Sponsorship: Ready for kick-off

With Euro 2004 around the corner, Adam Hill reports on the PR tactics being employed by the official sponsors. Next month, the soccer world descends on Portugal for Euro 2004.

Potentially thrilling on-pitch encounters such as the one between Zinadine Zidane and David Beckham on 13 June when England take on France will quicken the pulse of sports fans. But PROs for eight brands will be hoping to stamp their clients' supremacy on the tournament beyond the touchline.

For a considerable, undisclosed fee, these eight companies have been awarded 'official partner' status by UEFA, the Continent's governing body for football. From cars to cameras and burgers to phones, they have an audience of hundreds of millions for most of June.

Each sponsor has the right to two exclusive promotions and is not allowed to use a 'substantially similar' promotion to anyone else. Yet, as in Animal Farm, some sponsors would appear to be more equal than others.

Carlsberg, for example, is already the official beer of the England team, which might give it at least a bit of a head start. 'We have access to England players and merchandise for photocalls, media briefings and meet and greets with journalists and consumers,' explains Lisa Jedan, associate director at the company's agency, Ketchum.

But other Euro 2004 official partners also have an existing relationship with the game: Canon sponsored the Champions League for six seasons to 2000, and the World Cup for 20 years from 1978, while Hyundai and T-Mobile have a similar sponsorship deals for the 2006 World Cup. And McDonald's has been involved in a grassroots football programme in the UK for some time.

Among the list of household names, BenQ sticks out like a novice member of a flat back four. And that is the point of the sponsorship, says Edelman associate director Paul Kiernan. The last of the official sponsors to take its place, the tech firm simply wants to raise its profile (see box).

In-house approach

Consumer tech manufacturer JVC is alone at Euro 2004 in handling PR in-house. Its target audience of male 18 to 40-year-olds is a good fit with football and, in addition to its usual media relations strategy of getting gadget magazines like Stuff on side, JVC is also targeting slightly more unfamiliar territory, with promotions in Maxim and a live event in London with footie mag FourFourTwo for the England-Switzerland game.

No sponsor appears worried about so many big brands diluting individual messages. 'The chosen official partners don't compete,' says Sarah Scales, co-founder of T-Mobile's agency Brands2Life. T-Mobile will offer exclusive football-themed ringtones, video highlights (30 seconds of near-live video news for each ten minutes played), scores and stats with full-colour pictures and SMS/MMS alerts to customers. Editorial coverage already includes the Daily Mirror, The Guardian, The Times and The Business, as well as marketing and mobile trade publications.

Ptarmigan senior consultant Cat Saycell says the sponsorship 'will help to shift perceptions of the Hyundai brand from being the maker of inexpensive "bread and butter" cars to highly desirable vehicles'. Ptarmigan took broadsheet and tabloid travel and consumer journalists from Madrid to Faro in Hyundai Santa Fe and Coupe models to watch England's friendly game against Portugal in February. 'The tournament itself provides only a small window of opportunity time-wise, so it was important to also maximise the sponsorship throughout the run-up,' Saycell explains. The agency used Chelsea and England player Frank Lampard to launch Hyundai's Goodwill Ball, a giant football which tours the country gathering messages of support from fans before heading off with the England team to Lisbon, and secured coverage in The Sun, the Sunday Mirror, BBC Six O'clock News, and on Sky Sports, ITV1's On the Ball, Radio 5 Live, Talk Sport, BBC Radio London, and Match magazine.

By contrast, some sponsors are adopting a more defensive pose. Big Group, which is handling Mastercard's campaign, says the client will not allow it to divulge any PR plans in advance - despite the client's already high profile in TV advertising for the tournament.

Whatever tactics PROs decide to use, the rewards are there. Usage of T-Mobile services increased by 40 per cent during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea while an extra 5.5 million pints of Carlsberg were sold during that tournament, with sales in the final week up 128 per cent.

A European football championship may not have quite that global cache, but sponsors are well aware it is unlikely to be far off.

BENQ: EDELMAN

Plans: to raise the profile of the brand by targeting male GQ and Esquire readers and women who watch international football events.

The campaign will appeal to 'trendsetters and experience-seekers' in the lifestyle, digital and business - rather than sport - media. 'Sharing the enjoyment' will be Edelman's message for BenQ, with live screenings of matches at venues across Europe.

There will also be a dedicated micro site for the brand at www.euro2004.com, with a lighthearted alternative view of the tournament featuring elements such as travel and 'soccer widows', updated daily by GQ.

CANON: NELSON BOSTOCK COMMS

Plans: to highlight the link between sport and photo-graphy in a bid to position Canon as a global leader in digital imaging. A Canon FanFoto gallery mini site has been set up at www.euro2004.com to involve amateur snappers in the sponsorship. This links with the client's 'You Can' advertising message, the idea being the fulfilment of personal creative potential through digital photography. Nelson Bostock is targeting youth and style publications across Europe plus sports and camera titles.

The Canon Golden Ticket competition, running with Men's Health in France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Portugal, allows winners to attend every Euro2004 match their team plays.

CARLSBERG: KETCHUM

Plans: to maximise sales of Carlsberg lager this summer. Ketchum and the in-house team are targeting both a consumer audience of 18 to 35-year-old sports fans around the tagline 'Your Country Needs You', and the trade (publicans, licensees and grocers) with the message 'Serve Your Country'.

PR activity will include trade briefings, case studies of retailers using in-outlet promotions, an information pack for the trade with advice on how to make the most of live sport in pubs, a photocall with England players and hospitality for the press at the England versus France group match.

THE CARLING CUP: HILL & KNOWLTON

Last August, Carling took over sponsorship of the League Cup, sponsored for the previous five years by beer brand Worthington. The campaign emphasis was on Carling's status as a premium brand, positioning it as a 'fan' of football rather than a company piggybacking on the game's mass appeal.

Cheesy photo opportunities involving club mascots were outlawed in favour of stylish monochrome shots of players, often at grounds.

Interviews were set up with up-and-coming youngsters such as Jermaine Defoe and old stagers like Teddy Sheringham in The Sun and Daily Mirror. Hill & Knowlton concentrated on ticket giveaway promotions in relevant local papers.

A competition with the Daily Star saw one fan phoning in before midday to win, then getting driven by taxi after work with three friends to a Carling Cup match.

Men's magazines such as Loaded, Maxim, Jack and Front were presented with a mini fridge which the H&K team kept stocked with Carling beer during the competition. In the event, Bolton Wanderers and Middlesbrough contested the final.

Although Carling will not disclose sales figures, H&K says attendances at Carling Cup matches were up eight per cent on the previous year's competition.

The League Cup had faced criticism for several seasons as the poor relation of the premier domestic competition, the FA Cup, with bigger clubs such as Manchester United fielding weakened teams to suggest a certain indifference to the competition. While that may have remained the case, there was some praise from journalists.

One article in the London Evening Standard was headlined 'No brewer's droop for Carling Cup'. Former footballer Rodney Marsh, in the Daily Star, wrote that the 'Carling Cup has a nice ring to it'.

The comment of Middlesbrough's Brazilian star Juninho that the Carling Cup was as important to him as the World Cup was picked up in most nationals.

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