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FFF hopes to capitalise on World Cup win with regional sponsorship deals and product licensing

The victory of the French men’s national team in the Fifa World Cup has triggered performance bonuses in three of its sponsorship deals and opened up new product licensing and regional sponsorship opportunities. Ben Cronin speaks to FFF marketing director François Vasseur about the commercial impact of the win.

French president Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte pose with the French national football team after their 2018 World Cup win at the Elysee Presidential Palace. (Photo by Christophe Morin/IP3/Getty Images)

  • Win triggers performance bonuses with three sponsors
  • Federation hoping to circumvent ban on French beer sponsors with regional deal
  • Supply chain problems for Nike lead to shirt sale frustrations

The Fédération Française de Football (FFF) is looking to strike a combination of regional sponsorship deals and product licensing deals to capitalise on the victory of the French men’s national team in the Fifa World Cup in Russia.

The federation has not secured any new partners in its largest sponsorship categories as a result of the win, having filled all of them in advance of the tournament. As reported recently in SportBusiness Sponsorship, the federation overhauled its sponsorship inventory for the next cycle and struck a large array of renewals and new partnerships in the 18 months leading up to the World Cup. The new sponsorship model is made up of four levels: Kit Supplier, five Major Partners, five Official Sponsors, three licensors and a regional sponsorship category which is effectively an additional licensor.

The win triggered performance bonuses with three of its sponsors. SportBusiness Professional understands the team’s official Kit Supplier Nike and two other sponsors had bonus clauses written into their contracts, which when added up, amount to roughly €5m ($5.7m), five per cent of the FFF’s total annual sponsorship revenues of €102.1m ($118m).

FFF marketing director François Vasseur says the federation plans to leverage the team’s global popularity after the win to secure more regional sponsors and sees the Asian market as the most fertile ground. The federation signed its first regional partnership earlier this year, a one-year deal with Chinese kitchen appliance firm Vatti.

The FFF recently opened an office in China and says it is assessing the categories of sponsors it could work with in the Asian market. Vasseur says its regional sponsorship model could allow it to sign a beer brand as a partner for the first time – French law forbids the federation from partnering with a beer brand in France– and that it has been in discussions with a number of Asian beer brands about such a deal.

Frustration

Official Kit Supplier Nike has endured a frustrating time trying to service demand for official World Cup shirts due to problems with its supply chain in Asia. A supply of 8,000 shirts sold out in 10 minutes the day after the victory, while a further batch was mistakenly printed with one star beneath the team crest, omitting the second star the team had just earned for its second World Cup win. Nike is paying just over €50m per season in an eight-year deal, from 2018-19 to 2025-26. This is made up of €38m for the official shirt licensing rights and €12m in equipment supply.

“Nike is in charge of the shirt production and distribution; it’s not a direct business issue for the FFF,” says Vasseur of the inability to service demand. “We have a minimum guarantee, it’s more that we want to give the fans the shirts they dream of.”

Aside from the official shirt and training products , the federation has taken the remainder of its merchandising rights in-house in its latest deal with Nike. Previously it sold licensed products through a joint venture with Nike called French Football Merchandising and shared the revenues with the sports brand, with the latter also responsible for securing deals with e-boutiques and stadium retailers. Under the terms of the latest deal, the federation has created an in-house team to develop and commercialise new product lines and negotiate with retailers and will retain all of the revenues for itself. Nike continues to manufacture and approve sports apparel products and their branding under this arrangement.

The Euro 2016 toy mascot Super Victor on the shelves of a store in Paris, France ahead of the 2016 tournament. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

The latest sponsorship deal with Nike also includes an agreement to supply the federation’s 70,000 affiliated clubs with heavily-discounted kit and training equipment, excluding boots. Vasseur says the FFF will provide the brand with grassroots data and access to local organisations to help it crack a market that has traditionally been dominated by low-cost kit suppliers and discount brands like Decathalon. Nike currently has a less than 10 per cent market share but aims to have a 50 per cent share by the time its current deal with the FFF ends in 2026.

Vasseur says the federation has received “a lot of solicitations” from businesses looking to license the men’s team brand following the World Cup win and this will provide it with a significant new revenue stream. The federation has recruited an in-house licensing team to develop the commercial opportunity.

“We will have more licenses and we will generate more business with, for example, school products, balls, textiles, different types of games, we will sell a big calendar, some books,” he says. “Everyone wants to use the image of the players, so we will launch new types of products and new collaborations.”

A good example is the licensing agreement the federation struck with toy manufacturer Playmobil to sell figurines wearing the national team kit. Vasseur says the federation has also received an approach from one of the two largest football video game publishers about licensing the image of the French team for the jacket of a football game, although he wouldn’t specify if the approach was from EA Sports or Konami. “It’s the same for Panini,” says Vasseur. “This type of big license, it’s better to negotiate with them now.”

Engagement

The team’s win also drove impressive levels of engagement on the federation’s social media accounts. Vasseur says the FFF saw 70 million engagements on Twitter during the tournament, the most for any national team, and a figure that compares favourably with the 44 million engagements boasted by second-ranked country Brazil. Similarly, the FFF’s YouTube account delivered 190 million views during the event. At the time of writing, the men’s national team has six million followers on Facebook, 4.7 million on Instagram (the highest of any national team, according to the FFF), 3.93 million on Twitter (the highest of any European national team), and 950,000 subscribers on YouTube.

The FFF tried to boost engagement during the tournament through its ‘Fier d’etre bleu’ (‘Proud to be blue’) marketing campaign. The campaign website provided supporters and clubs with flags, downloadable posters and video clips, in addition to Facebook and Twitter covers to show their support for the team. It then encouraged them to share their fan activities on official FFF social media accounts. The website recorded that 2,748 French clubs performed one of the supporter challenges on the site and that promotional materials had been downloaded 8,590 times at the time of writing.

A ‘fiers d’etre bleus’ flag at the French football team’s victory parade on the Champs Elysees the day after their victory in the final. (Photo by Bruno Levesque/IP3/Getty Images)

The FFF drove deeper engagement and gathered more data about these social media followers by inviting fans to register for its mobile app across its platforms. More than 100,000 people downloaded the app, which offered an augmented reality feature, while a further 500,000 registered to play the federation’s “matriochka” (Russian doll) game on Facebook.

Vasseur says the FFF wants to build on this work with clubs and fan groups to improve the atmosphere in the stadium when the French team plays home games in the new Uefa Nations League. One initiative will be to work with supporters to organise tifos (giant choreographed fan murals) before games. The team’s first fixture in the revamped qualification system for the Uefa European Championships was against Germany on 6 September.

Although he doesn’t think the new competition format will have a significant impact on the commercial outlook of the FFF, Vasseur says the federation is working to cultivate deeper relationships with the other large European national football federations to work on dual activations during fixtures. A case in point is the way the FFF collaborated with the Dutch Football Association to organise a match between the French e-football team and its Dutch equivalent at the same time as the Nations League fixture between the two teams on September 9. Long-term, the FFF would also like to schedule fixtures overseas: “I’m not sure it will be possible with the calendar, and we’ll have to work with Uefa, Fifa and other federations to see what we can do,” says Vasseur.

He adds that the recent World Cup victory is a reward for those sponsors that have stuck with the team since its nadir point at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when a player revolt and poor performances damaged the team’s brand.

“We have a long-term strategy with value creation and less sponsors, so we took the decision to turn down some other offers and to stay with big sponsors,” he said. “We have created this long story together and so now they can have the fruits of the work we’ve done together.”

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