European Football Championship
It’s about a lot of money – the Nati relationship with their sponsors can sometimes be difficult
It’s about money, but companies prefer to talk about partnerships. And they can be difficult at times.
That is bad luck. For 16 years, the Swiss Life insurance company was a sponsor of the Swiss Football Association – and thus the national team. She quit last summer, the last big appearance she would have had at the European Championship 2020. But then it was postponed due to Corona. Ironically, the European Championship in which Switzerland achieves what it has never achieved since 1954.
Credit Suisse has been the main sponsor since 1993. Compared to the other donors, the big bank gets more visibility, more tickets for guests, customers and employees, and it is the only one allowed to decorate the jerseys with its logo. In addition, it is stipulated in contracts how their sponsorship money is to be invested. “We insisted from the start that half should be reserved for promoting young talent,” says Sandra Caviezel, Head of Sponsoring at Credit Suisse. A clause that has now paid off. With a view to making it to the quarter-finals, Caviezel says: “We are very proud and really happy.”
UBS is taboo for Granit Xhaka and Co.
The companies prefer to refer to themselves as “partners” rather than sponsors – at the moment at the Swiss Football Association, in addition to Credit Suisse, these include Puma, Volkswagen, Swiss and Carl F. Bucherer. And SRG as a broadcaster. The contracts with the companies mentioned run until at least 2024, as the football association says. This would finance the development of new national team talents and also the operational costs of the 13 women’s and men’s national teams.
The package means that the company can use the national players for product campaigns. Credit Suisse, for example, has CSX Yann Sommer, Manuel Akanji and Kevin Mbabu for its mobile banking offering. The national players can also land contracts as independent advertising media, but are not allowed to be hired by the competition from the national team sponsors. That means: UBS, for example, is taboo for Granit Xhaka and Co.
Sports sponsoring is connected with an emotional ups and downs, as CS sponsoring director Caviezel emphasizes. “You have to be able to go along with it.” Because ultimately it’s about emotions, with the positives predominating.
Defeats reinterpreted as victories over the adversities of life
The sponsors seek closeness to sport, to its great emotions, human dramas and occasionally edgy types. This closeness should rub off a little on them, and above all on their own brand. This should be “emotionally charged”, as it is called in the marketing language, and the “degree of awareness” should be increased. But when asked, the sponsors’ communications departments prefer to be free of rough edges. Swiss, for example, let it be known that they “naturally shared the excitement for the national team” and “are very happy about the victory”.
For a long time, the Swiss national team was not a guarantee of success. There were shameful defeats, like the one against Ukraine, when the players didn’t use a single penalty after a sad game. A winning image cannot be conveyed there, not even big emotions like after narrow defeats. Sponsors can protect themselves to a certain extent: They present themselves as reliable partners who stick to the team in tough times. Marketing expert Adrienne Suvada from ZHAW University says:
“This is another way for companies to do something for their reputation.”
The sponsors also translate defeats into great victories of loyalty over the adversities of life. This trick is clearly recognizable at Swiss, for example. When asked how she protects herself against defeats or scandals at the national team, she emphasizes: “Our partnership is based on shared values and goals.” Of course, in football – as in any sport – there are always defeats as well as wins. But: As a long-term partner, “Swiss stands behind the Swiss Football Association – even in times when sporting victories do not dominate”.
Underline the sportiness of your own brand
Certain attributes can also be transferred with sponsorship. “Our commitment to football underlines the dynamism and sportiness of our brand,” says a spokeswoman for VW Switzerland. The car company has been supporting football for a number of years and will continue to do so in the future – “regardless of success or defeat,” as the spokeswoman says. Nevertheless, the VW spokeswoman said the victory over France was “phenomenal”. “We are very proud of our national team”.
Sooner or later, successes have unpleasant consequences for the sponsors. Despite all the lovely oaths of loyalty, the sponsor will definitely do one thing: ask for more money. These sober mechanisms are already in play at the Swiss Football Association the day after the big win. When asked what consequences qualifying for the quarter-finals will have, the football association says: all partners and their brands would get more attention on all channels – “which of course leads to an even more valuable partnership”.
Fans defend themselves against the “commercialization”
The victory over France is a day of joy for the sponsors. All the more so as a lot can go wrong in sports sponsorship. In this way, companies can become the target of counter-movements. When football stadiums were still allowed to be full, protests against the alleged commercialization of the sport, for example, increased. Not all fan messages were worded as politely as “fans, not customers” or “against the sale of football”. The entrepreneur and football patron Dietmar Hopp was shown in large crosshairs.
The athletes themselves can easily destroy the beautiful marketing license, for example if the athlete is sponsored by a certain brand, but prefers the competition in everyday life, as marketing expert Adrienne Suvada explains. For example, when the footballer Mario Götze was introduced to the Adidas club Bayern Munich, he wore a t-shirt from the US sporting goods manufacturer Nike. Its Swoosh logo was beautiful to see on all the pictures. The “Sportbild” headline: “Ausrüster-Zoff”. Or it gets ridiculous. Namely when athletes walk around like human advertising pillars, says marketing expert Suvada. The athletes are covered with company logos in such a way that the audience can no longer tell the individual sponsors apart.
The internet has not made sports marketing more predictable. Shitstorms come up in no time if the athlete has been guilty of something. Or athletes are drawn into political controversies where they can no longer please everyone. No matter what they do, they will piss off a sponsor’s customers. Also, doing nothing is resented by athletes in charged debates where social poles are irreconcilable.
“Greta Thunberg fires climate shitstorm against Roger Federer”
Even a sports icon like Roger Federer cannot escape this polarization. Hardly any athlete has delivered reliable successes, remaining free from scandals, free from airs, personable and non-binding. But climate activists got angry. Even Greta Thunberg got involved, herself an icon of the global climate movement. Federer is not doing enough for climate protection, so the allegation. He must do more to get his sponsor Credit Suisse to act in a climate-friendly manner. The German “Rollingstone” magazine ran the headline: “Greta Thunberg fires climate shit storm against Roger Federer”.
Too expensive: Sponsors also drop out because of the money
And sometimes it just becomes too expensive for the companies. Swisscom recently announced that it would end its commitment to skiing. In the future, Lara Gut-Behrami, Ramon Zenhäusern and Co. will be racing down the slopes with the logos of the Sunrise UPC competition. A Swisscom spokesman speaks of an “increasingly higher investment requirement in skiing”, which the telecommunications giant recognizes but does not want to support. In addition, the company no longer wants to commit itself so long-term. “Swisscom wants to get more involved in the future,” says the spokesman. How exactly, he couldn’t say yet.
Incidentally, after the Euro 2008, Swisscom had already ended its co-sponsorship of the national soccer team. “The price-performance ratio is no longer right for us,” said the media director at the time. At that time he could not have known that the national team would inspire everyone around the world 13 years later.
And at Swiss Life? The insurer reviews its sponsorship portfolio “regularly” and aligns its commitments “specifically with the corporate strategy”, as the company says. In other words: Swiss Life has been focusing on sports at the ZSC Lions hockey club since mid-2020, where the insurance company will also appear as the namesake of the Swiss Life Arena, the new home of the ZSC Lions, from the 2022/23 season. For the football team, that meant saying goodbye. Nevertheless, Swiss Life is “extremely happy about this great success of the Swiss national team”. Even if the insurer is now on the sidelines.
Big differences: The market values of the national teams of Spain, France and Switzerland
The French national team is worth more than three times and that of the Spaniards more than twice as much as the Swiss starting eleven.