This past Saturday, German football powerhouses Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich clashed in what is characterized as ‘the game of the year’ in European club football (soccer), i.e. the UEFA Champions League final at the legendary Wembley Stadium in London. The game marked the first time when two German teams faced each other in the UEFA Champions League final. That fact along with prior controversies between the two German top teams sat the tone for an intense rivalry with the potential to bring German club soccer back to (at least from a short-term angle) a ‘top of mind’ position among football fans worldwide. So why do I expect this development?
Simply, ever since its establishment in the early 1990s the UEFA Champions League, and especially its culmination exemplified by means of the final, has demonstrated that it facilitates the need to successfully market the game of football to substantial amounts of football fans via live-experiences, television and other types of media exposure and WOM and eWOM communication. Sponsors and advertisers are fully aware of this development and they do not ‘sit tight’ but are cognitive to exploit the commercial opportunities linked to the event. Many corporate giants, e.g. Adidas and Heineken, embody various and advanced communication and branding strategies to break through to football fans. For instance, it has become more popular than ever to supplement traditional media with real-time marketing and co-branding initiatives in order to take advantage of the tournament’s global potential. Adidas incorporates many activities on Twitter and Facebook to add an extra dimension to its sponsorship activation strategy. Over the years, the final’s global appeal has continued to grow. Although this year’s final was an all-German event, hundreds of millions of fans worldwide tuned in to enjoy the world’s most-watched annual sporting event on TV and social media platforms (UEFA, 2013).
According to UEFA, the game was shown in more than 200 countries in front of an expected global audience of 150 million and an anticipated global unique reach of more than 360 million viewers. In Germany alone, the final reached a climax of 23.78 million (average 22.5 million) viewers, which marks a record for a UEFA Champions League game in the country. So far, the tournament has led to the top 3 most-watched broadcasts in Germany in 2013 (Bayern Munich’s away game in the semi-final against FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund’s semi-final at home against Real Madrid and then of course the final).
This gigantic audience is a huge pulling power for UEFA in terms of the competition’s attractiveness for brands. UEFA is expected to make commercial revenues from this year’s competition and the Super Cup reaching well beyond the €1bn mark, which is a significant increase compared to last year. Brands are willing to pay huge amounts for advertising slots in relation to the game and that adds to the commercial cycle of the final and marks a parallel to another sports mega-event, i.e. the Super Bowl. The fact that UEFA moved the final to become a ‘Saturday event’ will probably be beneficial in terms of driving commercialization even further. On top of that, social media content is also focused around the UEFA Champions League final and sponsors such as Adidas put together a team of marketing employees with the aim to create activities connected to Saturday’s final. Such activities display a well-thought strategy of sponsors to prevent their outcome from being cannibalized by actions from non-sponsors trying to engage in online campaigns reminding of ‘ambush marketing’. As written earlier on this site, Heineken created sponsorship activation underlining the importance of ‘engagement’ and the fact that the process of sports branding reflects a situation where fans share specific signs, symbols, practices and experiences. Heineken’s ‘Champions League Trophy‘ and ‘The Road to the Final’ campaigns are examples of this way to perceive sports branding. Fans are given the chance to share their experiences online.
The social media development around this year’s UEFA Champions League competition is no wonder. There is increased competition to reach football fans and to create effective campaigns. In that regard, brands must show innovative ways of implementing technology and social media to increase shared and motivating fan experiences around the game.
From the perspective of UEFA, the UEFA Champions League tournament is a key product when attracting people to www.uefa.com. UEFA has experienced a 13% year-on-year growth rate in visits and 25% in visitors to the tournament’s web site.
Important engagement factors during final week included (UEFA, 2013):
• “4.8m tweets referring to the final, the teams and the players from 90 minutes before kick-off until 30 minutes after, with a peak of 117,601 tweets per minute after the final whistle was blown.”
• “Around 190,000 uses (150,824 on final day) of UEFA’s chosen hashtag, #UCLfinal, which was adopted by both finalists, with monitoring carried out by never.no.”
• “The first European integration of a live stream and Google+ hangout for the Ultimate Champions match.”
• “4 million people have either +1’d or followed the UEFA.com Google+ page – an increase of 3.7 million since the 2012 final.”
• “175,000+ new Facebook likes, including a UEFA record 200,000 likes for a single post on Saturday, pushing the total number of supporters on the official UEFA Champions League page close to 9 million.”
• “85,000 interactions using RFID (touch-in) technology at the UEFA Champions Festival from 13,000 registered cards.”
As I reveal in this post, many stakeholders engage in activities surrounding the UEFA Champions League. The fact that the two German teams reached the final is a strong benefit for their pursuits to draw more people to their fan bases. Bayern Munich has been in 3 out of the last 4 finals and that is a significant development. Every time a club is exposed at the highest stage in European club football, i.e. the UEFA Champions League final, it means that the club is associated with lots of media and other forms of exposure and thus becomes strongly positioned in the minds of football fans worldwide. Fans are attracted by the way that these two teams have played this season. Bayern Munich has been extremely strong in all competitions this year and Borussia Dortmund has surprised many fans this year through solid performances in the UEFA Champions League displaying a modern and offensive style of football.
UEFA. 2013. See more.