Spar has had links with the European Athletics Association for more than a decade. Rich Airey finds out what the sponsorship means for its UK retailers and the communities they serve

Abig corporate sponsorship has obvious advantages, and for the past 11 years Spar has sponsored the European Indoor Athletics Championships. But if you thought that meant simply plastering the Spar name across athletes' chests and advertising hoardings, you'd be wrong.
The symbol group's involvement in athletics stretches much further, than that, involving retailers and their customers at a local level.
Retailers can get involved in a variety of promotional activities, including supplying schools with sports day kits, in-store competitions that give schools the chance to win one of six masterclass sessions with a top UK athlete, and the promotion of athletics from a grass root level in their region through the Spar Sprints initiative.
Birmingham retailers Paul and Michael Hodgkiss have been keen to use Spar's athletics sponsorship to build relationships with customers at their city centre and Sutton Coldfield stores. Having participated in the school sports day kit initiative, Paul wanted to get involved in further community work when Europe's best athletes descended on the city for the 29th European Indoor Athletics Championships in March.
"I think it's good that Spar is involved in a sport like athletics as it helps retailers build relationships with their communities and local schools," he says. "We've been involved in sponsoring a sports day at a school close to our Sutton Coldfield store and purchased a sports day kit from Blakemore which contained items including a finishing line and stickers for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place."
Paul adds: "Projects like this mean that we can get involved in the local community and at the same time it's also good for business. It's important for a local store to show that it cares about its local community. We're always glad
to have the opportunity to join in with things that Spar has organised."
According to Spar marketing controller Simon Fisher, the group's sponsorship of European Athletics is extremely important to Spar as a brand. "The sponsorship deal gives us a link to all of our fellow countries across Europe and reinforces the fact that Spar is a global brand. It's something that our symbol peers cannot compete against and it's therefore unique to Spar. From a domestic point of view, the sponsorship is based within local regions, which further emphasises our position as the hub of the community."
Fisher is confident that schemes such as the sports day kits have boosted the community profile of Spar retailers. He explains: "Local retailers are able to get involved in a number of ways. We've carried out presentations to up-and-coming athletes in stores to generate PR both for the athlete and, importantly, our retailers, and all stores receive POS kits throughout the year promoting the Sprints initiative. The sports day kits provided by retailers assist schools in running a really successful and professional-looking day. Each year we issue about 2,000 kits."
The recent indoor championships in Birmingham provided Spar with the ideal opportunity to showcase its involvement in the sport. A popular attraction at the event was the interactive SPARk arena - a large activity marquee set up in the city centre. It proved so popular, in fact, that officials are interested in making it a permanent fixture at future championships.
"The SPARk arena was very well received," says Fisher. "Lord Sebastian Coe attended and commented on how successful it had been in getting kids excited and interested not just in athletics, but also nutrition and proper hydration. Over the course of the three days we had more than 50 schools visit and about 4,000 visitors in total."
He believes sponsorship of the championships has been a success for the past 11 years. "Our sponsorship receives about 12 hours of BBC coverage every year and all for about the same cost as a couple of prime- time ITV adverts. With the event taking place in the UK this time we were able to gain even greater exposure this year."
And add in the pure coincidence that the Championships took place at home in the year that Spar celebrates its half-century, it makes this year's tie-in even more special.
Fisher adds: "The 50th anniversary provided an excellent opportunity for us to launch our celebrations. It gave us a perfect opportunity to get retailers together to launch the next six months of internal and customer- facing activity. It also gave retailers the opportunity to experience our sponsorship first hand."

We are family


Roy and Kathryn Wynne-Jones of Golftyn Spar, Connahs Quay in Flintshire, joined fellow Spar retailers at the launch of the group's 50th anniversary celebrations at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Birmingham.
Roy says: "We've been with Spar for 14 years.
It really feels like we're part of a family and we're proud to be associated with a company that's been around for 50 years.
"The group's profile will be lifted a lot this year. We received a huge amount of coverage on TV over the weekend and the year-long celebrations should have a positive effect. Spar's involvement in sport is good because it extends beyond the corporate sponsorship to impact at a local level."

Spar's Sprints finish


More than 1,500 athletes have been directly involved in the Spar Sprints initiative
5,000 Spar school sports days have taken place
20 Spar-branded regional centres have been created throughout the UK
During the first two years of the initiative, 15 athletes attained medals at national championships - eight of them gold
Five of the UK's top 15 200m runners are part of the Spar programme, as are 10 out of the top 20 100m athletes.

2007 a golden year


Retailers and customers alike are expected to benefit as Spar celebrates a half-century of retailing in the UK.
Following a high-profile launch at the European Indoor Athletics Championships, the symbol group is now well under way with its new environmental campaign, Rooted in the Community, which will see 2,700 trees planted - one for every Spar store in the UK.
Retailers can participate further by offering schools the chance to win one of 600 hedge and copse tree-planting packs through an in-store leaflet competition.
The group's biggest-ever promotional activity, Golden Deals, will take place from June, and will provide an ideal opportunity for retailers to pass on savings to customers and boost sales.
Spar retailers will also receive birthday party packs to enable them to host a party with their staff and customers while raising money for the NSPCC and Children 1st.
The golden celebrations will culminate with a Birthday Bonanza event on September 22. Plans include an evening meal, entertainment and a charity auction.