Interview: Timo Röbbel - 'Oberneuland rather than Barcelona'

Question: Mr. Röbbel, Continental is one of the main sponsors of the DFB Cup. The company is well-known as a World Cup partner - so why are you involved in the German football cup competition?

ContiSoccerWorld, Conti, Continental Tires, Tyres, Soccer, Football, World Cup, DFB,DFB-Pokal,DFBpokal, FCB, FC Bayern, FC Bayern München, Germany, Sponsoring, German Engineering, Conti Stars, WC Tickets, World Cup Tickets, Tickets, FIFA Partner

Timo Röbbel: Through FIFA we are able to continually increase recognition of our brand worldwide and charge the brand with emotion, so they are obviously still our most important partner. Why the DFB Cup? In Germany we have the problem of luxury - awareness of our brand is extremely high, well over 90%. That means that at home we need to focus our sports sponsorship predominantly on building up an emotional link to the brand. And as we are not sponsoring UEFA EURO 2012, we would have had a communication gap between 2010 and 2014, between the World Cup in South Africa and the one in Brazil. So to maintain the high level of contact in our communications strategy, we decided to support the DFB Cup.

ContiSoccerWorld, Conti, Continental Tires, Tyres, Soccer, Football, World Cup, DFB,DFB-Pokal,DFBpokal, FCB, FC Bayern, FC Bayern München, Germany, Sponsoring, German Engineering, Conti Stars, WC Tickets, World Cup Tickets, Tickets, FIFA Partner
Timo Röbbel, Project head of sports sponsorship at Continental

Question: When you're looking for a sponsorship platform, what criteria do you apply? What does the DFB Cup offer a company like Continental?

Timo Röbbel: Exciting, emotion-filled football, often surprising too. On a national level it gives us exactly what a World Cup gives us at international level. Football is quite simply the  sport that attracts the greatest attention anywhere in the world. Football is pure emotion, it affects everyone no matter where they're from or how old they are. Unfortunately, with tyres the situation is just the opposite. To be honest, there are only a tiny number of people who go into raptures at the sight of a car tyre. So we need to create a positive approach to the subject and bring it home to people in a situation which is charged with positive emotions. The Cup has the great benefit that it is an all-year-round event, so not something that only attracts interest during a few weeks in the summer. Focusing on Germany was very important to us in this particular case, because in terms of creating customer loyalty, it does not involve any complicated foreign travel as, for example, sponsorship of the Champions League would.

Question: So you'd rather go with your customers to see FC Oberneuland than FC Barcelona?

Timo Röbbel: Actually, yes. There are a large number of tyre dealers in, say, the area around Bremen, whom we could take along to a Cup match where the regional league team FC Oberneuland was playing, for example. Despite the fact that the team was unfortunately knocked out early this season and the sensational match against Freiburg did not materialise. It still makes more sense than all the effort involved in organising a trip to Barcelona. And, by the by, if the German teams were to be knocked out of the Champions League early on, many of the matches would lose their ultimate emotional appeal for our German guests, even if it were a top league game. The DFB Cup, on the other hand, offers great football in regions where otherwise perhaps there's no famous club playing and very little top class sport offered. But that is where our customers happen to be. And the Cup has yet another important benefit - it doesn't polarise. It thrills all the football fans. If we had opted to sponsor a single team, it would then have been difficult to appeal to the fans of all the other teams.

Question: You could have supported the German national A-team, though, if you didn't want to back a single club

Timo Röbbel: That was indeed something we looked at. However, in the end we decided against it, because we found in the past that some of the international matches were in fact quite boring - friendlies or qualifiers where there was really not much at stake. I remember the World Cup qualifier Germany versus Finland in Hamburg in late 2009, for example, when the German team already had their ticket to South Africa in the bag and played an extremely dull 1:1, where we felt we almost had to apologise to our guests. The Cup, though, famously has its own rules; now and again the minor teams challenge the big names in the world of football - David versus Goliath, the age-old battle that electrifies the crowds. And, what's important - ultimately there is a winner. Goals are guaranteed, even in they are only scored in extra time or in the penalty shoot-out.

Question: You mentioned that the decision had been taken not to back one particular club. But Continental has been sponsoring FC Bayern München since the start of the 2010-2011 season

Timo Röbbel: There we have to make a distinction. Supporting FC Bayern was a sponsorship decision made by our main shareholder. Schaeffler has long had good relations with the club and at the start of the 2010-2011 season, the company decided to expand these contacts and invited us to participate. In view of the fact that FC Bayern München is by far Germany's most successful team and, at the same time, the only one that is famous internationally, as the Continental Group we were happy to go along with this option. Our main objective in this case is to conspicuously promote the two strong brands - Schaeffler and Continental (here we are talking of the Group) - in the international world of football. And for this, Bayern München was the ideal partner. The brand is a clear market leader in Germany and Bayern München is one of Europe's top clubs. Continental is also the market leader in Germany and Europe, as well as being one of the top premium brands internationally. FC Bayern has a clear international marketing focus and it is also a strong brand in Asia, for example. It is now moving towards India and North America - both of which are important sales markets for ourselves and Schaeffler. But the difference is that the Continental Group is the one committed to FC Bayern, whilst Continental's tyre divisions are supporting the DFB Cup and the FIFA events.

Question: How do you actually judge the success of football sponsorship? How can you tell whether the money invested in the World Cup 2010, for example, was well spent?

Timo Röbbel: That is always the big question: When is sponsorship successful? The main thing is to define your own objectives. What do I want to achieve through sponsorship? As far as we are concerned, it is not crucial for all end users to recognise us as a FIFA sponsor, for example. We don't always fare well when surveys ask: "Who was a World Cup sponsor?" It is far more important to us that people give a positive response to the question: "Do you know the Continental brand?" We carry out surveys on a very regular basis and these show an enormous increase in recognition of our brand. So we can say that our commitment to the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010 was highly worthwhile, as was our support for UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.

Question: And then everybody goes into the shop and buys Continental tyres?

Timo Röbbel: That's not quite how it works. When they go into a the shop, most consumers don't know which product they want to buy, so for us it is vital to have the tyre dealership itself on our side. A dealer's recommendation is crucial. So when somebody comes into the shop, we hope the salesman will highlight the benefits of Continental tyres. Plus, people generally go for the brands they already are familiar with, so a high level of brand recognition among consumers is also important. And if, in addition to the parameters of price, product, quality and availability of supply, the dealer and customer have a fundamentally positive attitude towards our brand, then we've done everything right.