“Like a perfect touch on a cross” – Heineken seals $50 million deal with MLS

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With a deal in place to replace Budweiser as the official beer of the Major League Soccer (MLS), Heineken hopes to win the hearts of American consumers and improve its market share.

Soccer fans love beer and smart companies are capable of milking this connection all the way to the bank. Dutch premium brand Heineken knows a lot about this, as its sponsorship deal with the UEFA Champions League that runs until 2017 was instrumental for the public image of the company.

“Soccer has been an invaluable platform for the Heineken brand for years, with our position as sponsor of the UEFA Champions League and other top soccer properties around the world,” said Nuno Teles, Heineken Chief Marketing Officer. “Fans in the U.S. and across the globe appreciate the opportunity to enjoy first-class soccer with the highest quality premium beer.”

That’s why Heineken’s recently signed contract with the MLS is seen as possible key to unlock the American beer market and snatch away customers from domestic manufacturers.

The sponsorship deal is reported to be worth around $50 million and will start in 2015, just in time to celebrate the MLS’ 20th season. Heineken will become the official beer of the league, a position that previously belonged to the local market leader Budweiser, which currently controls more than half of the lucrative U.S. beer market. Without a doubt, soccer fans represent a large chunk of this market as there are currently around 22 million people in the country playing the sport at various levels. Furthermore, soccer is seen as a global game and resonates more with the upper-class consumers that fit into the affluent, educated and sociable profile that Heineken primarily targets.

Heineken’s official announcement states the following: “As The Official Beer of MLS, Heineken is going to create some seriously fun opportunities for fans, including MLS Rivalry Week and a host of other types of digital activations that the brand has become expert in. A world class sport, a world class league and a world class brand—like a perfect touch on a cross, this will be a beautiful thing to behold.”

The move is widely seen as the final proof of the Dutch brewer’s ambitious plans for the U.S. market, as it comes at the heels of few other interesting marketing activities centered on football. Last winter, Heineken entered a partnership with Foursquare to animate American fans of the Champions League who competed for the most check-ins on the social network in a U.S. city during game. It further ran a viral campaign on Twitter during the World Cup 2014 with the hashtag #BrazilianNoShow, encouraging U.S. viewers to skip work and watch soccer. The present sponsorship deal with the MLS crowns these efforts and allows Heineken to enter the consciousness of local consumers in a powerful way and raise the brand image.

Focus on soccer (and sports in general) is one of the major channels that Heineken used to reverse its fortunes in the United States. After its market share declined from 2.7% in 2007 to just 2.2% in 2011, the company purchased Mexican beer brands Dos Equis and Sol. It thereby consolidated its portfolio and gained a higher control over the imported beer market. While also investing heavily into sales and advertising, the brand has seen steady growth ever since and is now increasingly becoming a trendy choice at American bars and restaurants.

Did you know? New teams from Orlando and New York are scheduled to join MLS next season?

References: Soccer America, Adweek, Fansided, MLS Soccer, BusinessWeek

Picture: Quiet Glover

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