11 JEWELS IN THE 2017 SPORTING CROWN YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS

As much as we tried, there was no way to narrow our list down to a round ten, so in true Spinal Tap style – sorry, niche reference – we’ve cranked it up to 11 as we count down the events we’re most hyped for in the next 12 months

There is no arguing that last year was trying for several reasons away from the crucible of sporting competition, but for those transfixed by the heroics of Olympians, racquet-wielding knights of the realm and footballing fairy tales, it was positively delightful.

Hopes at the Crunch office are therefore higher than ever as athletes from the UK and beyond prepare for what we hope will be another delectable feast of five-star competitive nourishment.

With that in mind, we have cast our eyes across the sporting calendar and come up with a list of what we deem to be cast-iron couch fodder in 2017. First up…

1. AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Melbourne on our minds
January 16-29

Andy Murray

As those of us in the UK hunker down and fortify ourselves against the bleak mid-winter, the great and good of competitive tennis have already knocked the festive rust off and then some, as they get the sporting calendar off to a suitably Grand start at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

All eyes will be on “Sir” Andy Murray this week as he looks to retain the form that saw him overhaul Novak Djokovic atop the ATP Rankings and finally claim that elusive Aussie Open crown, having fallen at the final hurdle in five of the past seven years.

Brands will also be looking to activate around one of tennis’ big four, as Major Sponsor Kia leverage the tournament alongside the likes of Rolex, Emirates, MasterCard and Coca-Cola.

www.ausopen.com/

2. SIX NATIONS: Quest for Grand Slam glory gets under way
February 4-March 18

That’s right, not long now until the perennial sextuplet of egg-chasing nations convene for a six-week long quest for the holy grail – a 100 per cent record and the Grand Slam, famously achieved last year by Eddie Jones’ English charges.

When it comes to brands, RBS are ever-present in their title-sponsorship of the contest, and will likely be pushing their RugbyForce community initiative that supports local clubs in “building for their future”.

The bank will be joined by Six Nations Partner Guinness, who have made a “pint of the black stuff” synonymous with top-class rugby. There is no doubt that this will continue in 2017, so expect numerous Sunday morning hangovers and to be indulging in plenty of daytime drinking around south and west London come February.

www.rbs6nations.com/

3. SUPER BOWL LI: Number 51, for those who don’t do Roman
February 5

Boasting one of the biggest global TV audiences and therefore prime advertising opportunity of any sporting event, this is a spectacle that has become synonymous with big budgets and best-in-class brand activation, as much as it has gridiron gumption.

It remains unclear as to which two sides will finally contest the Vince Lombardi trophy at the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, but we can be certain that the world’s biggest brands will be active on TV, although with costs more prohibitive than ever, digital is also certain to be at the fore.

This is thanks to the cost of a 30-second ad spot on TV having increased by 76% over the past decade, reaching $4.4m in 2015, so brands like PepsiCo – who sponsor the event’s iconic half-time show – have already begun diverting 40% of their ad spend to digital. With platforms like Snapchat also offering increasingly unique ways to tell a brand story, from a global audience perspective, it will be well with keeping an eye on social media come the small hours of February 5.

www.nfl.com/

Super Bowl Trophy

4. CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL: Horses for courses
March 14-17

Known simply as “The Festival” this four-day event, which climaxes with the iconic Cheltenham Gold Cup, has become a highlight on the calendar for fans and laymen alike.

This is always a huge weekend for bookmakers up and down the country, as they try to part us with our hard-earned wages. However, in recent memory, few have done a better job at creating news around this prospect than Betfair – following its Switching Saddles campaign with former Olympic cyclist Victoria Pendleton.

Riding on Gold Cup day last March, following a year-long build-up to the main event, the campaign resulted in a 49% increase in Betfair customers and a four per cent increase in the volume of bets placed compared to the previous year. All that remains to be seen is whether anyone can create such a buzz this year.

www.thefestival.co.uk/

5. UNIVERSITY BOAT RACE: Where the drinking game surely started
April 2

One of the few occasions in which rowing receives mainstream coverage alongside the quadrennial Olympics, this year-on-year contest sees eight of the most strapping young men (and one tiny cox) that both Oxford and Cambridge Universities can respectively muster, duke it out on the 4.2 mile stretch of the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake.

Last year’s race was also scene of one of the more generous corporate gestures in recent time, as title sponsor BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Partners donated their spot to the Official Charity Partner, Cancer Research UK.

Receiving substantial exposure around the race, the kind that they likely could not have afforded otherwise, was one of the more smile-worthy sponsorship moments of 2016.

theboatraces.org/

6. MASTERS TOURNAMENT: Golf’s green and pleasant land
April 6-9

Augusta National

One of few events to transcend the sport, the Masters Tournament is iconic with more than golf fans alone – with the spring-time greens, pinks and purples of the perfectly manicured grass and fairway-lining azaleas making for the perfect start to the sporting summer.

Brand activation around this more exclusive of sporting events is somewhat limited however, although the advent of digital channels and slightly more relaxed broadcast deals, has led to much greater visibility for sponsors in recent years.

Rolex are particularly active here, with the event being a perfect fit for its reputation as aspirational, or even unattainable. Augusta National certainly falls into that bracket with so few able to walk the iconic Magnolia Lane to the clubhouse, let alone its fairways, and we – for one – shall be glued come that first week in April to this green and pleasant land.

www.masters.com/

7. WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP: Balls and baize
Apr 15-May 01

Perhaps the last remaining sport to demand the wearing of a waistcoat, known more for its dingy, smoked-filled clubs of yesteryear than the skill required to score an oft-elusive 147 break, the World Snooker Championship is a long-standing staple of British sport.

Where once the sport was graced with living room legends known the length and breadth of the land, it could be argued all they have now is Ronnie O’Sullivan. Petulant at times, there is no doubting his talent, and as title sponsor of the event, Betfred will hope to leverage his celebrity to generate interest around the event.

Boasting a global viewership of 300m for the final last year, no doubt thanks to the involvement of China’s Ding Junhui, you can see why the bookmakers thought it prudent to extend their current sponsorship until at least 2019.

http://www.worldsnooker.com/tournaments/betfred-world-championship-2016/

8. JOSHUA vs KLITSCHKO: Gloves are finally off
April 29

Joshua vs Klitschko

One of the biggest fights of the year – unless Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor do in fact agree to get it on – this promises to be a defining moment in the careers of both men as the seemingly unstoppable force of Anthony Joshua meets the (slightly less) immovable object of Wladimir Klitschko at London’s Wembley Stadium.

When the bell first rings on this one, rest assured that the usual pomp and circumstance that accompanies this kind of mano-a-mano occasion will have riled us all up into a sweaty mess ahead of this gladiatorial encounter, with 50,000 tickets having already been sold.

Betting around this event will no doubt be one source of sponsorship activation as bookmakers look to lure us all into having a cheeky punt, but there are no bigger winners on this kind of event than the promoter – Matchroom Boxing – and the TV company – Sky.

http://www.matchroomboxing.com/fight-nights/joshua-v-klitschko/

9. BRITISH & IRISH LIONS TOUR: Hear them roar
Jun 24

Another event that graces us but once every four years, the latest British and Irish Lions Tour is sure to be another barn-storming three-test series against the virtually unbeatable All Blacks, as rugby fans across the UK steady themselves for three weekends of early morning visits to the pub – sure we can all get used to that.

On the sponsorship front, HSBC are no longer the title sponsor of the tour, having begun their association with the event series in 2007, having now been replaced by Standard Life Investments.

With a global TV audience of (supposedly) over one billion across 120 countries and boasting a 125-year heritage, it is easy to see the appeal of this opportunity for SLI, who have also recently made a big noise around The Ryder Cup.

www.lionsrugby.com/

10. IAAF WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Bolt bows out
Aug 4-13

It may be that the great and good of the athletics world will once again be descending upon London’s Olympic Stadium, some five years – can it really be that long – ago, but in truth there is really only one story in town come August.

That’s right, it’s the fastest man on Earth’s final bow, as Usain Bolt graces the most famous ten seconds in sport just one last time.

As a brand in and of himself, this will no doubt be of most interest to sponsors of both Bolt and the games themselves as they look to leverage the end of an era, as we all look back and lament the loss of an athlete who made us feel less guilty for enjoying a chicken nugget or two.

www.london2017athletics.com/

Usain Bolt

 11. ASHES SERIES: Battle for teeny, tiny urn goes Down Under
Nov 23-27

That’s right, the battle for what must surely be the sporting world’s smallest trophy returns this year, as we embark on nigh on two months of colleagues and commuters walking passed us like zombies, bereft of sleep and likely bemoaning another mid-order collapse.

Known for its incessant and often outrageous “sledging” – or abuse, as the rest of us might call it – this series offers an opportunity for not only fans to get patriotic, but brands too.

This was something that Hardys did very successfully two years ago, when the Australian wine manufacturer leveraged its sponsorship of the England cricket team with a series of amusing adverts that humourously captured the horror of their staff when they found out they were working with the “Poms”. We shall have to wait, therefore, to see who plays this card come November.

https://www.ecb.co.uk/