There’s no one sporting event in the world as widely watched as the World Cup, with the 2014 tournament clocking 3.2 billion total viewers. No doubt, these numbers are extremely valuable to brands and marketers that jump on every opportunity to relay their messaging in creative ways.
“Sport is the ultimate social currency and the World Cup, unlike a lot of other football tournaments, is not just an event that targets football fans. It’s a global event,” says Khushil Vaswani, vice president, sports lead, Weber Shandwick.
“Brands can look at the World Cup from an awareness perspective, from an engagement perspective, use it to educate and demonstrate products, or to run retail promotions. There’s no end, really.”
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Sponsorship is one obvious way to capitalise on the football fever, but Vaswani says that not all brands want to blow money on a premium proposition if it doesn’t fit into their messaging.
“The important thing is that they spend the right resources to activate. Gone are the days where brands are happy with just having their logo on a jersey,” he says. “The World Cup has the ability to really engage with audiences and this allows brands to really deliver messages to very passionate, excited and interested audiences.”
Each sponsorship package is not like the other, with brands seeking new ways to engage with fans. For example, Coca-Cola ran a pre-event competition to select young, amateur football players to act as ball boys and ball girls in official matches.
Another example is Budweiser – the official beer of the World Cup – that released limited edition beer bottles in China in the colours of various national teams. Among other efforts, the brand also launched noise-activated World Cup packs complemented by a two-hour delivery service and sponsored a “Man of the Match” segment where social media users can vote for their favourite player.
For brands that aren’t official sponsors, it gets a little tricky as any mention of the World Cup is disallowed in their marketing collaterals. For instance, Beats Electronics was in hot water in 2014 for its “guerrilla marketing” stint when it gifted headphones to footballers while not an official sponsor.
A common route is to partner up with footballers and teams, or to buy broadcast rights. In Malaysia, budget airline AirAsia teamed up with state TV network RTM to sponsor the live broadcast of World Cup matches.
Rudy Khaw, group head of branding, AirAsia, told CEI that “the deal is not about AirAsia”, but about bringing football to Malaysians for free. News flash: The deal is very much about AirAsia.
Less directly, Microsoft jumped on the football bandwagon by teaming up with social media partners to provide fans with a list of nearby bars on its search platform. This proved especially relevant at a time when second screens are a given.
The China effect
This year, seven of the 19 private sponsors are Chinese, a record for China. “The World Cup is very popular in China even though we are not playing,” says Shoto Zhu, founder and CEO, Oceans Sports & Entertainment. His company helped to sign on Argentinian player Lionel Messi as an ambassador for Chinese dairy company and official World Cup sponsor Mengniu Dairy.
“One fifth or 20% of [total global] viewers are from China. No matter how big the time difference is, Chinese viewers will still watch matches," he says.
Zhu added that the increase in Chinese sponsors says more about the brands than it does about Chinese football fans. While the 20% viewership has been a mainstay for China, the difference is that “Chinese brands are more ready to go out into the international market” compared to four years ago.
Chinese smartphone company Vivo signed a six-year partnership with FIFA, which includes the 2022 World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup.
“Sponsoring the World Cup makes sense for us as it will help us reach our target audience of passionate young people around the world, raise brand awareness, and aid our progressive expansion across the international market,” says Michael Chang, brand director, international business, Vivo.
“Sponsorships with major sporting events and leagues have contributed to our growth in China and aided our global expansion.”
One of the ways the brand is leveraging its position as a sponsor is the Vivo SuperFan photographers programme that will recruit 128 fans to document World Cup moments via close-up access to players and matches.
Ahead of each match, the chosen photographers will be provided with a Vivo smartphone and given exclusive pitch-side access to capture content such as pre-match warm-ups to share publicly.
“The World Cup is one of the most prestigious events in China, so it’s something brands want to be associated with,” says Zhu. “It’s a very good platform for Chinese brands because it shows that your company is big or credible enough to become a sponsor.”
On whether this newfound reach will resonate with brands in other parts of Asia, Weber Shandwick’s Vaswani is optimistic about it being a matter of time.
“Look at the English Premier League for instance. Maybe 10 or 12 years ago, you had a lot of sponsors that were British or Europe-based. But in the last couple of years, you have brands in Southeast Asia getting more involved with sponsorships like Chang Beer and King Power,” he says.
“Brands in this part of the world are definitely recognising the value of working with sporting events.”