Interview: Patrik Holmgren - The DFB Pokal (German Cup): "One of the most sought-after platforms for brand communication"

In the 2009/2010 season the DFB, in conjunction with its marketing partner Infront Sports & Media, introduced a new marketing concept for the DFB Pokal (German Cup).

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In an interview with Contisoccerworld, Patrik Holmgren, Associate Director Summer Sports at Infront, reveals why four is the ideal number of top sponsors, why penalty shoot-outs do not cost any extra - and why he is keeping his fingers crossed for Bayern München.

Question: Mr. Holmgren, Infront took over the central marketing for the DFB Pokal at the start of the 2009/2010 season. What are your conclusions to date?

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Patrik Holmgren: They are highly positive. It has always been our objective to work closely together with the DFB to develop the DFB Pokal brand into a sustainable concept, strengthening its premium characteristics. So far we have been very successful in this. What undoubtedly helped tremendously in this context was substantially reducing the number of sponsors. Before the marketing was organised centrally, there was a vast number of brands and messages, because every single home team in the stadium was represented by different sponsors - up to a thousand over the course of the entire Cup competition.

Question: How does that affect the marketing?

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Patrik Holmgren, Associate Director Summer Sports at Infront

Patrik Holmgren: The picture was highly fragmented and it was impossible to gain any clear association between brand and event. Since last season there have been just four Top and eight Spot Partners. As well as reducing the numbers of sponsors, we also introduced a consistent stadium décor reflecting the DFB Pokal design - this was also an important measure in the marketing strategy. There is now just one consistent advertising environment in every stadium and for all 63 matches - that enhances recognition value. Our analyses confirm the fact that we are on the right road with these changes - today the DFB Pokal is one of the most sought-after platforms for brand communication in Germany.

Question: What was the status of the DFB Pokal brand before you stepped in?

Patrik Holmgren: The German Cup has always been a top-class competition which thrills the fans - a strong brand in the world of football. For spectators, the knock-out system of matches where a supposedly weaker opponent suddenly eliminates a major team provides the greatest amount of excitement. So what we had here was a well-established competition that was spell-binding in terms of sport and still had potential from a marketing point of view. Based on this, we began working with the DFB to develop a marketing concept which did justice to this competition.

Question: What advantage is there for the individual companies in reducing the number of sponsors?

Patrik Holmgren: Making sponsorship scarcer and focusing the form it takes benefits everybody - the companies involved and the competition. This has been our experience in the past with other sporting events, such as the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, where we collectively marketed the races. A reduction in numbers guarantees the DFB Pokal sponsors an exclusivity and brand visibility which is unprecedented in German football - on television, in print or in online reporting. An important aspect here is the high recognition value - the spectator increasingly associates the DFB Pokal with the companies involved, and ultimately both sides benefit.

Question: Why is four the magic number of sponsors? Why not three or five?

Patrik Holmgren: In fact, that entailed a protracted process of balancing pros and cons. We created simulations to establish what number was ideal for both sides - for the sponsors, in terms of visibility, and for the DFB, in terms of refinancing. In the extreme case we would have worked together with just one sponsor, who would have had maximum exclusivity, but would on the other hand have had to make accordingly high investments. We were thus able to play through various options and came to the conclusion that, for the moment, four is the ideal number of Top sponsors. Each company is given a significant amount of perimeter advertising area and can convey its message clearly and visibly - and the cost structures are reasonable for both sides.

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(Photo: GES/Augenklick)


Question: What basic criteria does a sponsor have to meet in order to acquire a package of rights for the Cup competition? Or is it just a case of whoever books in good time can be involved?

Patrik Holmgren: No, this again is a highly complicated process. In the customer acquisition phase we spoke to several top class companies who were interested, ideally to attract sponsors who were known throughout Germany or even internationally. That doesn't mean that smaller, less well-established firms are not welcome, but a well-known company name of course also enhances the reputation of the DFB Pokal. So we were highly delighted that we could gain Bitburger, Deutsche Post and Jack Wolfskin beside Continental - four great brands - as Cup Top partners this season. A further advantage for the companies involved is, incidentally, having a sporting tradition. As a long-standing partner of the FIFA World CupTM, Continental is well-established on the football scene. TV consumers know that internationally Continental is clearly associated with football and that, of course, strengthens the DFB Pokal brand.

Question: It is often said the Cup has its own rules in terms of sporting events. Can you confirm that this also applies on a marketing level? Are there any special aspects of marketing a Cup competition that you don't find with other sporting events?

Patrik Holmgren: Yes, there certainly are. Traditionally, the Cup signifies the start and end of the football season in Germany. At the start of the season, all the football fans out there are happy that things are finally kicking off and similarly, the final in Berlin is the highlight that closes the season. Depending on who is in the final, there are several hundred thousand requests for tickets! The level of interest is enormously high - a single league game cannot normally command the same appeal. Also, the clubs take the Cup very seriously as a sporting event. It is often said that the Cup is the quickest way to the international game - six wins and you've made it, and you'll be playing in the UEFA Europa League the following season. So the teams are giving all they have - and that is an aspect that should not be underestimated when you're assessing the attractiveness of this kind of competition. Another special feature of the DFB Pokal from a marketing point of view is the regional presence it affords the sponsors participating. The many venues, especially in the first rounds, mean that there are plenty of opportunities for involving dealers, customers and staff at a local level.

Question: What about extra time and penalty shoot-outs? Do sponsors have to then pay extra, because there is greater TV presence or is that part of the package?

Patrik Holmgren: (laughs) No, of course not. It would be inappropriate to try and exploit this kind of situation in the match. Penalty shoot-outs are part of the Cup and, naturally, also part of the rights package. That is precisely what makes the Cup so intrinsically dramatic - there is always a winner!

Question: If the big clubs are kicked out in the first round, in other words the Cup's 'own rules' take effect, do you then curse inwardly, because one of the top attractions - the HSV, Bayern München or Schalke - has been eliminated?

Patrik Holmgren: No, such drama is part of the myth surrounding the Cup. The competition lives off the times when a sixth division team wins one round after another. But of course we're also happy when top clubs like Bayern München or Schalke don't get kicked out straightaway in one of the first rounds like this year. They have a great following and can sometimes have a strong polarising effect. Ultimately, both scenarios produce high TV viewing figures. A successful Cup season needs both - the nobodies who score the goal of a lifetime and the league stars.

Question: As a marketer, do you have a dream final?

Patrik Holmgren: A major club would undoubtedly be desirable for the DFB Pokal final, not least for the prestige of the competition. But ultimately, whichever club plays - we don't take sides.  Whereby, they always say that every club would play with particular commitment against Bayern München. That would then make it a worthy final.