Brands get the ball rolling on soccer strategies
Saturday, April 16, 2022
by: Strategy Online

Section: Industry News




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Well, we did it: the Canadian men’s national soccer team will (finally) compete in the FIFA World Cup.

Soccer has been kicking around on Canadian pitches since before Confederation, but it was not until 1948 that the Dominion of Canada Football Association, later renamed the Canadian Soccer Association, became a member of FIFA.

Despite the fact that Canada has not played in the FIFA World Cup since 1986, the quadrennial contest has seen a growing number of Canadian fans. That’s because they’ve been cheering on teams from other countries, in many cases their country of origin, due to the fact that this is, after all, a country of immigrants.

Between 2007 and 2017, Toronto FC saw game attendance rise by 35%, and Montreal Impact saw an 18% lift from 2012 to 2017, demonstrating the sport’s growing popularity. As for an indication of viewership, the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches for Canada’s national men’s team drew an average of 852,000 viewers. By way of comparison, the average views of a typical Hockey Night in Canada range between 600,000 and one million, while the Blue Jays home opener an audience of 1.3 million this past weekend.

Not many companies have linked their brands to the game as much as BMO, or for as long. Back in 2005 the bank started investing in the game at both the grassroots and elite levels, and then in 2007, it entered a partnership with Toronto FC, followed by sponsorships of the Montreal Impact FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

“We could see its growth trajectory as one of the fastest growing sports in the world and felt it was an unmissable opportunity,”


says Sonya Kunkel, head of loyalty and sponsorship marketing at BMO. “It not only gave us a chance to get in on the ground floor with professional teams in Canada, but also support local soccer teams at the youth level, from coast to coast.”

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As a result, BMO currently has a grassroots development program that supports 70 local soccer clubs, with the highest concentration of them in Ontario and Quebec. That’s 920 teams and about 13,000 youth in total. Kunkel explains that the brand has, over the years, set up “club academies,” as well as kickstarter programs with the TFC, which include clinics that are designed to ensure that underrepresented communities have access to soccer.

While BMO has played a significant role in fuelling the sport’s increasing popularity at both professional and grassroots levels, it is not as invested in the 2022 World Cup as it is in the 2026 tournament, which will be hosted in North America – that makes sense given the bank’s current and potential retail banking customer base. But there are other brands making a direct investment in the FIFA World Cup this year.

One is Gatorade, which has inked a new multi-year agreement with Canada Soccer to become the exclusive isotonic and sports nutrition partner of the national soccer team. It will support Canada Soccer’s National Teams and its national competitions, including the Canadian Championships and Toyota National Championships. The partnership will integrate Gatorade into matchday performance protocols to fuel the performance and recovery of Canada’s top athletes as they represent the country internationally.

That extends to a presence on all Canadian Premier League club benches, including product, equipment, and branding elements. The brand will continue its investment as the presenting partner for the CPL’s Performance of the Match (broadcast and digital) and CPL Team of the Week and Team of the Year. Gatorade has had a presence on CPL benches since the start of the league two years ago.

Allstate Canada is currently a sponsor of both the Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams. It also sponsors Active Start Soccer Fests, which are local community soccer celebrations offered in 150 communities each year. In addition, Allstate sponsors CF Montreal and Toronto FC, and has also been a sponsor of the Canadian Premier League since 2019.

“In 2016, we made the decision to sponsor soccer in Canada because it provided us with an opportunity to support grassroots efforts, help provide funding to develop national teams and to be part of the growth of the sport,” says Rob Nadler, manager, sponsorship and advertising. “With our Allstate agencies and home-based employees in close to 100 communities across the country, we wanted to align ourselves with another organization that was also present, and instantly recognizable.”

Hisense, a Chinese appliance maker that is little known to Canadians outside retail stores like Leon’s, The Brick and Costco, was highly visible on the boards surrounding the field at the 2018 World Cup and will be again in 2022. Its challenge is to build greater brand awareness in Canada, which it will do by means of contests and giveaways during the run-up to the November tournament. Its contest started in February, when it gave away smart TVs and wine fridges once a week for four weeks, and will continue with periodic four-week flights throughout the year.

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GE Appliances has also signed on as Canada Soccer’s first official appliance partner. The sponsorship will include in-stadium branding and signage during home matches, as well as broadcast integration. PR, digital and social media executions will follow in the months ahead. Bob Park, chief of brands at GE Appliances Canada told strategy that although the brand has broad awareness, particularly among the 45-plus set, is looking to create more brand awareness and affinity among a more diverse audience, which is why it’s using the world’s most popular sport a way to acheive that goal.

It’s clear that brands are becoming more and more attracted to the growth of soccer as a spectator sport in North America and the world over. There’s also the opportunity to get in on soccer while there are still opportunities to do so. Other popular sports like hockey, baseball, football and basketball are heavily stacked with partners and well-developed from a sponsorship perspective, leaving soccer wide open for more brand investment. The sport is growing its fan and sponsorship base in Canada, and so it’s safe to say that “footie” is here to stay.
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