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The Champions League Final & American Sponsors

AJ Maestas's picture

The Champions League Final is undeniably one of the most popular sporting events in the world. In 2009, the final match between world club powers Barcelona and Manchester United drew a television audience of 109 million, finally surpassing the Super Bowl in viewers that year by nearly three million people. Ratings analysis indicates the difference in viewership appears to be caused by the fact that the Super Bowl draws its audience from a mainly domestic base, while the Champions League is a continent-wide tournament and accordingly draws fans from a wider audience. Indeed, by nearly all accounts, over 300 million people tuned in globally to watch the Champions League Final in 2012, and there are no signs that this event will slow its growth in the coming years.

Despite the global popularity of this event, American ratings still lag far behind. In 2011, even though the event scored a 3.3 rating in Washington D.C., and a 2.9 rating in Seattle, the Champions League Final scored a measly 1.8 rating across the U.S. despite being available on 100% of U.S. households on a broadcast station. For reference, the typical MLS Cup Final scores a 1.0 rating in the U.S. These poor ratings results, however, have not stopped American based companies from becoming one of the select few Champions League sponsors. Of the eight official sponsors of the UEFA Champions League, two are based in the United States: MasterCard and Ford.

MasterCard has been an official partner of the Champions League since 1994, occupying a unique role as the Official Provider of the UEFA Champions League Player Mascots. Player mascots are the 22 children that typically accompany a player onto the field at the start of a Champions League match. For its 17th season as an official sponsor, MasterCard is highlighting this unique position as provider of the player mascots throughout its activation efforts. MasterCard debuted a series of advertisements during the tournament quarterfinals that depicted the journey of MasterCard helping a young boy to become one of the player mascots. The ads played off of MasterCard’s iconic tagline, “Priceless”. MasterCard head of UK marketing Paul Trueman commented to McCann London that the campaign is, “in line with our global strategy of moving from observing Priceless moments to enabling Priceless experiences … This campaign is a wonderful showcase of … the exclusive opportunities available to all of our cardholders.” These marketing efforts are supported by a separate landing page on MasterCard’s main site, as well as a dedicated Facebook page titled, “Witness History,” to highlight how to enter the contest and engage with other fans about the game and MasterCard as a product. However, it appears as though these efforts are not being utilized in the United States, as the advertisements have been purchased in 20 markets across Europe, but not the U.S. It appears that even though MasterCard is a U.S.-based company, it views the Champions League as a sponsorship that cannot be leveraged in the U.S.

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Similarly, Ford has been the Official Vehicle Supplier for the UEFA Champions League since 1992. In a joint statement with UEFA, Stephen Odell, the chairman and CEO for Ford of Europe said, “This shows how strongly we feel about this partnership… The UEFA Champions League is an ideal platform to connect with millions of consumers around common values … on the ultimate stage and that’s why Ford wants to be part of it.” This year, Ford is leveraging the sponsorship to support the launch of their new vehicle, the Kuga. In a competition dubbed, “Drive to Wembley,” Ford gave away 364 tickets to the final match to contestants hosted on a micro-site dedicated to activating the sponsorship. This competition and sponsorship activation was supported with short, funny, football-inspired video advertisements featuring the Ford Kuga, the iconic Champions League music and twists on classic football scenarios. However, just as with MasterCard’s activation, the competition was only available to fans in 27 European countries and not in the U.S.

The Champions League tournament, and the final in particular, are undoubtedly among the prime targets for global brands to engage with football fans. But it remains to be seen if companies based in America will view their sponsorships as opportunities that extend beyond Europe and back to America. Perhaps ratings in the U.S. need to rise first, but it will be interesting to continue to follow the activation efforts of MasterCard or Ford or any other companies that partner with the Champions League.

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