Every two years, Bob Groot gets to leave behind his day job at the Dutch office of national statistics, party with royalty and enjoy a beer with some of the world’s top Olympians.
The 30-year-old Rotterdam resident, a regular attendee of the Olympics, used his time at the winter competition in Sochi to pay several visits to the Holland Heineken House. The House, thought up by Heineken NV to celebrate the Netherlands’ sporting victories and create a home away from home, has this year hosted Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Russian President Vladimir Putin and athletes celebrating Dutch medals.
While a handful of nations also have their own so-called country houses, the brewer and the Dutch have been running the Holland Heineken House since the 1992 summer games in Barcelona. Set up as a secure venue for Dutch athletes to have a beer with families and friends outside the restricted Olympic compound, it’s evolved into a place for fans to mingle, watch the games and party. Others, such as the Canada and U.S. facilities, are restricted to team sponsors, athletes and families.
“It’s a big thing, all the Dutch go there,” said Groot, as he admired newspaper clippings near the entrance of the house describing the team’s speedskating exploits. “It’s the celebration of the Dutch medals, that’s the most important for me, and getting together with a lot of Dutch people. It’s the fun place to be.”
The site in Sochi fits about 500 people, about a 10th of the size of Heineken’s party at Alexandra Palace in north London for the last summer games in 2012. Tickets -- popularity and security means access has had to be controlled -- are available to anyone willing to register and pay 10 euros ($13.70).
It’s also a good venue for a familiar beer. Heineken, the world’s third-largest brewer, sells a plastic cup of its namesake drink for 150 rubles, about $4.20, a little less than at a bar. Don’t expect other brands, or mixed drinks. That suits most of the orange-clad folk watching the big screen replays of speedskating, where the Netherlands have swept four races and racked up 22 medals so far, or partying to Dutch bands and DJs including Bassjackers and Fedde Le Grand.
“It feels like a family here,” said Frank Castien, a resident of the Dutch city of Haarlem who has been in Sochi helping with Olympic preparation since November. “Every evening, if we win a medal, which we’ve been doing, we have a medal celebration. The connection between the supporters and the athletes is very close.”
Successful athletes at the winter games receive flowers after winning medals, which are then awarded in a public square in the middle of the main Olympic park near the Black Sea. The Dutch party then switches to the massive back garden of Azimut hotel, where winners -- and their medals -- are presented to the crowd in the 3,500-square meter (37,674-square feet) building with views of the mountains and the sea.
This year’s Dutch success means that organizers have had to find more space for the new “Legendary Lane,” a walkway acknowledging each medal, like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, leading to a stage where athletes are cheered and then bands and DJs entertain the crowd at night.
Big beer brands have always sought out sporting events for advertising: Heineken sponsors soccer and rugby events, and Budweiser, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, has sponsorship of the soccer World Cup in Brazil.
Heineken said this year it will prioritize its namesake brand and will slightly step up investment in sales and marketing, particularly in Europe. The beer’s volume fell 1.8 percent last year as the French government raised taxes on beer and it struggled in the U.S. and Vietnam.
The House is a more effective way of promoting the Heineken brand than traditional advertising, says Hans Erik Tuijt, the Heineken director in charge of the program, declining to comment on how much it cost to set up the site in Sochi. His team has already started looking at sites for Rio, where the House will be bigger than this year, though smaller than London, as fewer fans will make it to Brazil.
“If we sponsor something, we want to be part of a conversation,” Tuijt said. “Just putting a logo up there doesn’t do that.”
-With assistance from Christopher Spillane in Sochi. Editors: Paul Jarvis, Robert Valpuesta
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