UEFA engages Nike in guerilla warfare

Euro 2000’s marketing agency has drawn up ‘exclusion zones’ around stadiums to protect official sponsors’ interests.

Many fear that last week’s battles between English and Turkish fans will be repeated at next month’s Uefa Euro 2000 championships, as well-orchestrated gangs plot open warfare.

But the one clash that is guaranteed is between two of the world’s biggest sports companies, as Uefa’s marketing agency ISL Worldwide tries to prevent arch-enemy Nike from ambushing Europe’s top football event.

First blood has already gone to the Swiss agency, which has taken the unprecedented step of drawing up “exclusion zones” of between one and three kilometres around each stadium by buying all outdoor media sites for its official sponsors (MW last week). And it has been liaising with the local councils of host towns and cities in Holland and Belgium, urging them not to approve other media activities.

It hasn’t stopped there – ISL has snapped up all the TV sponsorship packages across Europe and at least one 30-second ad during each broadcast of the tournament.

An ISL spokesman says: “We know Nike has had a dedicated team working on Euro 2000 projects for months. We’ve been working closely with host cities to ensure ambush proposals are not approved.”

CDP Media, the UK media agency behind the deals, has been working on the strategy for years. Deputy managing director Peter Thompson negotiated the first deal in November 1997.

These steps are part of a drastic strategy to ring-fence Holland and Belgium – ISL-owned Copyright Promotions Licensing Group also has representatives at the port of Rotterdam to block counterfeit Euro 2000 merchandise.

They are also a response to Nike’s highly effective ambush tactics, which have seen it claim “ownership” of high-profile football events without spending a single penny on “official partnerships”. At Euro 96, for instance, the company took everyone by surprise by buying up all the poster sites around Wembley Park Tube station to promote its brand and by obtaining planning permission for special outdoor sites.

Nike achieved even greater success at France 98, by buying huge swathes of outdoor media and by running a high profile ad campaign featuring the favourites and then reigning world champions Brazil, which it also happens to sponsor.

The company went so far as to exert its influence on the pitch, even, if some reports are to be believed, forcing the Brazilians to field superstar Ronaldo although he was suffering from nervous exhaustion.

But, more significantly, ISL is reacting to a barrage of complaints from the official sponsors of Euro 96 and World Cup 98 – the likes of Reebok, McDonald’s, JVC and Philips – about Nike’s activities.

These official partners have paid up to &£8m each to sponsor Euro 2000, and at least the same amount again promoting their involvement.

Yet Nike, which practically invented guerilla marketing, is unlikely to take the reverse lying down. It has always made a point of trying to ambush high-profile sports events, although late last year it became an official Olympics sponsor, following Reebok’s dispute with the Sydney Olympic Games.

At Euro 2000, the global sportswear giant is planning a widescale offensive and is understood to be spending more than $10m (&£6m) alone in host city Amsterdam, which is very close to its European headquarters in Hilversum.

The company, which refuses to comment on its strategy, is known to have rented a football ground in Amsterdam to run a Nike Park tournament. Its plans also include a fleet of Nike-branded vehicles, giant building posters and street activities. It is likely to exploit its sponsorship of the Dutch national team by using star players such as Patrick Kluivert in its advertising.

One sports marketing agency director comments: “This tournament is taking place on Nike’s European territory and it will have extensive local knowledge about what appeals to people across the region.

“Nike already has a massive following among sports fans, who admire its rebellious image. There is unlikely to be a better opportunity for it to strike a chord with football supporters.”

So will these exclusion zones block out all activities? ISL head of marketing Nicolas Hale-Woods is realistic about its chances. He says: “We will never be able to completely stamp out ambush marketing because it is very trendy, but these measures will definitely help to protect our sponsors.”

Yet he warns: “We must do all we can to eradicate guerrilla tactics because they threaten to destroy all top events. After all, what would be the incentive to become an official partner if companies can simply buy up all the media near stadiums independently?”

Many observers believe ambush marketing is likely to get even harder. Countries bidding to stage events like the World Cup and the Olympics increasingly have to guarantee “clean cities”, free of conflicting advertising.

With government reputations and hundreds of millions of pounds staked on winning the right to host these events – just consider England’s high-profile bid to host World Cup 2006 – Nike may soon find life too tough outside Uefa and Fifa’s family and be forced to follow its Olympics deal by joining football’s official partners.

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