Celebrating 30 years of the European Sponsorship Association.
by Conrad Wiacek
For 30 years, ESA has been at the forefront of the sponsorship industry. From providing members with best practice to advocating for legislative change, the European Sponsorship Association has led the way in developing the sponsorship industry. We take a look at how it has grown into the organisation it is today.
21st January 2019, 11:09


In 2006, the European sponsorship industry was worth €9.5billion. Today it is worth €27.7billion. So what’s changed and what does ESA now do to ‘inspire, unite and grow the sponsorship industry’ on behalf of our brand, agency, rights holder and advisor members?

Underpinning our work is a passion to champion the power of the sponsorship sector. In an ever-fragmenting communications landscape, sport (accounting for 66% of the industry in 2017) still brings massive audiences together like little else. The World Cup topped the TV ratings in 2018 (with the England vs. Slovakia game), providing the World Cup sponsors with an opportunity to be part of a nationally important moment that must only be watched live! Music, the arts, partnerships with causes and must-see broadcast content also allows brands to get closer to their clients, through alignment with the things that they care about most.

We’ve seen the type of people we represent change over the last 18 years. Back when ESA was formed, the sponsorship brief was more often owned by a specific team, tasked with delivering branding, hospitality and a few standout opportunities for brand impact in the print media. More often than not, that team was relatively disconnected from the rest of the business. This has definitely changed. Great sponsorship is now owned and controlled by the Marketing Director and provides the magic dust that makes all the investments they control work harder, provide greater engagement, and, in turn, a better return. ESA must therefore become much more of a marketing-led trade body, recognising that sponsorship is now more integrated than it ever has been before. 

We’re in an age where opportunities to add value to the customer’s experiences through sponsorship have never been more exciting. Digital and social media allow brands to be part of the discussion 24/7, our appetite for original content allows sponsors to craft programming that adds incremental value to the experience, and the power of data (within the new GDPR regulations of course) allows precise and measurable targeting. Sponsorship can be the glue that binds all of the activities of a brand together, underpinned by a knowledge that the subject matter is close to the hearts of the customers, prospects and stakeholders of the business. 

So what is ESA now doing to sit at the heart of such an exciting industry?

We continue to bring our community together to learn, share the very best work, and network. In 2019, we’ll host various events on a broad range of topics, celebrate the best work in the industry at the annual ESA Awards and we’ll be part of an exciting new Pan-European Sponsorship Conference in Brussels this March – SponsorLive: The European Sponsorship Association Summit. In addition, we’ll be working hard on our new partnership with Cannes Lions to see who will win the inaugural Entertainment Lions for Sport.

Education will still underpin a great deal of our work. The ESA Diploma continues to flourish, providing one of the world’s only formal qualifications in sponsorship and this, coupled with courses in sales, provides an amazingly comprehensive source of educational resources for both members and non-members alike.


ESA Chairman Andy Westlake addresses ESA diploma students 

Policy work is still important to us, as it was when Helen Day was involved, and we continue to lobby on behalf of the industry and alongside other European trade bodies, in sectors such as betting, pharmaceuticals and food & drink high in fat, sugar or salt.

And finally, we continue to provide our members with facts, figures, information and research about the industry. As our membership grows, this is the area we will continue to focus our energy on to help our members to evidence the power of the ever-changing and ever more influential sponsorship industry.


ESA Breakfast Event 

ESA’s History

The European Sponsorship Association (ESA) was formed on 29th October 2003, through the merger of the Institute of Sport Sponsorship (ISS) and The European Sponsorship Consultants Association (ESCA).

The ISS was formed for sponsors on 21st October 1988. It was administered by the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR), its President was The Duke of Edinburgh and CEO was Mike Reynolds, who had been Head of Sponsorship at prolific sponsors Allied Breweries.

ESCA was formed on 26th January 1990. Originating from a plan hatched by Barrie Gill, Karen Earl, Steven Townley and Bill Kallaway in a bar in Notting Hill, West London, created to represent the sponsorship industry. As its name suggested, it primarily represented agencies, but aimed to attract everyone and anyone who worked in and around the industry.

The merger with ISS made a great deal of sense, bringing, as it did, sponsors from across the board, as well as now allowing rights holders and individual practitioners to become members. 

ESCA was chaired by the charismatic Barrie Gill of CSS from 1990 until his death in 2003, underlining the great debt the sponsorship world owed him. Under his guidance and that of the Vice Chair, firstly Karen Earl and then Helen Day, ESCA flourished.

Nigel Currie, then of the GEM Group, took over the Chairman’s role in 2003 and oversaw the merger of ESCA and ISS to form ESA. He was followed in 2007 by Karen Earl, who was Chairman until 2017 when the current Chairman, Andy Westlake, took over.

ESA’s permanent office was created in 2006 when Helen Lamb joined as General Manager. During the early years of ESA, a great deal of work was done to promote sponsorship across Europe.  Helen Day, who continued as Vice Chairman until 2008, spent time in Brussels liaising with numerous bodies and Associations, operating there in the promotion of various aspects of sponsorship and the representation of groups of sponsors. It was an interesting time, as it became apparent that there was a very different approach to sponsorship in the various European countries.

In France, for example, the Loi Evin prevented any sponsorship by alcohol or tobacco companies. In Spain, sponsorship existed under the guise of advertising and there was little difference between one and the other. Indeed, the difference between advertising and sponsorship did not exist in many European countries – something which ESA worked hard to clarify. Such understanding was vital to enable any legislation emanating from Europe to correctly portray sponsorship and the opportunities it offered.  

ESA’s sponsorship Awards and annual sponsorship conference in Brussels became the ‘must attend’ events of the sponsorship industry. Over the three days of the conference, sponsorship experts got together for informative sessions, sharing of best practice and a good dose of socialising!

ESA Sponsorship Awards Reception 

With thanks to authors and contributors:Helen Day, Karen Earl, Helen Lamb, Andy Westlake