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In January General Motors-owned British car manufacturer Vauxhall Motors took over from Nationwide as the lead sponsor of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish football teams, representing the company’s first foray into the sport since backing Euro 1996 in England.

The move comes at a time when the nation is gearing up for both Euro 2012 and the World Cup in 2014, and is the first time a car manufacturer has taken up the lead position with UK teams.

There’s a natural cohesion between Vauxhall and the English Football Association (FA), not least because they bring together two of the nation’s biggest passions; cars and football are both emotive topics for mainstream England, which reach out across the population and have particular resonance with men, which for many brands is often an elusive market to engage with.

From the outset Vauxhall has made it clear that as well as becoming the emblem for the England national football team on an international level, that it is also committed to supporting grassroots initiatives including youth, junior, women’s and disability football. If it can live up to those plans, Vauxhall has an unprecedented opportunity to truly become a football brand in its own right, reaping the benefits of brand loyalty from an unwavering fanbase that has unique longevity with appeal across every age group and social class. Sporting the tagline ‘a driving force behind football’, Vauxhall is well placed to generate significant brand value from its investment in the FA, and, with a long-term view, compete with the tradition and recognition of its predecessor, Nationwide.

Brand association is one thing, but customer engagement is quite another – in this case football fans – and that’s where the true ‘pot of gold’ lies for Vauxhall. If it can shape its own legacy with British football rather than be dependent on success by association, based on the performance of the national teams, then it’s on to a winner.

First initiatives from Vauxhall look promising with its new site www.vauxhallfootball.co.uk and a series of social media promotions aimed at young players due to launch in the next few months. And the company looks set to resurrect home internationals, with the four Home Nations playing each other on a regular basis.

But embedding the Vauxhall brand at a grassroots level needs more of a fundamental shift in approach. Initiatives like the ‘Respect’ campaign promoting safe and enjoyable football for everyone, and the ‘Grass Roots Football Show’ this summer are a key part of the positive noise that’s happening in and around the sport right now.

Similarly Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development, has also lent his weight to the issue describing kids’ football as “amateurish and haphazard”. He’s called for proper resources to be invested in entry-level football for the good of the game and the nation – and that represents a huge opportunity and challenge for everyone involved. Right now grassroots football is supported by brands like Mars and Tesco, but there’s enormous potential for Vauxhall to have a real voice in this arena and help shape its future.

Of course there’s more to a sponsorship deal like this than supporting the aspirations of the game. Clearly Vauxhall has a commercial objective in mind and wants to see a return in profits as well as a shift in its brand image. Hospitality will have a key role to play in helping the market engage with the Vauxhall brand and its assets. Ultimately it will be looking to drive sales through retailers, dealerships and showrooms and undoubtedly it will have a huge programme of activation in trade. Likewise, there are unique opportunities to create employee engagement and motivation schemes that could sit at the very heart of the business.

Interestingly it looks like we are going to see the ubiquitous football TV ad from Vauxhall over the next few months. Time will tell if it can join the likes of Nike and adidas with a creative punch that makes ‘hairs stand on end’. Let’s hope it doesn’t go the road of the diabolical KIA ad around the ITV’s coverage of the FA Cup which is almost enough to make you switch over.

However it plays out though, Vauxhall faces both opportunity and challenge over the next four years. If it can make enough of a mark on the nation’s favourite game, the Vauxhall brand will live long in the hearts of minds of football fans. There’s everything to go for and time will tell just how big the corporate appetite is for the game.

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