Putting Heineken back in the Cup: Why now is the right time for an EPCR reunion

Vincent Gaillard, EPCR chief executive and Heineken’s global sponsorship director Hans Erik Tuijt explain to SportsPro the implications of the companies reuniting for the European Champions Cup.

Putting Heineken back in the Cup: Why now is the right time for an EPCR reunion

As two powerhouses in their respective fields, the reunion of Heineken and the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) marks a new phase in a historic relationship.

Last month, after a four-year hiatus Heineken returned to Europe’s top tier club rugby tournament—the European Champions Cup — striking a four year title sponsorship deal with the EPCR. For many the Dutch brewing company is synonymous with European club rugby having served as the title sponsor for the tournament’s predecessor from 1995 to 2014.

The return of the partnership between the EPCR and Heineken also marks the beginning of a free-to-air TV era for the tournament in its heartlands of the England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and France. SportsPro had the opportunity to speak with Gaillard, as well as Hans Erik Tuijt, Heineken’s global sponsorship director, about the tournament’s future.

Heineken returns as the title sponsor of  the EPCR for the European Champions Cup.

Why now for this deal?

Vincent Gaillard: it was the end of a four-year cycle and time to further discussions with Heineken. Heineken has shown interest in partnering with us but joining forces with Heineken will not stop this from ultimately becoming a multi-partnered deal. It was also practical, as Heineken is one of the most powerful brands in the world, and is one of our traditional partners who was around for our founding.

Hans Erik Tuijt: We were there from the beginning. The global aspect of the EPCR is very important to us as well as the global coverage. Rugby has been a large part of our sponsorship strategy for many years now. We’re very excited to once again be the title sponsor of this competition.

How important is it to each of you to again be a part of this partnership?

HET: We’re proud to be a part of a competition that’s grown so successfully. It fits what we stand for; it’s a great sport and has great fans behaving and socialising together. This competition has premium recognition around the world, and Heineken is recognized as a premium beer around the world, and that’s why we’re happy to have our name associated with this competition once again.

VG: The number one priority for us was either to maintain or to grow, both inside and out of our domestic market. It also allowed us to put more focus on our key international markets. This partnership resulted in a hugely exciting deal with NBC for our USA market. We’re now in a much better place with regards to TV, which will help us grow the commercial market as we know it.

Is this type of sponsor the next phase of growing this competition?

VG: Absolutely. The growth was through TV platforms, digital, and social media. We’re in a much, much better place than we’ve ever been in, and we’ll be in an even better place with Heineken along with us in terms of pushing the competition through their own channels. That’s why it’s exciting; we would have never considered sponsorship with any other brand.

EPCR chief executive Vincent Gaillard

What do you see as the potential for the growth of the tournament into new regions? Are there potential new markets?

VG: Bilbao (the venue for the 2018 European Champions Cup final) has already been a huge success, in engagement and in reputation. Where are we going to go? We don’t know yet, we’ll decide where we’re going to have our 2020 finals in a few weeks. It’s exciting, all new places we haven’t been before, with brand new markets. Even new territories that are an already familiar market for Rugby, like Newcastle or France. We want to provide familiar experiences to our core fans, but also reach beyond that. Spain is the perfect example, we ended up with two stadiums filled with Spanish fans, which was great.

So, with new clubs emerging, do those provide new options coming down the line as well?

VG: Absolutely, yes. Whether they’re from Russia, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Germany, wherever, it’s a great way to reach out, you’re absolutely right. Our goal is an increased level of engagement with our competition, whether it’s through broadcasters, partners, fan engagement across the board, both in front of TVs or in stadiums. We’re very, very excited about where we are and to have Heineken on board.