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Pepsi sponsorship chief Warner says revamped Champions League delivered ‘comparable value’

Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain in the final of the men's Champions League. (Julian Finney - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images).

  • Warner commends Uefa for finding ‘alternative sources of value’
  • Brand has expanded Uefa rights to include women’s national and club competitions
  • Says larger deal provides brand with ‘always-on’ marketing opportunities

PepsiCo’s senior director for global sports marketing, Adam Warner, has said this season’s reformatted Uefa Champions League delivered ‘comparable value’ for the soft drinks giant, in spite of there being fewer matches and no spectators allowed during the closing rounds of the competition.

The Covid-19 pandemic forced Uefa to conclude its premier club event behind closed doors in Portugal during the month of August, with straight knockout matches introduced instead of the traditional two-legged affairs.

Speaking exclusively to SportBusiness, Warner said: “I think we’ve seen comparable value; it was clearly a very different shape of tournament that we’ve had to adapt to this year versus previous years. But I think there’s been comparable value and we certainly see some benefits in that concentrated nature of the tournament through August.

“Undoubtedly we lost a chunk of value from not having the second legs of the quarter-finals and the semi-finals,” he said. “What I can say is that they [Uefa] were very collaborative in finding different sources of value for us across many different touchpoints – whether that’s in stadia or through more digital and social channels.”

PepsiCo began sponsoring the Uefa Champions League five years ago, prior to the 2015-16 season of the competition, and has used the platform to promote its snack brand Lay’s alongside its Gatorade, Pepsi Max and Pepsi beverages. Rival brand Coca-Cola sponsors the Uefa Men’s Euros and has a sponsorship deal with Fifa that includes the sponsorship rights to all of its global competitions, including the Men and Women’s Fifa World Cups.

“One of the unique characteristics of the Champions League is that it’s almost an always-on property that operates nine to 10 months of every year versus some other major sporting properties which are several weeks, every four years,” said Warner. “That’s highly attractive for us in terms of engaging with fans, partnering with our customers in an ongoing fashion and it creates ongoing value for us.”

Adam Warner, senior director for global sports marketing, PepsiCo.

Women’s football

The soft drinks firm recently expanded the deal with Uefa to include the governing body’s major women’s club and national team competitions until 2025. This means it now sponsors the Uefa Women’s Euros and the Uefa Women’s Champions League to sit alongside the Men’s Champions League.

The deal made PepsiCo the first brand to unify the men’s and women’s Champions League after Uefa unbundled the main sponsorship rights in 2018.

The appeal of the Women’s Champions League has been helped by the fact that the European governing body will also centralise the sponsorship rights to the competition from the quarter-final stage onwards, starting in the 2021-22 season. Previously the commercial rights to matches up to and including the semi-finals have been sold directly by competing clubs.

Under the terms of the deal, PepsiCo will only have sponsorship and pouring rights at the final of the 2020-21 Women’s Champions League – the first year of the deal – before the commercial inventory is expanded next year. The sponsorship rights to the Women’s Euros include sponsorship and pouring rights at all matches.

Warner said women’s football was beginning to provide a tangible return on investment and the brand wasn’t simply aligning itself with the game to promote a social purpose.

“I think there’s broad value it really provides to us – it’s really reaching scale now,” he said. “I think it’s been at scale actually longer than people realise – even before the [Fifa] World Cup in the summer of 2019, which was definitely a key moment for that side of the game. There were attendance records being broken throughout different parts of the world, [but] undoubtedly the summer of 2019 took a big stride forward.

“I think one of the reasons that a lot of bands are increasingly attracted to the women’s game is it is more accessible. It’s very interesting for us in terms of our portfolio of sponsorship, to think about how we create diverse experiences for fans across different parts of the year and across different years. And accessibility is a key difference versus the men’s game.”

The 2020 Uefa Women’s Champions League semi-final between VfL Wolfsburg and FC Barcelona in San Sebastian. (Photo by Alejandro Rios/DeFodi Images via Getty Images).

National team rights

Asked whether there was greater value in the national or club competition rights, Warner appeared to be most excited about the package of rights around the Women’s Euros, which will next take place in England in 2022.

“Undoubtedly the national side of the game is also very valuable to us. I think, given where women’s football is at, the national game is the entry point for many fans into women’s football. If you think about the opportunities the Women’s Euros side of the sponsorship package provide to us, particularly for the key tentpole being the Women’s Euros in England in 2022, that’s very attractive to us and presents a great opportunity for us to work towards.”

He added that the brand has plans to create ‘integrated’ campaigns across the men and women’s Champions League during the first half of next year, and also ‘dedicated activations’ that seek to develop the women’s game. The drinks company will also seek to sign more deals with individual players like the one it already has with Barcelona and Holland international Lieke Martens.

“This is a way for us to broaden our footprint within football and women’s football is an increasingly important part of that – albeit you have to recognize actually that women’s football does have its own distinct identity,” he said.

“On the one hand there’s a lot of overlap in the audience but there are also incremental audiences, new audiences, for us – it’s more female, it’s more families. From a demographic point of view, that is a difference.”

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