Interview: Heineken’s Hans-Erik Tuijt on the Rugby World Cup renewal and more

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Hans-Erik Tuijt, the director of global sponsorships at Heineken, talks about the brand’s strategy in high-profile sports sponsorship. Heineken has one of the most prestigious sponsorship portfolios in world sport. The brewer is a long-term partner of soccer’s Uefa Champions League, signed a huge deal in 2016 with Formula One, and also has a substantial presence in rugby union.

As March began, it reinforced those connections when it renewed its partnership with the Rugby World Cup, more than two years ahead of the next edition in Japan. Hans-Erik Tuijt, the director of global sponsorships at Heineken, talks to SportsPro about the importance of putting plans in place early for that tournament, and about the brand’s strategy across the wider sports industry.

Heineken has partnerships in place in rugby union, soccer and Formula One. What are the opportunities in sponsoring a major event in rugby as opposed to other sports?

Every sponsorship has its own objective and reasons. We have a long history with rugby, going back to the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. We started the Heineken Cup back then as well. The core values of rugby are close to the core values of Heineken.

We did some research around the world and Heineken is seen as one of the most recognised rugby partners around the world. That tells you something about what we have achieved over the years. It’s logical that we’ve made a lot of effort with World Rugby and extended the partnership to Japan in 2019. 

What lessons have you learned from your previous sponsorships of Rugby World Cups?

We’ve learned that the Rugby World Cup is different from the average rugby event. The World Cup is a reason for rugby fans around the world to gather together and drink cold Heineken beer. I was managing director of Heineken Lion Australia when the World Cup was held there in 2003 and we created the longest bar in the Southern Hemisphere at Stadium Australia. Before that, people said people wouldn’t gather before matches, but the World Cup does bring a lot of international fans together. What makes the World Cup quite unique is that no matter what part of the world it is held in, it is a festive celebration.

What particular marketing strategy can we expect to see from Heineken before and during the tournament?

We will invite thousands of guests to the 48 matches. It is about TV commercials, it is about digital and if you look at the Heineken volume around the world, it is the classic top eight teams that are always there, like Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, England, France and so on. That’s why Heineken is quite well positioned, but even if you take the other countries, like the USA or Italy, Heineken is really well positioned there as well.

We have the ability to activate the Rugby World Cup all around the world, and we will do trade, consumer and digital promotions during the tournament in Japan. We will use all the ability we have to engage with our consumers around the world and make it a more memorable World Cup.

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In what way could the marketing of the 2019 World Cup be different due to the fact it is the first to be played in Asia?

In terms of the time changes, we’re used to that, due to our sponsorship of the event when it was held in Australia and New Zealand. I think it will be an excuse for a lot of people that have never been to Japan to visit the country and I expect a lot of international guests to come to Japan.

Where the World Cup takes place, from an activation point of view, doesn’t make too much of a difference pre-tournament. From a social perspective, we need to make sure what we do is relevant to the time of the day when we are talking to fans around the world.

How challenging will it be to market Heineken at a tournament in a region where rugby is perhaps catching up with other sports, in terms of popularity?

Well you saw what happened at the 2015 World Cup, when Japan beat South Africa. The next match was watched by a record 25 million people in Japan, which says something about the power of the event. As I mentioned, I was in Australia in 2003, and Australia has two big rugby stadiums in Queensland, but we had England play South Africa in Perth and that was just as important to them as it would be in Japan.

We have quite a lot of knowledge about fan behaviour and we create fan zones. It is important to start early, because during the 2015 World Cup in the UK, more than one million fans visited the fan zones. To set that up and do that properly, I think we will start engaging with the local tournament organisations quite early so that we are prepared for Japan and can do the right things.

You recently extended your sponsorship of soccer’s Uefa Champions League. How does this fit into your wider strategy?

The Champions League is, of course, quite a unique property to work with. We’ve been working with the Champions League since 1995, first with the Amstel brand, but back then it was still a very European property. What you see today is the billions of individuals that watch the Champions League around the world.

People in Asia, Africa, North America and Latin America are now watching the Champions League. Heineken is available in every country that sells alcohol, so we can do a lot of fan engagement through that. We are the leading brand in Europe and it’s fantastic that the Champions League is played in Europe, as we can do a lot of fan engagement with fans in Europe, but the Champions League is broadcast in a lot of countries where our share is way below the one per cent. We will be successful  as these countries come up to the one per cent market share as well. It runs for nine months of the year and we manage activation with the Champions League in lots of different ways. For example, we’re going to start with the trophy tour this month. We will take it to Colombia, Panama, Egypt, Vietnam and India. With Colombia and India, it will be the first time the trophy has been taken there. We’re building the brand equities in all these areas.

What have you learned from your first nine months or so working with Formula One?

The reason for partnering with Formula One was quite a different one. We needed to expand our footprint and with Formula One, we looked at the data and found that we would reach 200 million people that we were not reaching with our existing partnerships.

I think the first year has been very good. We have been a little bit lucky. As a Dutch brand, it was great to see Max Verstappen develop. That helped to gain a lot more excitement. The visibility of Formula One is working for us. We just saw research showing that the first year was way above our expectations. We will be applying that knowledge to the races of 2017. For example, in Australia, the first race of the season, we will start with Heineken Saturday, where we will have all kinds of bands performing and will create more excitement for the fans. There will be more digital engagement and we are planning to do the same for the Chinese and Spanish Grands Prix.

How has Liberty Media’s recent takeover of Formula One affected those plans?

When we entered Formula One, we always said that we did this for fan engagement and to bring new fans into Formula One. It’s the same with Liberty Media. We will reinforce each other’s strengths and that can only help. I must say Bernie Ecclestone has been extremely open to our ideas and I expect the new owners will subscribe to our strategy and help us build our association and build the footprint of Formula One around the world.

Moving forward, how likely is it you will announce more partnerships in sport over the next few years?

In the last three weeks, we have announced extended deals with the Champions League and Rugby World Cup. If you had a blank sheet of paper and wrote down partnerships you would want, you would write those down, along with Formula One. That’s more than enough for a brand like Heineken. We just launched our Jose Mourinho campaign for the knockout stages of the Champions League and with the Rugby World Cup deal, too, that is fine for us.

What will be your overall targets in sport across the next few years?

Our target is to reinforce our position in the premium segment and we do this with world class partnerships, like with the UCL, Formula One and World Rugby. The trick is that millennials are becoming less and less loyal, so we need to make sure our mobile strategy is superior  and that we get more people to drink Heineken.

This article was originally published by our partner, SportsPro 


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