It’s a trying time to be a major brand sponsor of a global athletic event. In Brazil, Anheuser-Busch InBev is complementing its regular Olympic ad messaging with, no kidding, a Budweiser Zika public awareness campaign. And in Europe, brands associated with the Euro 2016 tournament are watching, face in palms, as ongoing fan violence occupies the headlines.
“UEFA expresses its utter disgust for the violent clashes that occurred in the city center of Marseille, and its serious concern for the incidents at the end of the match inside Stade Velodrome,” said the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), in a statement. It added that the behavior “is totally unacceptable and has no place in football.” UEFA is collecting $500 million for sponsorship rights to the Euro 2016 tournament so the global soccer organization has good reason to threaten to disqualify the England and Russian teams after days of major violence from fans.
Euro 2016 sponsors are big names: Orange, Adidas, Carlsberg, Continental, Hyundai, Kia and Coca-Cola have all signed up.
And this year, Euro 2016 has attracted a Chinese brand. Chinese TV brand Hisense has partnered with UEFA for the tournament to reach its billions of viewers, over 1 billion of whom are Chinese.
These brands see a great deal of possibility beyond passive engagement of consumers during the game as well. Indeed, a “Euro 2016: Fans and Technology” study by RadiumOne found almost 30% of fans said they planned to be “reading other people’s online comments about what I’m watching” and that 67% of fans will “undertake activities while watching [Euro 2016].” The Eiffel Tower will even be lighted according to social media activity during the games.
Some advertising pundits have raised questions about how the nationalism of Euro advertisers may be feeding the nationalism of the violent mobs. And it’s true that the violence has distracted from the tournament—but it’s also distracted from the fact that fans are not recognizing the brands that are paying dearly to associate with the event.
That “Euro 2016: Fans and Technology” report also found, certainly to UEFA’s displeasure, low spontaneous brand association for the official partners. Official sponsor Coca-Cola beat all others with a full 12% of respondents tying the brand to the event. Next up was Adidas (10%) and then Nike (9%). Except, Nike is not a sponsor. Other brands fared worse, with less than 5% association, including some not associated sponsors like McDonald’s getting 3%.
One reason for this disconnect is heavy social media engagement—a landscape UEFA cannot police to separate the official sponsors from the unofficial ones. For example, it’s here that Adidas faces challenges against Nike’s ambush marketing organized social media juggernaut. Simply by swamping the landscape with Nike soccer social media during the games, the brand defines itself in consumer minds as an official partner. When users post Nike’s Christian Renaldo ad on YouTube and label it “Nike Football Commercial (EURO 2016 Film),” there is little UEFA or Adidas can do.
After Euro 2016 and the Olympics, it will be interesting to see if social media makes official sponsorship deals less attractive for major brands.