How does a banking giant with operations in 22 countries support a new master brand? For UniCredit, S.p.A., the answer is sponsorship.

Looking to unify its vast holdings under a common name, the Milan, Italy-based company in 2007 rolled out a master brand that saw it move from a “house of many brands” to a “branded house.”

The goal: To unify, endorse and enhance its local brands and allow each bank to be perceived as part of a leading Pan-European financial institution.

To support the strategy and generate excitement at the local level, UniCredit in 2009 signed a three-year partnership with the UEFA Champions League.

UniCredit in 2011 extended the tie through 2015 after generating the following results in the first two years of the partnership:  

  • More than five billion impressions
  • Six percentage point increase in aided brand awareness
  • Steady improvement in propensity to buy
  • Effective sales conversion and leads
  • Extensive media exposure from UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour
  • 170 percent net return on comparable sponsorship costs

“The results were really good, so we decided to prolong the sponsorship,” said Daniele Penna, UniCredit’s head of strategic sponsorships.

IEG/Performance Research Sponsorship Decision-makers Survey

Supporting The Master Brand Through Soccer
UniCredit in 2008 began to search for an international sports marketing platform to promote its new brand. The company opted for sponsorship due to the marketing medium’s growing popularity, the opportunity to tap into key passion points and assets that could be used for national and local activation platforms.

“A decision was made not to use a traditional advertising campaign. We decided to associate with a strong, well-known brand that could help position us in the right mindset with our end customers,” said Penna.

To make sure it was partnering with the right property, UniCredit established a sponsorship filter to vet opportunities. The goal: To identify properties that could provide a point of differentiation from competitors and help support the bank’s brand-building efforts through highly visible and relevant brand messages.

UniCredit established the following framework for the search:

  • Build awareness and consideration across Europe and charge up the brand’s international image.
  • Reach affluent men and women in the 18-29, 30-49 and 50-to 69 age groups
  • Gain reach in UniCredit’s 22 European markets
  • Access national and local activation platforms

The search led to soccer, a sport that could build brand awareness and consideration among all target groups and markets across Europe.

“The conclusion was that no other sport meets the requirements of UniCredit’s pan-European strategy than soccer,” said Penna.

UniCredit then set out to explore specific properties, with two organizations coming to the fore: The UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Champions League.

While the Europa League has a strong presence in Eastern Europe, the league is perceived as a second-tier property behind the UEFA Champions League, said Penna.

“We want to associate our brand with the best of the best on the ultimate stage.”  

In addition to aligning UniCredit with perception drivers such as professional, premium and European across nearly every age and income segment, the UEFA Champions League affords tangible impact in terms of continuity (10 months a year), frequency (146 matches and 17 match-week) and TV coverage, he said.  

Another benefit: The UEFA Champions League provides a Pan-European marketing platform that can be activated at the local level.

Since UniCredit’s marketing footprint did not exactly align with the UEFA Champions League’s primary markets, the bank modified the sponsorship package to support its awareness and brand-building objectives in Central and Eastern Europe, a region where although local soccer clubs may not be as great as the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona, the popularity of the UEFA Champions League as a top continental tournament was high and growing.

Specifically, the bank gained a greater TV presence in its 22 markets in exchange for giving back TV rights in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Greece and other European countries where it has limited or no presence.  

IEG/Performance Research Sponsorship Decision-makers Survey

From Brand-building To Product Sales
While UniCredit initially partnered with the UEFA Champions League to build awareness of its master brand, it now uses the tie to drive consideration and product sales.

For example, UniCredit this year added a new asset to its sponsorship package: The right to produce the official UEFA Champions League Match Coin. The bank leverages the asset to offer customers and prospects the opportunity to hand the coin to the referee prior to the official toss. 

“It offers tremendous power in terms of activation,” said Penna, noting that local markets can use to asset in product-specific promotions.

UniCredit also hosts customers and prospects at the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour, a road show designed to bring soccer content to the local level. “The benefits of becoming a UniCredit customer is not only about getting tickets to a final match, but having special access to the Trophy Tour,” said Penna.

UniCredit also uses the Trophy Tour and other assets to drive branch traffic and product sales. For example, the bank distributes coupons at Trophy Tour stops that consumers can use to request the exclusive UEFA Champions League prepaid card at local branches. Consumers that purchase and load 100 euro onto the card are entered into a sweeps dangling two tickets to the 2013 Final in London.

Given the affinity soccer fans have to the online world, social media plays a major component in UniCredit’s communication strategy. The platform centers on www.unicredit.eu/champions, a site that offers information on the sponsorship, league news, results and other content. 

The online platform also includes banners on UniCredit corporate and affiliate web sites, banners on UEFA.com, a Facebook page and a dedicated YouTube channel. 

UniCredit also activates the tie with local marketing campaigns, customer hospitality and corporate social responsibility programs.