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Sponsoring La Roja

With the FIFA World Cup only a month away, are world and European champions Spain the hottest property in town? Dermot Ledwith asks the team’s current roster of sponsors.

Spain goes into June’s World Cup in Brazil as defending champions, having won international football’s three biggest tournaments consecutively. But what does that mean for the brands that back ‘La Roja’?

With the World Cup very much in mind, five of the 16 brands that work with the RFEF (Spanish Football Federation) came together in an informal sponsorship workshop in San Sebastián to discuss the issues surrounding sponsoring Spain’s greatest export. Just before Spain won the Euros for a second time, beating Italy 4-0 in the final in Kiev in 2012, Spanish telecoms operator Movistar partnered with the national team.

“At a time when the economy was gloomy, we saw the value in joining the side,” said Elena Doria, sponsorship director at Movistar. “Its intrinsic ‘Spanishness’, teamwork and the idea that you can achieve all that La Roja stands for are all ideas we have for our own brand.

“Spain unites together with the team, win or lose. Sponsoring the side has given us so many commercial activities to exploit both internally and externally; it has only been two years but it seems like we’ve been there for ages.” The other main sponsor partner – alongside Movistar, beer brand Cruzcampo and adidas – is Spanish energy giant Iberdola, which signed up after Spain’s Euro 2008 win. Luis Gomez, brand director at the company, says that Iberdrola wanted a national product that would be a permanent communication tool, “but without the problems that being linked to a domestic club would create”.

He admits at the time he thought Spain could win the World Cup, but with that came problems: “It can be hard sponsoring the world champions. The team has more demands, which creates more problems. “We have contracts signed, but the team wants to play away games in far off countries, so we have to be really creative to solve that.

The players’ rights and their clubs sometimes complicate things, so we have to invent things at times that are almost outside the agreement. “You also get more problems from the people that surround the players, who try to protect them. We had to get their time without feeling as if we were asking for a favour.” The RFEF previously used the Santa Monica Sports agency to manage its partners, but in early 2013 brought the sponsorship programme in-house, something the brands view as positive on an organisational level.

Official Sponsors A second tier of four sponsors, including recent arrivals Nissan and Gillette, enjoy the title of official sponsor. For Spanish insurance company Pelayo, partnering with Spain in 2008 was seen as a short-term tactical move to give away footballs in their branches, but by 2010 the brand had become an official sponsor with much more strategic objectives. “In a busy Spanish insurance sector, it is very hard for a mid-sized company to compete…sometimes all you have is price and brand,” says Pelayo marketing director Francisco Cabrero.

“Since 2010, our brand has become relevant and prestigious because of the national side. “We found our brand has become better known and we have gone from push to pull; people now come to us, due to a huge variety of promotions linked to our sponsorship.” Pelayo works with national coach Vicente del Bosque, who is regularly voted as the number-one personality in Spain when it comes to values such as trust and friendliness, two brand values that Pelayo wants to transmit. Pelayo’s latest campaign plays on that by claiming all of Spain is within six degrees of separation from the Spanish players, passing first through del Bosque.

The fourth second-tier partner is Cepsa, an energy company that uses the deal to bring La Roja to more than 1,500 service stations across Spain and Portugal. It originally signed as a partner before the Euro 2008 win and signed a two-year deal extension in 2012. “You enter into a deal like this with your eyes open. There is a lot of clutter but that is not a problem – it is not about having visibility every time Spain plays,” says Jonathan Keeling, sponsorship manager at Cepsa. “It is more about permanence…we have many synergies and we could actually work together more.”

Round of Renewals?

The million-dollar question is, of course, whether the partners will be signing up again after Brazil. All are understandably careful to hedge their bets for the moment. “Obviously it would be a tough decision to leave this sponsorship if Spain wins yet another World Cup, but in reality this is a strategic issue not related to the results of the tournament,” says Cepsa.

“It’s like a marriage, you are in it for the good and the bad. Even if there are lots of changes after the World Cup, the youngsters are there and the values are the same. It is not so important if the team wins or loses,” adds Cruzcampo’s Bernal. One thing the RFEF does have in its favour is the proximity of its next major tournament – UEFA Euro 2016 in France. Iberdrola’s Gomez says that for brands based in Europe, the Brazilian World Cup is a logistical nightmare. “The next European Championships in France will be great for us – we can take people there. This World Cup is difficult – hotel rooms in Curitiba [where Spain is based in Brazil] are hard to find, distances are huge…it makes things complicated to activate,” he adds.

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