Football? Yes of course we love it, say sponsors

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FOOTBALL and coffee, football and computers, football and yogurt, football and phone companies ... the list is endless.

Every day at the World Cup, international companies, banks and corporations, in other words the 45 official world sponsors, flood the press centre at the Porte de Versailles with all manner of fliers, stressing the undeniable link between their products and the world's greatest game.

But is this just one giant public relations exercise or is there any proof that sponsoring football makes money? "No doubt whatsoever," says Ben Deutsch, Cola-Cola's PR manager for worldwide sports. "Football is a huge marketing tool for any company that is truly global. For us, the World Cup is a perfect fit. Football is the most popular sport in the world and we do business in some 200 countries."

To prove his point, Deutsch said that in 1997, French sales of Cola-Cola went up by 18 per cent. "This was obviously because of the company's sponsorship of the World Cup," he said. For the first quarter of this year, volume was up by another 26 per cent.

So sure is Coca-Cola that backing football makes money that it has put its name to one of the longest sponsorship deals in history. Backers of the World Cup since 1978, the company has now signed an eight-year deal through to the 2006 tournament. "Normally it's four years but we know that football drives our business," said Mr Deutsch.

Some of the supposed associations between football and sponsors are, however, tenuous beyond belief. What on earth, for instance, can the Danone dairy group, which admittedly makes tasty yogurts, possibly have to do with kicking a round ball into a net? Everything, according to the company which is sponsoring the World Cup under the slogan: "Believe in your Dreams: Play Danone."

There's a Danone Cup for youngsters, a Danone website and 300 promotional campaigns in 45 countries. It all adds up, says the company, to brand awareness on an unprecedented scale.

With a forecast 37 billion viewers over the five-week period of the World Cup - almost twice the number than at the Atlanta Olympics - France 98 will help boost the Danone brand.

The same applies to companies such as Credit Agricole, France Telecom, Hewlett Pack- ard, Sybase, and Budweiser.