It goes without saying; beer is big business in sponsorship, and particularly in football. The benefits are clear – activate the association to a mass, highly-engaged audience and increased consumer preference and sales growth should soon follow.
Such association however, especially to the most high-profile sports properties such as the English Premier League, comes at a price. For example, following Budweiser’s departure as the League’s official beer in 2010 the sponsorship berth remained unsold for the three-year cycle from 2010-11 to 2012-13 after a host of interested parties failed to meet the League’s valuation for the vacancy.
Danish lager brand Carlsberg has now purchased the category rights in a three-year deal, 2013-14 to 2015-16, after tabling an offer deemed satisfactory to the League’s 20 clubs, all of which are equal shareholders of the Premier League.
Carlsberg is already the official beer partner to eight Premier League teams, and with a two-thirds majority shareholder vote required to ratify any Premier League sponsorship proposal – 14 of the 20 clubs – it was perhaps only a matter of time before Carlsberg agreed terms to become a central partner of English football’s top flight.
Carlsberg will join the League’s other central sponsors, including title sponsor Barclays, Nike, EA Sports, Topps and, more than likely, an as yet unnamed sports drink brand to replace the outgoing Lucozade.
Research by Sports Marketing Frontiers, the SportBusiness Group’s sponsorship newsletter, places Carlsberg as the third highest-paying sponsor of the Premier League, behind Barclays, which will pay £120 million for title sponsorship over the next three seasons, and EA Sports, which upgraded its partnership from a licensing agreement to a licensing plus sports technology partnership in 2010.
Carlsberg will have undoubtedly dug deep for its latest sponsorship investment, but it is a smart play for a number of reasons.
Previously, Carlsberg has associated with football via sponsorship of the UEFA European Championships or of individual clubs, most notably as the shirt sponsor of Premier League side Liverpool between 1992 and 2010.
While such sponsorships have brought significant value for Carlsberg, the brand has strategically identified the need for a football platform that offers a more regular and more widespread association in order to deliver against its primary objective of becoming a globally famous brand.
“The opportunity with the Premier League is one where we can create consistent, deep and frequent activation round football, not for one event or for one fan base but something we can do year after year,” the company told Sports Marketing Frontiers.
Further, being the official beer partner of the League will provide a platform to facilitate conversations to extend its current portfolio of pouring rights deals with Premier League clubs.
Carlsberg currently has pouring rights deals with Arsenal, Fulham, Liverpool, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United, and is engaged in discussions to add to that list for next season.
With a commercially attractive sponsorship offer Carlsberg might well be able to convince the likes of Norwich City and Wigan Athletic to part ways with MolsonCoors, while Newcastle United and Southampton might consider swapping Carling for Carlsberg in return for a significant boost to their respective club coffers.
Whether Carlsberg will manage to replace Amstel lager at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, or persuade Manchester United and Chelsea to serve Carlsberg instead of Thai beer Singha on the concourses at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, is another matter entirely.
But perhaps that doesn’t matter. So long as Carlsberg has 14 of the 20 clubs locked into pouring rights deals, or as many as it can manage, the company will be well-placed to continue its central partnership with the Premier League for many years to come.
This is a personal perspective of Luke Harman, reporter for Sports Marketing Frontiers.