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Mon 12 Jul 2010 02:54 PM

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It's game on for Emirates

The World Cup is over but FIFA partner Emirates Airline has a lot to do to get football fans onside, says Andrew White.

Here’s one for you: after a month staring at the screen watching the World Cup in South Africa, how many official sponsors can you name?

More than 700 million viewers tuned into last night’s foulfest of a World Cup final - a figure that reinforces football’s position as the most popular sport on Earth. But what of the myriad branding games being played just off the edges of the pitch?

In case you were wondering, FIFA’s ‘official partners’ are Coca-Cola, Adidas, Hyundai (Kia), Sony, Visa, and Emirates Airline. There are then another eight ‘tournament sponsors’: Budweiser, Castrol, Continental, McDonalds, MTN, Mahindra Satayam, Seara, and Yingli Solar.

And yet a spot poll of friends and colleagues in the Gulf and Europe, all avid football fans and presumably the demographic official sponsors are looking to attract, came up with some pretty disheartening results, especially if you’re an Emirates exec.

Hyundai and McDonalds come out smiling, but Coca-Cola got the blues thanks to its biggest competitor. An advertising campaign starring fleet-footed meerkats resulted in far more people associating fierce rival Pepsi with the tournament than they did the ‘official’ red-and-white beverage.

Most alarmingly for the Gulf, only one in five of my respondents thought to name Emirates - the region’s biggest carrier and by far its most actively marketed brand - as a sponsor. This is despite Emirates having signed a $195m deal to become a FIFA partner from 2007 until 2014, giving it sponsorship rights over both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The first airline to sponsor the FIFA World Cup, Emirates has left this handful of football fans cold – and it’s less than 24 hours since a bevy of Emirates beauties escorted the World Cup trophy to the winner’s podium in Soccer City. Surely the Emirates name should be on everyone’s lips after a month of saturation-point World Cup coverage?

Two weeks into the tournament, a Neilsen study examined online conversations about World Cup sponsors or their major competitors. Adidas topped the poll, scoring a 25% share of Nielsen's ‘buzz’ rating, while seven out of the top ten firms were FIFA partners or official World Cup sponsors. But Emirates was nowhere to be seen.

Last week another survey of web search engines found that the malaise had spread, and suggested the majority of official World Cup sponsors were failing to capture the public’s attention. With the exception of Kia, all of the tournament’s sponsors saw the levels of internet searches on their brands slump, despite having their logos emblazoned at every match.

Finally, a new report published on Monday by UK-based branding consultants Engage Research suggested that brands which have formed an ongoing relationship with football, did better in terms of consumer recognition than official World Cup sponsors.

For example, Sky television was found to have a high association with the tournament – and yet while Sky screens English Premier League games, it did not show a single match at South Africa 2010. Meanwhile Budweiser, the self-proclaimed ‘king of beers’ and a tournament sponsor, was left trailing in the wake of competitor Carlsberg, which has long been associated with football.

“Clients are always falling over themselves to be associated with the World Cup, but in two different ways,” says a creative director at a London-based advertising agency which has worked on campaigns for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

“Some have spent a lot of money and doing it with official tie-ups and links with tournament teams, but others like Nike are using the strength of their brands to gatecrash the party for official sponsors,” he continues.

“We know that if [a brand] has been a part of the game for long enough, it’s as though you can just put an advert out and viewers will assume [the brand is] a sponsor.”

The Engage survey supports this theory, suggesting that while long-term involvement with the game enabled companies to derive significant benefit from the tournament, short-term or tournament-only associations were less successful.

And that’s where you presume Emirates plans to make good: the seven year association raised eyebrows when it was first announced, but now it seems that’s the minimum if you want to attract the attention of the world’s football fans.

For now, Emirates is keeping quiet on how the sponsorship has impacted the carrier commercially. While it waits for the final viewing stats from FIFA and the results of its own analysis, the airline will be looking forward eagerly to 2014 and the World Cup in Brazil. South Africa 2010 may be done and dusted, but off the pitch, the competition never ends.

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Sky Observer 10 years ago

....coz they have 'Fly Emirates' on their shirts !!