Mental light bulb

On that marvellous orange stand in Zandvoort I knew it for sure: the end is in sight. We can stand shoulder to shoulder and cheer in the name of sport. That's something I'd really missed, the incredible sense of togetherness experienced by enthusiastic massed fans at a glittering sporting spectacle, such as the Dutch GP. Let this be the starting signal for more full stands and stadiums.

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I hope that sponsors share my sense of hopefulness and we see many great new partnerships arise in the near future. On the day I find myself writing this column, UEFA has already found a new partner for both the Europa League and the Conference League in betting brand bwin. It is not the only brand that is associated with more than one UEFA platform. Think of Heineken and Just Eat Takeaway, both visible in pretty much all UEFA competitions. I often get asked whether there is any point to that. You can reach all football fans by sponsoring a single large-scale football tournament. So why bother sponsoring the Conference League as well as the Europa League?

The football world is saturated with sponsors. The number of brands associated with international football is so vast that it is increasingly difficult for sponsors to stand out from the crowd. In order to secure a return on the investment you'll have to ensure, first and foremost, that consumers associate your brand with the sponsorship. That is to say: when a football fan is standing in the beer aisle in the supermarket, he needs to have a good feeling about Heineken due to the association with football. That increases the probability that he will, after all, put the six-pack of Heineken in his basket.

But it's not that easy to create an association of this kind. It takes time, costly marketing activities and a lot of perseverance. The situation is made more complex by a tangle of brands each trying to achieve precisely the same end: linking their brand to football. And no less complex if the brands in question all fall into the same category. I often ask sponsor managers who make light of this (after all, the rights holder has dazzled them with the enormous exposure value to be had from a competition like the Champions League) whether they can tell me which car manufacturer sponsors the Football World Cup. Easy, right? Alas, no.

If the experts in our field of work can't even remember that, how can we expect consumers to store the link between KIA (or Hyundai) and the World Cup in their brain without running into problems? The best example, perhaps, is that of Coca-Cola and Pepsi, two brands that are each other's sole competitor in the cola category. Our Champions League market research results show that Coca-Cola is consistently associated by one third of the audience with the UEFA Champions League. And yet Coca-Cola has never sponsored that competition...

So how do you get consumers to make the connection with your brand in their heads? A wide portfolio can be of assistance with this. You could view the association between a brand and the sponsorship as a mental 'light bulb'. The greater the number of different moments there are at which football fans see a brand within the context of the sponsorship, the brighter that mental light bulb will shine. So the Conference League, over and above the Europa League, can help bwin to increase the chance of football fans actually saving the connection between the brand and football on their 'hard drive'.

The ultimate goal is for consumers to opt for your brand, rather than that of your competitor, thanks to the association with the sport in question. For that reason, it is at least as interesting to understand how strong a link competing brands have with the sponsorship. Most certainly in product categories that have a tradition of being active in sponsoring (all those beer and automotive industry brands in football, for instance). Heineken's recent expansion of UEFA partnerships, for example, primarily means that Budweiser doesn't get that opportunity. A win-win for our mental light bulb, the link between Heineken and football.

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