The world’s best professional sports tournament has returned and travel brands hope their association with champions will turn into bookings and visits.
The world’s most-watched sports league is now underway, and some of travel’s biggest brands are betting their logos on jerseys and around stadium grounds will translate into success off the field.
Europe’s Champions League will see 32 teams criss-cross the continent from August to June before culminating in the final at Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium. For at least the last decade more global viewers have tuned in to the final than any other single-day sporting event.
There are many successful marketing strategies, but what makes sponsorship deals special is the “emotional connection,” said CEO of Trivago, Axel Hefer. Trivago sponsors Chelsea, an English team that is playing in the Champions League again this year (it won the final in 2021).
When a much-adored sports team is the face behind a brand, the fans associate the brand with their beloved players and the team’s values. According to Hefer, “it is ideal that the sponsorship fits the product,” and football overall fits very well with travel.
“The emotions are very similar. You tend to do it with friends, most of the teams are traveling, and it’s all about building new memories.”
A team’s success has a direct relationship with the amount of exposure the sponsoring brand will receive, so the goal is to be associated with one of the larger football clubs. Chelsea is extremely successful, in fact the year Trivago signed the contract, “Chelsea won the Champions League” said Hefer. Despite this, “success is not necessarily that they win three times or lose three times, it is that we really get this emotional bond with their supporters,” he continued.
Champions League Team Sponsors 2022-23
|Trivago, MSC Cruises
|Visit Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace
|Palladium Hotel Group
|Accor, Visit Qatar, Visit Rwanda, MSC Croisieres
|Solverde Casinos and Hotels
|Curaçao Tourism Board, Sandals Resorts
Not every team has to be Champions League-quality – or even good – to be a smart sponsorship opportunity. Kayak was a sleeve sponsor for Newcastle United during the 2021-2022 season, and their SVP Marketing EMEA & APAC, Per Christiansen, said “the logo helped to connect our brand with sports-loving fans traveling to see the club throughout the season.”
Eyes on the Balls
“The players are like rockstars,” emphasized Asli Pelit, Sports Deals Reporter at Sportico. “So when we are looking at their images or a highlight of a goal they scored, the brand is on top of them and therefore getting a lot of eyeballs on a continuous basis. So, in my opinion, the jersey is the most valuable place to put your brand.”
Trivago’s logo is on Chelsea players’ training kits, which means it is seen “whenever the players are not in an actual match. The team, however, wears the kit during the match, so [head coach Thomas] Tuchel, for example, is seen wearing our kit during the match” said Hefer.
The placement of the logo is really impactful and “they all have different price points,” said Pelit. Separate from the jersey or the kit, brands often aim to get their name on the LED boards around the stadium which is hard for the fans to miss. An even further step is paying for stadium naming rights. The stadium for Manchester City, which is majority owned by an Abu Dhabi investment vehicle, is named for the Etihad flag carrier. The English football club Arsenal, which last qualified for the Champions League in 2015-16, sold stadium naming rights to regional rival Emirates, which also is a jersey sponsor of the much more successful French Ligue 1 Paris Saint-Germain team.
But with the exception of German teams, stadium naming rights are not as common in Europe. A 2019 study by Duff & Phillips, a financial consultancy firm, said ”it appears that the world’s largest brands seem to underinvest in stadium naming rights compared to other sports in the U.S.”
Teams need the sponsorship money. According to Pelit, “Europe ticket sales really cannot provide the kind of financial needs that big clubs have. A player costs $40 to $100 million, which means that if you want to keep your brand on the team you have to spend a lot of money. Every team needs rich brands to survive in European soccer.” That need for cash drove beleaguered Barcelona to sell stadium naming rights to Spotify in a four-year, $310 million deal.
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Photo credit: Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior celebrates scoring their first goal in the 2022 Champions League Final. Molly Darlington / Reuters