Feature: Brands go to war for World Cup glory

With Germany 2006 only weeks away, Alex Blythe asks whether it is worth paying for official partner status when non-sponsors employ guerilla PR tactics

On 9 June, Germany will play Costa Rica in the first game of the biggest sporting event of the year – the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Over the following month around two billion people will tune in to TV coverage, with a similar number predicted to read about the games in international print media.

Given the breadth of the World Cup's coverage and the passion it
ignites, it is little wonder that so many companies have associated themselves with the event over the years.

For the Germany tournament there are 15 official partners: Adidas,
Anheuser-Busch, Avaya, Coca-Cola, Continental, Deutsche Telekom, Emirates, Fujifilm, Gillette, Hyundai, MasterCard, McDonald's, Philips, Toshiba and Yahoo!. Twelve of these have maintained their links from the 2002 tournament, with each paying around £30m-£40m for the four-year extension. But while partners should now be in a prime position to promote their association, some believe they face a struggle – in terms of turning sponsorship cash into column inches, and warding off the guerilla tactics of rivals vying for Cup-related attention.

A waste of money?
Recent studies into brand associations with sport reveal that despite the high cost to sponsors, consumers often fail to recognise their involvement.

During Euro 2000, official sponsor Carlsberg did achieve a creditable 74 per cent recognition rate among fans when  asked to identify brands associated with the event. However, non-sponsor Carling got 68 per cent 'recognition', while Nike, also officially uninvolved, got 71 per cent – rather alarming for official sponsors Mastercard (56 per cent) and JVC/Fuji (48 per cent).

Sara Gil, commercial director at youth marketing agency The Lounge, points to another example of unintentional association beating that of paid-for endorsement. 'Guinness was not a sponsor of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, but because of its long-standing association with rugby – and because it did lots of below-the-line activity around other events – people assumed it was a sponsor,' she says.

According to Performance Research, more than half of fans polled named Guinness as a sponsor, with only 26 per cent identifying official partner Coca-Cola's involvement.

Benefits of association
So what are the benefits of 'official' status and how can they be used to gain coverage?

Firstly, partners receive a significant allocation of tickets for the games in the tournaments they sponsor, which they can use to entertain clients and employees. They can also use them for consumer PR campaigns.

Andrew Bloch, MD of Frank PR, recently launched World Cup sponsor Budweiser's PR campaign (the firm is part of Anheuser-Busch), which will see it give away free match tickets every 48 hours. But he accepts that editorial coverage is hard to achieve when all that is being sold in is a competition.

'Very often consumers don't notice the brand that's giving away the tickets. You need strong PR support to get the association in consumers' minds. We knew we had to steal the lead here, so we launched the campaign in mid-February. This made us the first in England to give away tickets, something that got us half of the front page in the Daily Star. The second brand to give away tickets won't get that sort of coverage,' he says.

Secondly, sponsors have a better chance to get their message across this year because FIFA is implementing a rigorous clampdown on 'ambush' marketing and PR. It has already stepped in to support McDonald's in Israel, stopping Burger King from running an
unauthorised competition to win tickets to Germany. Citing abuse of intellectual property, FIFA persuaded Tel-Aviv authorities to issue an injunction against Burger King, which also had to pay the governing body damages.

According to FIFA, more than 1,200 cases in 65 countries have been pursued, and more than 850 have so far been successful. Nikki Ferguson, associate at law firm Eversheds, says: 'FIFA has clearly decided that enough is enough and is now flexing its muscles against ambush marketers.'

However, not everyone believes FIFA's new rules of marketing conduct will ensure that sponsors will be favoured over non-paying rivals.

Inevitable ambush
Rachael Sansom, account director at Consolidated Communications,
argues there is very little FIFA can do to stop so-called ambushes.

'As with the Japan and South Korea tournament in 2002, it will be a major problem for official sponsors,' she says. 'Sponsorship rights alone are not worth the paper they are written on unless there is good creative exploitation around them. You need to spend at least twice as much money exploiting the rights as you do on acquiring them.'

Meanwhile, PROs of non-sponsor clients insist there are plenty of ways to piggyback coverage of the tournament without falling foul of FIFA's regulations. Henry Chappell, managing director of Pitch PR, whose clients include Wembley Stadium and Betfair – neither of which are affiliated to Germany 2006 – is anticipating the news agenda. 'We all know there will be stories about hooligans and ticket allocation, but we also think that the World Cup will be the biggest betting event in history. We'll be working with Betfair to support journalists who are covering that topic,' he says.

Richard Moore, CEO of Capitalize, which supported Umbro's sponsorship of the 2002 World Cup, says a good contacts book can be used to attach non-related clients to World Cup stories. 'You need to know people such as Ashling O'Connor at The Times and Charlie Sale at the Daily Mail. They are sports columnists who have half a page to fill every day and are always looking for PROs who can feed them titbits – such as T-Mobile recording a massive increase in text messages sent during an England game.'

Of course, trying to second-guess what will happen around a World Cup is a vain pursuit. Who could have predicted the coverage of David Beckham's metatarsal woes in 2002 or Glenn Hoddle's faith healer shenanigans in 1998.

For Germany 2006, PRWeek has looked at the tactics of a range of official sponsors and non-sponsors (see boxes). But the undoubted top-gun in the PR war so far is German sportswear brand Adidas. Last October it embarked on what it described as its 'biggest-ever global football marketing campaign'. It has developed and promoted a website around its sponsorship of Germany 2006, supported by print, outdoor and mobile marketing.

Leaning on its sponsorship of high-profile players from participating
nations – including Germany's Michael Ballack, England's David Beckham, Spain's Raúl and Brazil's Kaká – the firm has so far achieved 50 per cent more Cup-related coverage than its nearest rival, Coca-Cola (see graphic opposite).

Adidas's close links with football have undoubtedly helped it maintain a high profile around the World Cup, but  its rivals are not giving up yet. Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz says he will be waging a 'three-way fight' between his brand, Nike and Adidas to be the most dominant sports label, citing 12 teams that will be wearing Puma strips compared to Adidas's three.

There is still time, it seems, for both official sponsors and piggyback firms to stake their claims before the highly anticipated kick-off. 

Sports Sponsorship – The Facts
According to the European Sponsorship Association, the global market for sponsorship was worth around $30bn in 2005. It has grown rapidly from $5bn in 1985 and from $24bn in 2002.

Eighty-five per cent of all sponsorship is for sports, as opposed to arts or culture, and this rises to around 95 per cent in a World Cup year.

In the 2002 World Cup, Pepsi pulled off a major PR coup. Although Coca-Cola was the official sponsor, Pepsi managed to associate itself with the tournament via an ad and PR campaign themed around 'Tokyo 2002'. The official slogan, patented by FIFA, was 'Korea-Japan 2002'. Patrick Magyar, CEO of FIFA Marketing said Pepsi's tactics were 'below the belt'.

According to research by Factiva, between March 2005 and March 2006, 661 articles mentioned a company in association with the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin. Of the top five companies, only one – Samsung – was an official sponsor.

McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Visa, and General Electric all succeeded in getting more press coverage in connection with the Games than any  official sponsor.

The world cup PR War
According to exclusive research for PRWeek by Factiva, Adidas is exploiting its position as an official sponsor of the 2006 World Cup best of all the 15 partners. Factiva monitored 10,000 titles in the UK and Europe between September 2005 and March 2006 and found the Adidas had secured by far the most article mentions in the European press in association with the event (154), while nearest rival Coca-Cola achieved 108.

The black line graph (right) shows  total mentions month-by-month for all official sponsors from September 2005 to March 2006. Four of these are picked out in colour below. Adidas has clearly influenced the overall trend with heavy coverage at the tail-end of 2005 and a slow down in the New Year.

Monthly announcements
The three major spikes in Adidas's coverage coincide with announcements about its SmartBall (a ball with an implanted chip to calculate if a ball has crossed the goal-line) in September; the launch of its World Cup '+10' PR campaign (emphasising that a football team is one individual plus ten others) in October and its partnership with Xbox in November.

Conversely airline Emirates had fairly flat coverage up until the new year, but news in January that it was giving away thousands of complimentary tickets led to clear hike in press mentions (44 in total).

Separate Factiva research points up the importance of Emirates efforts as non-sponsor airlines have also fared well. German national airline Lufthansa gained 35 mentions, Australian carrier Qantas achieved 14 (this is Australia's first finals), while other non-sponsors Air Berlin, Air France, KLM, Easyjet, Germanwings and British Airways have all generated World Cup-related coverage. Indeed, non-sponsor airlines totalled 90 press mentions in all.

Meanwhile, official sponsors Coca-Cola and Hyundai, like Adidas, showed strongly around November and have maintained coverage into 2006.

The bar graph (right) shows total mentions for official sponsors in the same time period. Overall, there have been 727 mentions of the World Cup sponsors and 512 distinct articles. The worst performing sponsors in PR terms  are Continental and Fujifilm, both of which have garnered only six mentions since Septmber 2005.

Methodology: For an article to be counted, it had to mention the specific company, and either the term FIFA, Germany 2006 or WM 2006 (Weltmeisterschaft), within 30 words of the terms 'World Cup' or 'Germany' or '2006' or 'Berlin'.

Two sponsors' PR strategies

Avaya, a provider of business IT, was created in 2001, and has used both 2002 and this year's tournament as a platform for raising awareness about the company and its products.

Daniel Bausor, head of media relations EMEA, says: 'The PR  we're doing around the World Cup should ensure that our salespeople don't have to spend the first 15 minutes of every meeting with a prospect explaining who Avaya is.'

The company's sponsorship strategy is to provide the World Cup with a converged voice and data communications network, and to use it as a case study. In Germany an Avaya network will link 30,000 volunteers, organisers and journalists, demonstrating to business buyers, Avaya employees, resellers and senior businesspeople how effective that sort of network can be.

Bausor has been feeding stories to the press as the network has been set up, using dates such as the draw in Frankfurt on 9 December 2005, and industry events such as CeBIT in Hannover, to highlight Avaya's  World Cup role. The campaign began with research into journalists' perceptions of Avaya – a poll after the event will allow for comparison.

Bausor says: 'We thought hard about our messages and how to convey them. We've had a lot of success with our fixed-mobile communications, which are being used by volunteers. These allow you to have the same number and bill for all business calls on both your mobile and landline, and the story has been very popular with our target media.'

Budweiser, through its parent company Anheuser-Busch, is an experienced sponsor of sporting events. In 2006, as well as the World Cup, it has sponsored the Winter Olympics in Turin and will be a partner of the Ryder Cup in Ireland. 

PR manager Michelle Norman says: 'PR support is important where we want to interact with our consumers and motivate them to get involved with the brand. Because the marketplace will be saturated with activity, the main obstacle for all PROs around the World Cup will be ensuring cut-through.'

Budweiser's message is that the firm wants to get its customers closer to the event, so it is offering them a chance to win tickets every 48 hours.

Norman also believes it is important to offer something genuinely different to the media and consumers. Budweiser's attractions include the Bud Beerleaders, a hand-picked troupe of cheerleaders from the US, brand ambassador Jamie Redknapp (pictured), and the '2006 Bud Cup', a worldwide six-a-side tournament with opportunity to play in Germany. 

The aim is to generate press coverage which links to specific objectives. PR activity around the '48-hour' ticket promotion is designed to encourage purchases and  generate positive association among the target 18 to 34-year-old market.

The best of the rest
Coca-Cola was sampled at the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930, the company was one of the first official sponsors in 1974, and it has recently signed a deal to sponsor the event until 2022. UK PR manager Liz Lowe says: 'On 23 March we brought the World Cup trophy to these shores for the very first time. We linked with media partners such as The Times, Daily Mirror, BBC TV and Radio 1, to find 500 people to come to London to spend the day with the trophy and Wayne Rooney.' The event garnered widespread coverage across the national press, radio and TV news.

Deutsche Telecom
Deutsche Telecom already sponsors Bayern Munich and the German national team, so it has strong associations with the sport. As well as sponsoring the World Cup it will be supplying telecommunications to the stadia. V-P of international communications Michael Lange says: 'We've spent a lot of time meeting the media, at Champions League matches in Munich, at media breakfasts and at our international media days. We have a website for the media, to which over 2,700 journalists have already subscribed. We expect the event to be an excellent platform for our sales messages.'

Yahoo! has worked with FIFA to develop the
official website of the World Cup. On fifaworldcup.com fans have been able to follow the friendly matches as all 32 teams warm up for the event. They will also be able to stay up to date with every one of the 64 games, live on the website. Each MatchCast will give fans editorial commentary, photos and statistics, as well as the opportunity to participate in a live fan chat. The MatchCasts are sponsored by Middle-Eastern airline Emirates.

Although not a sponsor of the 2006 World Cup, Umbro is hoping to gain positive coverage through its sponsorship of the England kit. Duncan Thompson, England marketing manager at Umbro, says: 'Last month we launched the new England away kit and that generated massive media coverage. We also sponsor the Swedish and individual players such as Michael Owen (pictured), John Terry, Luis Garcia, and Tim Cahill so we have a natural place at the World Cup.'

In fact, most  of the coverage around the kit launch centred on comments by England player Frank Lampard that the next England manager should be British. But Thompson says Umbro is planning further PR activity around its range of Classic England Kits, and training and leisure wear.

He adds: 'When the World Cup arrives a host of brands try to own a slice of football. They will outspend us on ad budget, but we believe we have a stronger story to tell, as a brand that is right at the heart of football, and we'll be using PR to get that message across.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in