‘Football is overcrowded’ says Heineken as it toasts 27 years of sponsoring rugby

Having announced an extension to its 27-year association with rugby, Heineken says the sport appeals as it is less cluttered by brands.

With football growing richer every year, Heineken has described the sport as “totally overcrowded” from a sponsorship standpoint.

Last week, the beer brand renewed its 27-year association with rugby after announcing its headline sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup 2019, which will be held in Japan. And Heineken’s global sponsorship director Hans Erik Tuijt says both the success of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the fact rugby has been added to the Olympics has expanded the sport to a larger international audience.

He tells Marketing Week: “Perhaps the English perspective is rugby has a very particular middle class fan but the audience [coming off RWC 2015) is now a lot broader. It is now talked about a lot in markets such as Asia and America.

“Our next step is to really make rugby mobile first when it comes to our marketing and in 2019 we want to use mobile to create unexpected ways to show highlights to consumers across the world.”

When talking to Tuijt you sense he feels football is becoming a much harder property to navigate for mainstream brands. Heineken has been aligned with the UEFA Champions League since 1995 and as you’d expect, Tuijt describes it as a “fantastic” partnership.

However, when comparing rugby with football, he concedes the latter is becoming more and more cluttered.

“Football is totally overcrowded. If you take FIFA World Cup, for example, there’s far too many brands associating themselves directly. It is difficult to cut through whereas you don’t have that as much with rugby,” he explains.

“Yes, some of our rivals sponsor rugby teams but it’s not as widespread as football and is less cluttered. As a result, there’s more of a unique chance to make the most out of on and off promotions to sell beer to consumers.”

Due to the unstoppable growth of football, he believes many brands become sponsors even though their connection to the sport is questionable. He says Heineken’s insistence on long-term sponsorship deals, which involve directly investing into the grassroots of sports such as rugby, is becoming more of a rarity.

He concludes: “Ad agencies have a responsibility to be more creative and ensure a partnership is long-lasting. I don’t believe in brands that step in, step out and then go. Wallpaper sponsoring doesn’t make any sense financially. If you want to succeed by aligning yourself with a sport it needs to be a long-term focus and something you build up or people will see through it.”

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