Volkswagen puts one in the back of the net

Twenty three of New Zealand’s top footballers received some good news this week when the All Whites squad was named to play at the Football World Cup in South Africa. And the sport as a whole also got some good news after Volkswagen signed on as a major partner of football in New Zealand.

With interest in the game in New Zealand at an all-time high as a result of the World Cup qualification, the success of the Wellington Phoenix, the fact that football is now the number one sport for kids under 16 and perhaps even a dose of rugby overload, Volkswagen marketing manager in New Zealand Dean Sheed felt the planets were in alignment and the time was right to work with New Zealand Football to help grow the game – and the VW business.

The new partnership will see VW supporting football from the All Whites down or, more appropriately, Sheed says, “from the grassroots up”. So, from local Saturday morning club games, to the Small Whites development program and elite level representative teams, he says VW will be fully committed to the sport, a philosophy it has successfully applied to football around the world.

“Volkswagen has a strong commitment to football globally, based out of our headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany,” says Sheed. “We’ve already developed Junior Football Masters programmes in 20 countries and have our own team, VfL Wolfsburg, in the German Bundesliga.”

Sheed says the sponsorship deal allows it to use the All Whites players and brand in its promotions but the amount paid for the sponsorship is confidential. In November last year, Volkswagen signed up as major sponsors of the Brazilian soccer team and paid an estimated US$30 million for a five year contract. The company also spent around US$10 million on a four year deal as official auto partner with the MLS American soccer league. He says it’s not just about the cash, however. It’s about finding ways to leverage that sponsorship once the relationship has been cemented.

Sheed says Volkswagen has been looking for a sport to sponsor in New Zealand for the last 18 months. And, the company continues to establish itself as a more mainstream option (it’s been the number one European car brand for six years, he says), rather than a premium car brand, football, which is on a similar growth trajectory, was the obvious choice.

Previously, when VW was more niche and premium, he says it sponsored alpine sports and tennis. But it doesn’t sponsor one-off events and looks for long-term partnerships. As such, Sheed says the agreement is open-ended, but he says both organisations are looking at a minimum of three years to bring about some positive change.

Toyota has taken a similar approach by sponsoring grassroots rugby. And with a wide range of VW vehicles now on offer, ranging in price from $28,000 to $140,000 (a new utility vehicle coming out at the end of the year will compete with the hilux/navarra/ranger models), Sheed says the arrangement will be particularly crucial to help VW enhance its profile in the heartland, the seven regions New Zealand Football operates in.

“We are very much a national brand now,” he says.

With the upcoming World Cup less than a month away he says New Zealand Football has a “few other things on its plate at the moment” so, unfortunately, he says VW won’t be able to fully leverage its involvement with the All Whites in the lead-up to and during the tournament. The logo will be on all the media boards and press releases, as well as some of the training kit, but if the agreement had been signed a few months earlier, he says it might have been possible to get the All Whites to the VW stadium in Wolfsburg and possibly even training with Bundesliga teams.

Even so, he says it is a long-term agreement and meetings to decide on strategy and benchmarking are planned after the World Cup, with both parties hoping to “research each other’s resources to a far better degree”. New Zealand Football’s management has often been classified as dysfunctional in recent times, but Sheed is confident the organisation, like the sport itself, is on the up.

New Zealand Football already has sponsorship deals with Nike, McDonald’s, Thai Airways and a few other government organisations and trusts. And, with common interests in growing both the sport and their businesses, he sees plenty of potential for “cross-pollination” and cross-promotions in the coming years.

Michael Glading, chief executive of New Zealand Football, is confident that Volkswagen’s support, both nationally and particularly at grass roots level, will help develop the sport.

“Given Volkswagen’s global association with the sport, there’s already a shared passion for the game and a mutual desire to reinforce the existing plans that we have in place. It’s an exciting time for football and we are looking forward to further exploring the opportunities that a brand such as Volkswagen can bring to the table and to building on the profile that the football is currently enjoying.”

Speaking of football, Carlsberg, the major beer sponsor of the English football team, has released its World Cup ad ‘Probably the Best Team Talk in the World’.

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