Since its rebranding in 1992, the Uefa Champions League has played host to some of soccer’s biggest names. Stars from all over the world, plying their trade in Europe’s elite domestic leagues, have joined the pursuit for what has become club soccer’s most prestigious prize. Off the pitch, as well, its much-envied commercial model has helped attract some of the biggest sponsors on the globe.
Now entering the third year of its partnership with the continental tournament, Japanese car manufacturer Nissan is looking to build on the lessons of its first two years. Jean-Pierre Diernaz, vice president of marketing for Nissan Europe, talks to SportsPro about the lessons the company has learned from its involvement in the competition so far and future plans.
By Tom Lloyd
How would you introduce Nissan’s Uefa Champions League partnership?
We are kicking off with the third season of our partnership with the Uefa Champions League, so it’s going to be a very interesting and exciting time for us. In the first year, we saw it as a learning curve. We learned about how to associate Nissan alongside Uefa Champions League and, more importantly, how we can bring something new that the other partners of the Champions League aren’t doing.
During these two years we learned how we can engage with the right fans at the right time and our employees have really taken on board and now understand it well.
We have everything ready now for season three and I think it will be a very important season for us. We are going to take out everything we have learned about the previous seasons and develop it into success this year. Now that everything is in place from what we have learned, then you can expect a very strong Uefa Champions League activation from Nissan, and we hope it will be our most successful year yet.
You mention that this is your third year – how did the original partnership come about? What drew Nissan to the Champions League?
With any partnership, you have to look at your brand dimensions. Many think this is just a European partnership but really, because of the Champions League’s brand dimensions, it is worldwide.
About three years ago, Nissan was really growing worldwide, and within all of our key regions we were increasing our share. We were becoming a key part of public thinking in China, Japan, Korea, Europe and the Americas, and we started to think, where do we go from here?
One thing we knew we had to do was to continue to accelerate the brand awareness of Nissan across the globe. So we stopped again and asked, “How do you do that?” Immediately, the answer is through sponsorship. Sponsorship is one of the best ammunitions to drive awareness, but then you think, what is the right kind of sponsorship for my brand?
We looked at music, Hollywood and sport and we realised that sport is closely aligned to us. We are an active brand, an outdoor brand, and we put excitement and drama at the centre of our cars.
When we looked at sports, football really came naturally. Put simply, it is the favourite sport across the world, with the most viewers across the globe. In soccer sponsorship you have international tournaments, national tournaments, and then continental tournaments, and we immediately felt that the Uefa Champions League had the most advantages.
What was the biggest advantage for you in sponsoring the Uefa Champions League, compared to the Fifa World Cup or Uefa European Championship, for example?
It is about time. The Uefa Champions League is across a long period. It regularly begins in August and ends in May. For us that’s a great advantage because almost every two weeks we can be on television or the on the news with fresh content for almost six months.
In the case of the World Cup, for example, you are only there for three weeks and then that is it. It was a great fit and it was a good opportunity. Uefa liked us, they liked the brand, and they liked the innovative ways we activate.
So how will you be looking to activate this season?
This year, we are going to implement an incredible activation, which is mainly driven by social media. Simply by harnessing the power of online, we are going to create engaging content.
The content, we hope, is going to have legs in the social media sphere, because it is different. It is going to be content that fans can actually engage with and make themselves. Hopefully it will draw them in more as they will actually involve themselves in it.
As before, we are going to have some great ambassadors as well. Previously we have had Andres Iniesta, Thiago Silva, and Yaya Toure, and I think this season we are going to change. So you should expect new stars, but we cannot reveal who they are just yet. The content we are producing – these stars will be key actors in it.
On top of this, we are really going to innovate. We are going to activate on augmented reality, on highly developed screen viewings, and we are going to give fans incredible access to the football. So all of these elements are going to be part of where we take our activations.
What do you hope to achieve by the sponsorship?
There are two things – the first is brand familiarity, and the second is brand visibility. The familiarity will come from our ability to be on the television every two weeks, on all the key channels around the world. That gives us a massive opportunity to scale up how familiar we become within people’s minds.
The other metric, brand visibility, comes by bringing value to actual football fans. We want to give them great opportunities and experiences, so they know more about Nissan and people want to become closer to the brand. We need to harness the excitement of the sport, through the Nissan lens.
What does success look like? How do you measure it?
There are a lot of useful things to measure success by, and we use a lot of different metrics. Despite this, though, I think that ultimately we have to look at whether we have more people that love Nissan now after being exposed to our Uefa Champions League partnership. It is that simple.
After two years, I can safely tell you that the uplift has been brilliant. Those fans that have seen us and followed us into this Uefa Champions League environment have been really positive about our brand, so the success is already obvious.
How has it been working alongside a prestigious brand like the Uefa Champions League? What has the journey been like?
It has been relatively easy because they know their brand very well. They know exactly who they are and so do we. So together we can pair up perfectly.
We are also both very open in terms of marketing innovation. When we propose ideas, like giving access to fans on the pitch or using augmented reality, then they love it. It is exactly what they are after.
They are a brand that wants to be stronger year after year and they are a brand that gets stronger by working well with its partners and ensuring that they innovate and grow all of the time.
Where do you want to develop the partnership?
I think that there is various ways to look at it. The first one is to go a step further in terms of engaging with the fans and providing them with unique access, unique content, unique opportunities, and that always has to be number one. This has to be what is always key to Nissan.
Secondly, I think we have to always remember we are an innovation brand and we have a clear view on how things should be in the future, and we can now implement this into our sponsorships. We believe in intelligence in our cars, innovative intelligence, and we can start to bring this through. We will try to use the UCL platform as a way to illustrate our intelligent solutions.
Our focus now really is the Uefa Champions League. It is a huge monster and has a billion viewers every season. It is a huge amount of work, deploying hospitality and developing activations. As it stands we really want to ensure that we do everything on this activation properly, so any growth will be dedicated to it.