The success of last weekend’s 'Wembley Cup with EE', the third annual exhibition match between two YouTuber tribes, with a few football legends thrown in, presents an interesting problem for the event’s title sponsors and organisers, the UK network operator EE.
EE signed its six-year partnership deal with the iconic venue back in 2014 and has invested millions of pounds into Wembley’s network infrastructure, while benefiting from dominant branding on the outside of stadium.
But when it comes to renewal talks in the lead up to 2020, the success of the brand-owned Wembley Cup activation will surely have to be factored in along with the advertising and technology showcase benefits.
Saturday’s match was a marketer’s dream: a crowd of more than 30,000 people, dominated by the YouTuber fan demographic of young teens, paid £15 each (or £10 each for EE customers) for admission, with many buying Wembley Cup shirts in EE’s corporate colours along the way. All the while exposed to the ubiquitous EE branding that only a sponsor-as-event-owner can muster.
This year’s Wembley Cup upped the ante on the previous edition with the invitation of the F2 Freestylers, the YouTube ball artists with a following of more than 6m subscribers.
The duo’s team called ‘Tekkers Town’ included YouTube stars with six and seven-figure subscriber bases, and was up against ‘Hashtag United’, a bunch of skillful 20-something friends of YouTuber Spencer FC, who has around 2m subscribers.
As a guest of EE, I went with my family, including my two young boys, aged seven and 10, to see if the atmosphere lived up to the hype. From the comfort of the EE hospitality box, the only Wembley box in action on the day, it most certainly did.
Bearing in mind this a confected event with marketing aims at its heart, the reaction of the crowd to former players and YouTubers alike felt authentic.
As the responsible adult, it was great to see how the likes of former England stars Steven Gerrard, Emile Heskey, Robbie Fowler and David James performed with and against the YouTubers, but watching F2 Freestyler Jeremy Lynch in match action (his side-kick Billy Wingrove was injured) and some of the YouTubers who are part of my 10-year old’s after-school entertainment, also held a kind of fascination.
For the youngsters at the match, while the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Gerrard’s entrance onto the pitch, the YouTubers are heroes in their own right. Some had gone through a selection process for the match, recorded on YouTube, but others were invited primarily for their fame and YouTube numbers.
From an activation perspective, EE covered all the bases. Wembley’s pitch-side LED signage was devoted to EE branding and messages for ‘Free Data Boosts’, which chimed with the language used for the many player substitutions at the Wembley Cup, which were announced over the public address system as 'boosts’. There was also some LED time given to Nike’s Mercurial boot range (more money for EE?)
The match programme was cleverly produced on laminated cards that hung from lanyards. These not only looked good but left the kids hands-free to text and message from the event.
I learned that earlier in the day EE employees had taken part in men’s and women’s matches on the Wembley turf, the players selected via a social media-based skills competition. Whichever way you look at, it will be tough for EE to give this up.
So EE may have a problem. If the 2018 Wembley Cup attracts even more fans and takes on a life of its own, can EE really pull the plug in 2020? Or has the activation actually become more important than the stadium deal itself?