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Branding still key to Veolia in Lyon’s green revolution

(Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Branding will continue to play a major role in French utility company Veolia’s sponsorship of Ligue 1 club Olympique de Lyonnais, despite its new designation as ‘Environmental Partner’ from 2020-21 to 2021-22.

The French multi-national will take on the new designation after ten years as the club’s main shirt sponsor in European competition.

During that time, the club qualified for the Champions League group stages on five occasions – in 2011-12, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2018-19 and 2019-20. Korean car brand Hyundai held the shirt sponsorship rights in domestic league competition for most of the period, from 2012-13 to 2019-20.

Last year, Veolia agreed a one-year extension to its shirt deal, covering the 2019-20 season, and the terms of the two-year environmental partnership to follow.

The new agreement is thought to be in a similar price range to this final-year deal, which was worth between €1m ($1.1m) and €3m.

Dubai state carrier Emirates will take over the club’s main shirt rights for all men’s team competitions next season, under a five-season deal from 2020-21 to 2024-25.

Branding rights

Under the new deal, Veolia will receive branding on the shirt sleeves of OL’s women’s team, the champions of Europe for the last four seasons.

Cyrille Groll, director, sales and business development at OL Groupe, told SportBusiness that the investment in women’s sport was important to Veolia from a CSR perspective, but that branding is “still key” for Veolia with the Olympique Lyonnais Féminin sleeve sponsorship an important part of the partnership.

The new deal will also provide important visibility in association with the men’s team.

Veolia will receive eight minutes of LED perimeter advertising coverage during men’s team home matches at the Groupama Stadium. This will put the brand in the top five of sponsors for LED-time from next season, along with Emirates, Groupama, kit supplier adidas and real estate developer Alila, which has a long association with the club. Groupama is still in negotiations to extend its naming rights deal beyond 2019-20.

Groll said: “Veolia is not only present in the city of Lyon but has a national footprint – as well as an international footprint. The visibility on the European jersey will not exist anymore, but Veolia will still use the stadium LED system to communicate messages around its environmental partnership.”

The Veolia brand will also be visible on interview backdrops after home matches, he said.

Beyond the European market, the Veolia logo will be present on the training kit of the club’s academies in six countries, including four academies in China and one each in Brazil, Korea, Lebanon, Senegal and Vietnam. In some cases, these mirror Veolia’s own employee training campuses, which include bases in France, China, Korea and West Africa.

The club’s academy teams will wear Veolia-branded training t-shirts made of recycled plastic, created in partnership with adidas, as part of the environmental programme. These t-shirts will also be sold to the public via OL’s retail outlets.

The training kit of OL’s professional teams will not be included in the deal, but Veolia and the club will consider extending the deal to these areas in future.

(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Making the deal

The sponsorship’s environmental angle was defined following extensive discussions between the club and various departments of the utility company, led by Laurent Obadia, director of communications for Veolia Environnement. No agencies were involved.

Groll said: “We worked with different experts at Veolia to fine-tune their strategy. This not only explored environmental objectives, but closely aligned with HR programmes that are very important to them.”

Obadia told SportBusiness that the company would not take up branding rights with any sports property unless the company was involved in areas of improvement around waste management, recycling and reduction in carbon footprint.

Veolia, he said, is “not a strong brand like Coca-Cola” but is deeply connected to the communities, regions and cities in which it operates.

The OL deal aims to reduce the club’s carbon footprint, reduce the use of plastic inside the stadium and promote tap water as the most secure and environmentally-friendly way of drinking water.

The environmental programme will see the two organisations raise awareness about the environment on the club app and use publicity campaigns to encourage spectators to adopt more responsible behaviour on waste sorting and water and energy conservation.

Human resources

The company is also rolling out human resources-led programmes in partnership with the club.

Veolia chief executive Antoine Frérot wants to encourage the promotion of women within the company on a global basis, and the career development of all employees, who typically stay with the company long-term.

Addressing these issues, the sponsorship includes naming partner rights to the ‘Corporate Employment Centre in partnership with Veolia’.

The start-up project is part of the CSR strategy developed by OL Foundation, in partnership with public and private agencies, to ensure equality of employment opportunities.

Located in the OL Park which surrounds the stadium, the venture acts as free recruitment agency for companies by connecting recruiters and candidates.