HomeSponsorship & MarketingFootball

Heineken calls for Uefa to ‘nurture’ sponsors with more free-to-air Champions League coverage

  • Brand sponsors events rather than teams or individuals because it doesn’t want to make connection between alcohol and sporting performance
  • Heineken planning Champions League final watch parties around the world
  • Small number of Champions League sponsors helps brand to amplify its messages

Champions League sponsor Heineken has renewed calls for Uefa to make the competition more widely available on free-to-air television to ‘nurture’ its eight official sponsors and give them more brand exposure.

In recent years the governing body has favoured pay-television broadcasters in its media rights negotiations and is now behind a paywall in the top five European television markets. Although this has delivered increased revenues, it has also limited audiences for the showpiece club event.

“As a marketeer I think you have a brand and you need to nurture that brand,” Heineken director of global sponsorships, Hans Erik Tuijt, tells SportBusiness.

“You need to make sure that you have broad reach. I understand that the world is moving on, but I still believe getting the right balance between broad reach and income is something that you need to have. Otherwise the last viewer is going to pay for everything, and I don’t think that’s the right thing for the sport, nor for the sponsors.”

Tuijt thinks it is “too soon to say” if the smaller television audiences are having an impact on Heineken’s association with the event and questions whether the growing social footprint of the tournament will help to compensate brands for any shortfall.

“Is social making up for the loss of viewing? I don’t have the answer; we’ll have to see in that area,” he says. “We have concerns, we’re looking at it, we’re working through it. For example, in Brazil Facebook has the rights to the Champions League and there’s still some work to be done to get that back to the [audience] levels we are used to. There are definitely challenges, let there be no misunderstanding.”

Heineken ambassador Carles Puyol (R) and former Nigerian midfielder Jay Jay Okocha pictured as the Uefa Champions League trophy tour stops in Nigeria.

Heineken International is in the first year of a new three-year deal, from 2018-19 to 2020-21, to be an Official Partner of the Uefa Champions league. The drinks brand is one of the competition’s longest serving sponsors and celebrates a 25-year association with the event this year. Between 1994 and 2005 it supported the competition through its Amstel lager brand before its flagship Heineken product took over.

The company seeks to engage with audiences around the globe through their passion points – music, sports and film. Aside from football, it sponsors Formula One, the Rugby World Cup and will partner with the forthcoming James Bond movie.

Events rather than teams

Heineken sponsors events rather than teams or individuals because it doesn’t want to make a connection between alcohol and sporting performance. “There’s nothing wrong with fans watching football and having a nice Heineken, so our activations are always around events and fans getting together,” says Tuijt.

For this year’s Champions League final, the brand will activate its sponsorship rights by offering fans opportunities to watch the ‘unmissable’ event during a ‘green month’ of promotions in pubs, bars and supermarkets. It is estimated Heineken will have point-of-sale promotions in 20,000 supermarkets worldwide offering opportunities to win tickets for the final. For 2019 it will give away an additional 16 tickets to consumers in Germany through the Kaufland supermarket chain.

The brand will also activate alongside the other eight event partners at the Champions League Festival, a four-day event across four venues in Madrid. Heineken is also the presenting partner of the Champions League trophy tour and will organise watch parties for fans outside of Spain, including large events in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the favourable time zone allows for concurrent evening events.

“In the Congo we have a viewing party of 8,000 people,” says Tuijt. “We claim the final is unmissable and so we really try to make sure people don’t miss the final and have a great viewing experience around the world.”

Champions League sponsors have come under pressure from supporter groups to release a greater share of tickets after it emerged that fans from the two finalists, Liverpool and Tottenham, have only been allocated 17,000 seats each out of the 68,000 capacity in the Wanda Metropolitano host venue.

“The final is never big enough,” says Tuijt. “If you do it for 100,000 people you will still have a shortage. Maybe we should look at live viewing events in the cities that are participating. If you had a 100,000-capacity stadium, you’d have the same problem as if you had a 200,000-capacity stadium.”

Beer ban

Those fans who do make it to the Wanda Metropolitano will not be able to enjoy the official beer owing to a Spanish law which forbids the serving of alcohol at sports events.

“We do have pouring rights in the stadium but as it is in Spain, we will be serving Heineken 0.0 [the company’s alcohol-free beer] to fans,” says Tuijt.

Digital activations are playing an increasingly important role in Heineken’s partnership with Uefa. It will send a creative unit and media buying and digital execution teams to the final so that it can respond instantaneously to the digital conversation around the match.

“It is important that you are digitally present when it matters, and so we need to talk about the Champions League in the few days around the Champions League and produce content around that,” says Tuijt. “The Champions League final is one of the big digital conversations around the world, so we want to make sure Heineken is part of this conversation.”

For all of the concerns about the diminished reach of the tournament on pay television, Tuijt feels that the Champions League remains a powerful sponsorship platform.

“What I like about the Champions League is that it has only eight brands that activate against it. It is one of the tournaments with the smallest number of sponsors.

“We enjoy the branding on the pitch. The nice thing about the Champions League is that you get the break bumpers as part of the package as well – that’s in-programme advertisement, match bumpers and that helps. But more importantly, next to that, there’s all the activities in Madrid, the Champions Festival and we have of course the right to bring it to life.”

Most recent

What previously were just MLB practice sessions unseen by fans have become an important source of content for clubs and their regional sports networks, and have helped broadcast production crews prepare for the regular season

Abu Dhabi is using UFC's 'Fight Island' as a pilot project to determine if it can expand the event's 'safety bubble' model to include spectators. SportBusiness speaks to Ali Hassan Al Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the city's Department of Culture and Tourism.

Tom King looks at how China is getting its sporting calendar back on track, and how the global health crisis has affected some of the weaker industry players in the country.

The Abu Dhabi government has turned the majority of Yas Island into a ten-square-mile safe zone just for the UFC, with each of the 2,500 people on site being tested for Covid-19 on five separate occasions during their stay.