Will drinks brands suffer at future World Cups?

By Tove Okunniwa and Antony Marcou, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 08 September 2011 09:00AM

Two sports media specialists weigh up the prospects for alcohol brand advertising at the Fifa World Cups in Russia and Qatar.

Antony Marcou and Tove Okunniwa

Antony Marcou and Tove Okunniwa

TOVE OKUNNIWA, MANAGING PARTNER, MEC ACCESS

- Why is alcohol advertising going to be an area of debate for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar?

There was much debate around the last World Cup about the amount of alcohol sponsorship children were exposed to. Russian alcohol consumption is high, and has been described by President Medvedev as a "national disgrace". Qatar, the host in 2022, is more or less dry, although the availability of alcohol within fan zones was discussed within the bid to Fifa.

- What do the brands think about it?

For many consumers, alcohol - particularly beer - consumption is an intrinsic part of the football experience, whether it be at the game, at home or out of home. Any World Cup presents a great opportunity for brands in this sector and this is unlikely to change. The value that brands drive from their association will be global, not restricted to what happens on the ground at the tournament, and defined by how they leverage and activate their partnership to the billions watching.

- Can the media industry provide any solutions?

Apart from the technology developments around in-stadia communications that we'd expect before 2018, there are many solutions on a local level. These range from straight sponsorship of the broadcasts to more sophisticated use of communication and social channels, which is where the battle to reach and engage consumers will be fought.

- Who holds the power - the sports rights holders or the brand owners?

Although the World Cup is a completely unique event, there are other football properties that have a worldwide audience, and which give much more regular contact points for brands such as the Uefa Champions League and the Barclays Premier League. Brands have a choice, both within and outside sponsorship, on how they reach and engage their consumers. Sponsorship rights, though unique in many cases, are only worth as much as a brand will pay for them. On balance, the power may fall on the side of the brand owners but they bear greater risk in the relationship. Ultimately, everyone wins if the property and brand work effectively together and the partnership is successful against their shared objectives.

- Is sponsorship a flexible enough tool in today's complex, fragmented and regulated media world?

What sponsorship provides is a starting point and a means of engaging with consumers via something that they are passionate about. It provides a measure of goodwill, but then it has to be activated, making effective use of the media channels (increasingly, digital) that are most appropriate to the brand and partnership. Sponsorship is a useful tool to engage with business-to-business customers and to motivate and engage staff in a way that few other channels can do. Sponsorship can be very flexible when used creatively and intelligently, particularly when activated locally, but it's not the only option - there are also a number of active, associative methods that a brand can employ.

ANTONY MARCOU, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SPORTS REVOLUTION

- Why is alcohol advertising going to be an area of debate for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar?

The 2022 host nation Qatar is a dry state, while the 2018 host Russia is heavily restricted by a 9pm watershed on TV alcohol advertising. This is a huge issue for alcohol brands, especially beer, which is traditionally the largest category of advertising around any World Cup. As Russia spans nine time zones, this effectively rules out alcohol brands from advertising. Ironically, beer was only classified as alcohol by the Russian government as recently as July.

- What do the brands think about it?

We may still be a few years away, but we are already hearing brands raise their concerns. To them, it's an elephant in the room. You can see why. They can't afford for the World Cup to pass them by. Media consultancies, such as us, are already in discussion with brand owners to discuss their options. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

- Can the media industry provide any solutions?

One solution is to use technology that digitally replaces the pitchside billboard advertising in the live TV broadcast. This means the advertising can be tailored for each territory taking a feed. This Digital Billboard Replacement technique would allow Fifa to be compliant with the laws of the host countries, but give alcohol advertisers the flexibility they need. Social and mobile media could also play a more prominent role. There is a growing focus on connecting with football fans via mobile. This "second screen" medium offers huge opportunities for engaging with football fans, and I expect this to be a major media channel by 2018.

- Who holds the power - the sports rights holders or the brand owners?

This is a wider issue than just alcohol. But given this category is so lucrative for Fifa, you could argue it is a shared problem. Brands sponsor events because their consumers love them. However, the rise of social media and building of communities is definitely moving the power back to brands. A social media forum that has a dialogue with millions allows brands to circumnavigate expensive rights fees. The message from brands to rights holders such as Fifa is: don't forget, we love your audience more than the World Cup itself.

- Is sponsorship a flexible enough tool in today's complex, fragmented and regulated media world?

Sponsorship of sports properties offers great value for brands with a global or a multimarket footprint. The media ROI, even for the Fifa World Cup and the Uefa Champions League, still returns massive efficiencies. But I think brands connecting with major sports events also need a more flexible, tactical and locally tailored alternative. This is where the really exciting media opportunities of the future will lie.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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