Korean car manufacturer Hyundai, a long-time former UEFA partner, is rolling out a new, pan-European football sponsorship strategy, focussed on capital city clubs in the continent’s top leagues. We got the lowdown from Andreas-Christoph Hofmann and Ron Wiegand of Lagardere, which conceived and brokered the innovative deals with Chelsea, AS Roma, Hertha Berlin and Atletico Madrid as part of a new global-local approach designed to support deeper, year-round activation with fans and consumers.
Give us the background to Hyundai’s new strategy:
Andreas-Christoph: As you might know we have been building our presence in Europe for many years. We have a strong brand story to tell, based on our founder’s spirit. We want our customers to feel “unlimited.”
So, the main themes in our marketing are “assurance”, “progress” and “performance.” “Performance” is very much about emotionalising our brand, which is necessary as, until now, we’ve been quite rational as a brand. Our sports and football engagement is very much aimed at that “emotionalisation.”
Hyundai’s football engagement goes back a long way. We have been a top-tier partner of FIFA since 1999 and of UEFA for 18 years until 2017. These partnerships have helped a lot to develop our brand credibility and make Hyundai one of the most established automotive sponsors in football. And we adopted this fan-first approach, based on putting the fans as the midpoint of everything. Because, of course, a fan could also be driver in the future as well.
The strategy has been about growing our European sports engagement – to emotionalise Hyundai in football and to be visible 365 days a year in order to engage with the fans more strongly and to raise our unaided brand awareness, which was frankly much too low at 25% in Europe. The football audience is obviously a good lever to raise awareness.
Our aim is to be with the fans in some of the most emotional moments in the stadiums. This is why we are focussing on club sponsorship in our search for a new approach. We already had a good experience in local partnership with Olympique Lyonnais in 2012. That was the starting point. Out of that we enlarged our engagement in Europe with four other clubs.
Ron: The partnership with Lyon was very useful in providing evidence of a new type of engagement and activation. While the UEFA partnership was very successful, the time has come to go deeper into the market and to communicate 365 days a year with a community and to work in a smarter way.
When we analysed the European market, we found that, while the FIFA World Cup is still number one, the number two property in every market is always the domestic league. The domestic leagues still have the highest value and the highest emotional bonding for the football fan in their domestic market. Of course, it then made sense for us to focus on the big five leagues (the Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1) because they have 54% of the whole market share in Europe.
When we analysed different club and national sponsorships, we found that the capital clubs have a very special and unique meaning. They have international relevance and normally a very big tradition within their league, star players amongst their rosters and just a special meaning – “capital meaning.” Capitals give you a reach to opinion leaders and they have a very big influence over the whole nation.
In the end, we were very pleased to secure four new “capital club” partnerships for Hyundai that could also offer a 360-degree marketing package to reach our communication and engagement goals.
It’s been an 18-month process. It’s all very new and very exciting. There isn’t another automotive brand across Europe that has taken this holistic, pan-European approach.
How do you assess the relative benefits and disadvantages of this approach and the package of rights you have here vs for example what you were doing with UEFA?
Ron: It’s actually very easy because the first step is about looking at the brand’s communications goals. In this case, after 18 years with the UEFA programme, Hyundai has really reached its brand awareness goals. The second [factor] is that club sponsorship at the moment can offer very attractive rights, such as the whole social media and digital reach of a club. It gives you access to players, which the UEFA programme does not currently offer, and you can interact throughout the whole year with a community instead of having communication peaks every four years. This is really the decisive factor for a brand like Hyundai, which wants to go beyond simple brand awareness and reach deeper in its engagement.
Do you see this as part of a broader trend? Should big international rights holders be worried and what can they do if they want to attract a brand like Hyundai back to the table?
Andreas-Christoph: The FIFA platform still makes sense for us in many ways. But my question is always: how can we break this down more for the customer, if our aim is to be more customer oriented? FIFA and UEFA bring great awareness but it’s not enough. We want to spread this engagement down to the level of the dealerships. That’s why we chose these clubs, reflecting our biggest five markets, which cover 80% of our volume. So it’s about breaking it down to a level underneath the overarching one. That’s why we chose club sponsorship.
It means our dealers can engage in their own peer group and bring people to the stadiums for example. There are many things we are doing here that we might bring back to UEFA in the future.
How does the activation of these partnerships compare, practically, to FIFA or UEFA rights?
Ron: It is a fantastic opportunity, rather than a challenge. But we do have a couple of opportunities that we don’t have, for example, with FIFA. We can really act with players, with fan bases and fan clubs and what we do, and what we have, is the same look and feel and tonality all over Europe. We have a great understanding with all parties as to how to roll this fan-first concept out from a central basis.
Are some leagues and clubs easier to work with than others?
Ron: We are grateful because we have great professional partners within each of our clubs that have been key to helping us establish this approach, and so far everyone is slightly different. You can imagine the UK people are slightly different from the Spanish or Italian people but that is interesting because we learn from each other.
We are grabbing ideas from our colleagues in Spain that can be used in the UK and vice-versa. I think it very helpful to have this fantastic, colourful approach, with lots of ideas and tonalities. The clubs realise, also, that we have a win-win situation in this respect, with so many different clubs in different countries, producing so many different ideas and local tonalities.