On 19th May, 2012, football clubs Chelsea and Bayern Munich stepped on to the green at the Allianz Arena in Munich to fight for theUEFA Champions League trophy. Thousands of kilometres away, the Underdoggs had already won.
An Indian sports bar chain, that is, with three outlets in Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh. As Chelsea won the 2012 club championship, the bar had its biggest night ever, unbeaten by even an Indian Premier League final or an India versus Pakistan clash. Approximately 2400 pints of beer with most of the golden liquid contained in green Carlsberg and Tuborg bottles, were consumed by a young demographic dressed like the Blues or die Roten. This parched lot has indeed acquired a strong taste for beer to go along with their football. Reams have been written about the growing popularity of football in what is for all intents and purposes a one sport nation. Between UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League, there are 505 opportunities to knock back a pint or four. Factor in the Spanish La Liga and the German Bundesliga and you have exhilarating 90 minute-long games all year around. Even if only half of those matches are broadcast live; it's still a lot of beer.And scattered across the country are hundreds of pubs and bars equipped with large screens to showcase these games in real time. To Preet Saini of Underdoggs Sports Bar & Grill, football and beer are a natural fit: "It's not something you think about or talk about. You don't have butter chicken with rice, do you? It's always naan or roti." For those who wondered how best to describe the relationship between the sport and grog, that ought to suffice.However, why not watch a round of football with a large vodka coke once in a while? Well, for starters, unlike vodka and others from the hard liquor ilk, a young Barca or Bayern fan can enjoy multiple pints while getting their weekly footie fix. And wake up the next morning with neither fan nor wallet in the throes of a hangover from hell. Beer provides the buzz at perhaps half the cost.Therefore, by volume, it beats spirits in India. When Brand Equity spoke with United Breweries' senior vice-president, marketing, Samar Singh Shekhawat, he was on his way out of Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. He says "you haven't seen a football match if you haven't witnessed one there." That day Kingfisher East Bengal FC beat Indonesia's Semen Padang in the AFC Cup quarter final before a packed stadium, which has the capacity to accommodate 120,000 screaming fans. It would, in fact, put Wembley to shame. Clearly, there's a market for all types of footie.Marketers across the board are using football as a communication plank to engage with a more educated, younger, discerning consumer. Consider campaigns for Pepsi, Wild Stone and Garnier, where the leading man kicks a football around. More recently, Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni did the same for Star Sports to advertise Barclays Premier League in India, which, interestingly, now has Hindi commentary for select matches. According to Vijay Rajput, COO, ESPN Software India, "We have received very positive advertiser interest for BPL 2013-2014 season. Even before the start of the league, we have been able to monetise close to 85% of the available annual inventory."However, it is a make or break proposition for alcoholic beverages currently operating in a market where advertising is restricted and likely to stay that way. Traditionally, sport has been the domain of beer brands and music, a territory occupied by hard liquor. And though it's a bit of a free for all in India, the balance is changing to reflect global trends.Earlier this year, Danish brewer Carlsberg, signed a deal that makes it Barclays Premier League's official beer partner for the next three years. Carlsberg has a long history of football associations. It's an official sponsor for Arsenal, Aston Villa, Liverpool, West Ham Unitedand Tottenham Hotspur, among others. It has sponsored all the European Football Championships since 1988, and is the official partner to UEFA Euro. The quadrennial tournament is credited with contributing to a 30% rise in Carlsberg sales in the first half of 2012.Over the course of the four week tournament over 7 million people visited Carlsberg fan parks which were set up around the stadiums, complete with giant screens and plenty of touch points including multiple outdoor bars. The brewer launched a Man of the Match app that gave fans the opportunity to vote for the best man on the pitch and win prizes. It was downloaded over 2.7 million times. According to Mike Thompson, director global consumer experience, Carlsberg Group, marketers have had to go beyond mass communication. "Today, it needs to be a pub conversation. Properties like the Euro and BPL give us content people want to share and spread and that is relevant week in and week out and in real time."There are strategies for India in place but they have to be somewhat different. On 1st September when Liverpool played Manchester United, over 290 members of the official LFC fan club attended the live screening at a pub in Connaught Place, New Delhi along with 150 Manchester fans. But watching it live at Anfield, Liverpool, was Gaurav Chopra who sang the anthem along with Kopites. "I have been an LFC fan for over 20 years," says the thirty-fouryear old contract manager with Accenture, who won a competition organised by Carlsberg India.