—English football’s second tier consisting of three divisions below the Premier League—reported it lost $348 million because of the pandemic.

On an execution level, eBay’s commitment to scale the program nationally is exemplary, as is the integrated activation support, which includes TV and social media assets among other promotional platforms.

To increase buzz within communities, eBay used local out-of-home advertising and sponsored British broadcaster ITV’s regional sports bulletins. It also partnered with EFL broadcaster Sky Sports to create TV assets featuring football legend, Adebayo Akinfenwa, talking about his own local club and the business supporting it.

Helping small businesses should help eBay, which relies on SMBs to power its online marketplace. More specifically, Small Business United has produced some impressive results.

The campaign drove eBay’s ad awareness up 25 percent in its first few weeks. Positive word of mouth for eBay increased 23 percent. Intent to purchase on eBay more than doubled (269 percent increase). And consideration for eBay increased by an impressive 18 percent.

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