Business and the Beautiful Game: The UEFA Europa League
Football (soccer) is often referred to as the ‘beautiful game’, enjoyed by the masses, particularly in Europe where it features heavily on television and radio schedules in almost every country and loyalties are formed in childhood and hotly debated and defended throughout adulthood. The well-documented passion for the game across all sections of society perhaps explains why it may seem incompatible with business. But there is another view ─ that football and business are actually interdependent.
In the modern game, the board room is as critical to a team’s success as the boot room. Today, commercial income is a critical revenue stream for clubs. UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) estimates, for example, that its pan-regional Europa League competition will generate over €225 million in commercial revenue in 2014/15. While this might conjure images of corporate hospitality far removed from real fans on the terraces, 75 per cent of this income is returned to the teams. It pays for the players, stadia and development that are vital to clubs and bring joy to fans.
The fact that commercial revenue is used to feed ‘grassroots’ football has been a critical factor in FedEx’s decision to become the main sponsor of the UEFA Europa League. FedEx is focused on supporting commerce at the local level and has made significant investments in Europe over the last three years – including adding over 100 stations and 3,700 team members – all towards its goal of helping small businesses boost trade and compete on the global stage.
Any company embarking on any commercial tie-in needs to ensure that the opportunity aligns with its own brand values ─ and that this investment is used to bring benefit to the sport and its fans. Authenticity should be the guiding star for sponsorship ─ particularly in a sport as passionate as football.
And the UEFA Europa League is authentic, in that it brings opportunity to many clubs and not simply the few. It is truly pan-European in a way that other competitions are not. Footballing royalty such as Holland’s Ajax and England’s Liverpool come up against emerging powerhouses, such as Croatia’s HNK Rijeka and Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. The UEFA Europa League is an arena rich in romance, where minnows can snap up sharks ─ and where glory and rich financial reward are open to teams big and small.
There are clear synergies between pan-European businesses and a pan-European league. While many sponsors – like FedEx – are global, it’s important that they demonstrate their national, regional and local credentials. Again, it’s about authenticity and reassuring audiences that corporations aren’t faceless giants; that they understand, are part of and contribute to the communities they do business in.
Corporate sponsorship may have a degree of self-interest, but it should also be responsible and used to drive mutually profitable relationships. With commercial revenues feeding teams of all sizes, from all corners of the continent, sponsorship has the power to help all levels of European football move into a different league.