SportBusiness International editor Matt Cutler reports on the ground from Los Angeles in a huge week of sport for the city.
Many European football (soccer) teams use pre-season friendlies as a way of taking their brand to both new and devoted fanbases outside of their home territory.
This year's International Champions Cup is no different. Held across two weeks and visiting no less than five major US cities, AC Milan, Chelsea, Juventus and Real Madrid are just four of the teams looking to raise their profiles in a region where interest in soccer is increasing exponentially. Not only do the clubs' sponsors have global sales aspirations, but the the US is being targeted as a key fan territory for Europe's soccer heavyweights going forward.
However, the football teams are not the only brands involved in the tournament with a longer-term goal in mind. Diageo-owned beer brand Guinness, famed for its Irish stout, has title sponsored the tournament in a move to promote Guinness Black Lager, a relatively new beer product that launched in the territory three years ago.
Previously Guinness sponsored several friendly, pre-season soccer games on an ad hoc basis, but the sponsorship of the International Champions Cup, says Jonathan Urch, the brand director for Guinness in the United States, gives Diageo the perfect platform to promote Black Lager as a summer drink for sports fans and "break people's perceptions of when Guinness should be drunk."
"Soccer is on such an upward curve, particularly among the consumers we are targeting," he told SportBusiness International ahead of a double-header match in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. "This tournament is a great way for us to stake a claim in the soccer world.
"We do a lot of other sport sponsorship but this is the biggest activation we have gone after, and it has given us much more leverage than we would typically get with other properties. This is our preferred area for sponsorship activation right now."
Urch adds that a lot of research was done to ensure the activation would be aimed only at those aged above 21 – so much so that there a few instances Diageo felt the tournament should be marketed without the Guinness logo or name despite the deal.
In addition to the title sponsorship – which Urch says doesn't include 'Black Lager' because it would have been "too unwieldy" – Guinness is advertising around Fox Soccer broadcasts, out-of-home in major US cities, and is setting up sampling opportunities in and around the match stadia.
The title sponsorship will run for at least two years, with event organisers RSE Ventures, the company founded by former CAA (Creative Arts Agency) executive Charlie Stillitano, looking to repeat the tournament until at least 2014. Short-term success in 2013 will be judged by TV audiences on Fox and attendances at games, and an agency has been hired to conduct consumer research around the Black Lager brand pre and post the tournament.