"The game is just getting wilder and more expensive. We have been forced to think completely differently in terms of commercial matters. Like so many other clubs, we did not include possible transfer revenues in the budget just five years ago. A financial player that can really turn an annual report upside down. That uncertainty is now factored in and requires increased revenue sources from elsewhere. If we are to have a solid foundation that is not at risk of slipping from year to year."

That's how Aalborg Boldklub's commercial director, Jesper Elkjær, begins our conversation when I step into the gray building on Hornevej 2, Aalborg Øst on a Tuesday afternoon.

The flat-roofed building, with years displayed on the front of the wall, bears witness to a place with a long history and great triumphs. Over one of the rows of years it says; 'Danish Champions' and over the other; 'Cup Winners'.

If you enter, you will quickly be greeted by the red carpet, which draws associations to the field with the red and white players. And if you are offered a cup of coffee, you will again encounter AaB's recognizable logo. About 25 people work here, all with the same goal - to create a solid and good economic foundation for the legendary North Jutland club. But things were not like this just five years ago.

The past in the basement

Similar to many other places, basements often become the storage ground for old things that no longer hold the same value.

If you go down the stairs, open the door, and look a little to your right, you will see a whole wall filled with paper and brochures about exposure opportunities for sponsors. On one paper it says skybox, on another it says tribune name, and on a third LED banner.

If you were a sponsor, you could freely pick and choose from the many offers. Whether you paid 15,000 or 150,000, the offer was the same, and nothing more was done. It was pure exposure and hospitality. No amount was too small, and no one really knew the value of the investment.

The image illustrates that AaB's sponsorship revenue in 2022 has significantly increased

"Today,we do it differently. A large part of the revenue should come fromrenegotiations with a higher return and increased value. Our products havesimply become significantly better and much more valuable," says JesperElkjær.

Technologychanges the game

Due to football's worldwide popularity, extensive coverage, and significant ability to boost brand recognition, the sport has always been highly sought-after from a sponsor perspective. A deal with the right club can create positive associations and provide enhanced brand differentiation from competitors in a cluttered media landscape. Today, football clubs have completely different opportunities for larger sponsorship revenue than in the past.

We open the door and connect people. We createthe framework, thereby providing the best conditions for making deals and recruiting

- Jesper Elkjær

"The development of media channels has made sport far more accessible to many and changed fans' consumption habits. Large clubs can thereby gain a huge advantage by seeing themselves as a media house. Today's technological development enables new ways of appealing to fans, which can create much greater engagement and experiences for those who follow. This has provided a wide range of activation opportunities, which can create a much stronger bond than a logo impression can. AaB has found its way into this and optimized its entire sponsor mentality in line with the development.

"What has really succeeded for us is that the silos between marketing, activation and sales have been broken down, and therefore it is now called the marketing and activation department. It is absolutely crucial to think about it together, so sales help fill the stadium, and marketing supports sales in their presentations. That has been our way of getting the commercial growth we have today," says Jesper Elkjær and continues:

"By thinking of ourselves as a unit with a focus on activation of sponsorships, we suddenly went from being a simple sports unit to being a well-developed sports community and a media company that can do much more."

Know your audience

Knowing your audience puts you in a strong position. Fans and spectators are different and have completely different behaviors and consumption habits. Many fans are insatiable when it comes to getting close to their favorite team. Also, they are often ready to receive related content almost 24 hours a day, which can be used strategically in AaB.

"We have focused a lot on digital campaigns here at AaB. When we are the sender of a campaign, the conversion rate is often twice as high as if a company were the sender."

But it's not just within the digital realm that it's important to consider your audience. Knowledge about them has enormous value, and therefore, data is collected on people who come to the stadium.

"If you give them something, they will often want to give something back," Jesper Elkjær tells me.

"We strategically use the information that our fans are willing to give us about themselves. It can be when you come to the stadium or participate in a competition. With that knowledge, companies can reach a specific target audience. It is not just in relation to B2C sales, but it can be much bigger. For example, with the knowledge we have and the information we get, we can be a good partner in a recruitment process," Jesper elaborates.

Academic Football

We are no longer in the basement but have moved up to the office overlooking the lush green football fields. Jesper Elkjær picks up a marker from the holder and walks straight to the whiteboard while he begins to talk. I can feel the excitement building as he starts to share his thoughts:

"At AaB, we work with what we call Academic Football. The broad foundation we have of fans and people who have been to the stadium means that we can reach the specific target group that the company wants to reach. We open the door and connect people. We create the framework, thereby providing the best conditions for making deals and recruitment."

If you are young and from Northern Jutland, you may have heard or been to the Students' Grandstand Party, which was an event where more than 1,000 students held a Friday bar on the stands at Aalborg Portland Park. They were invited to football for free if they had participated in a job fair beforehand.

"When the students then sign up, we get their name, semester, and field of study. Here we have something data that we can use. Then we can subsequently target a professional football event to precisely the target group that a specific brand wants to reach. For example, the engineering students."

Jesper puts the lid back on the marker as I ask, "What is the next step in the development of your work with sponsors?"

"The next thing we need to do is to continue doing what we're doing. Because it works. And then we need to make sure we evaluate it."

Data, measurements, and returns

Another trend in the sponsor market is about returns. In the wake of a coronavirus crisis and then increasing inflation, many companies think twice before financially committing to initiatives such as sponsoring sports. This also makes it more important than ever to be able to document the value it creates.

"We need to track the value of the sponsorship, and we do it together with the companies. It is absolutely crucial. Without an appropriate method to evaluate and assess the value of our products, neither we nor our partners will be able to get the full potential out of an agreement," says Jesper Elkjær.

It's difficult to assess how the activation of sponsorships will precisely create value in the future, I muse on my way out the door.

But one thing is much more certain. Brands will, to a much greater extent than before, look at the risks, investment, and realized returns, which creates a heightened requirement that clubs can demonstrate their own value as rights holders compared to the alternatives out there.

It's clearly an exciting market in great development.

Photo: Diego azubel


Photo: Diego azubel
Photo: Diego azubel