Heineken Kicks-Off MLS Partnership With Twitter-Led #SupporterSunday

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Heineken’s new US five-year, $50m sponsorship deal to be the official beer of Major League Soccer kicks off with a low-key, fan-focused new 2015 season campaign by urging fans to share their matchday experience with the brand through #SupporterSunday.


Twitter-led #SupporterSunday rolled out on opening weekend and asks supporters to share their pictures and films of their matchday experience and share it with the brand to drive engagement and sharing.




Heineken’s MLS rights package also gives it the position as presenting sponsor of ‘Rivalry Week’ – ensuring additional assets during the key match-ups when teams play their biggest rivals.


The new 2015 season will see a new MLS rivalry in the form of the games between New York Red Bulls and newcomers New York City FC, as well as long established rivalries such as the Cascadia Cup between the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers and the California Classico between the LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes.


Rivalry Week (presented by Heineken) will actually be concentrated over two specific weekends: 26-28 June and 28-30 August.



The Dutch brewer’s activation strands will range from social engagement (it will aim to grow its US soccer Twitter handle substantially above its current 15,000 followers) and other exclusive web content,





to hosting the hospitality and experiential ‘Heineken House’ at major MLS events.


The MLS now attracts more fans-per-game than the NHL and the NBA and Heineken is one of several big brands betting that US soccer has passed a mainstream tipping point.


‘We’ve been looking for a national engagement platform for the US consumer linked to our heritage,’ says Nuno Teles, Heineken USA’s chief marketing officer.


‘MLS is the perfect match of what the brand stands for as a European import.’


“The big difference that we’ve seen is, in the past, you’d get the World Cup bump and then it would kind of dissipate,” Quinn Kilbury, senior brand director at Heineken.

“I think that soccer fans in the US are finding their voice because big media companies like Twitter are allowing a place for those conversations to occur,” he added.


‘There’s more of a structural change in how we’re using soccer and our relationship as Heineken the brand beyond just the UEFA Champions League,’ Kilbury said


Heineken, of course, is a global brand is consolidating its status as a global soccer sponsor too.


It is flagship partnership is its sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League (see 2015 campaign case study).


The new MLS work follows on from an increasingly powerful soccer activation heritage for Heineken in the USA.


After all, Heineken is also trying to leverage its sponsorship of the European-based UEFA Champions League with marketing aimed at US residents (see previous case study).


Also, during summer 2014, Heineken leveraged the spike in soccer interest in the FIFA World Cup (where the US team impressed) by challenging fans in the USA to skip work and head to the bar to watch the football by performing what it called a #BrazilianNoShow.


The hashtag went viral and inspired several other brand-related tweets.


Last winter the beer brand also teamed up with Foursquare to zero in on American fans of the UEFA Champions League in bars and restaurants for a three-month, contest-driven initiative involving a data-visualisation map where players could see which cities were recording the most Foursquare check-ins.


The research for this campaign suggested that at the time there were 11 million US soccer fans on Twitter and 22 million on Facebook.


Indeed, the brewer’s Foursquare campaign netted 1 million check-ins across 700,000 venues and generated 250,000 entries into a contest last year.


Since then Heineken has doubled down on Twitter, dropped its Foursquare profile (which if felt was not particularly compatible with Heineken’s new strategy of emphasising long-term engagement with fans on platforms like Twitter, rather than short-term check-in promotions) and also it has linked up with  MLS.




The Dutch brewer is on something of a soccer offensive as it replaces Budweiser as the MLS official beer brand (the AB-InBev brand having held the position for almost two decades).


The goal of the sponsorship is to reach 90 million American consumers – with an emphasis on millennials and Hispanics.


Heineken Chief Marketing Officer Nuno Teles says that Heineken research shows there are 70 million soccer fans in the US, and that soccer fans are 50% more likely to drink imports than other sports fans.


The rise of soccer also presents a path for brands to adapt to the shifting demographics of the US population – enabling them to engage with the all-important millennial segment, as well as the fast growing Latino community.


Heineken will be hoping the partnership helps it boot US sales that dropped nearly 4% between 2008 and 2013.


Teaming up with the MLS makes a lot of strategic sense for Heineken.


Not just as it further consolidates its global positioning and global soccer brand status, but also it is associating itself with a growth market, and a young market too, so it may be able to carve out a distinct identity amidst the crowded US beer landscape.


Heineken is just one of five new major soccer sponsor this season, after the MLS has also added Audi, Chipotle, Etihad Airways and Advocare to its partnership roster.


Big name brands who clearly seem convinced that the sport has found solid footing in the USA.




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