• Danish beer maker began backing team’s supporters this year
  • Iceland’s surprise Euro 2016 run ended with defeat to France

Iceland’s fairy-tale run at soccer’s European Championship made a name for the team’s traveling fans and provided unexpected payback for their main backer -- brewer Carlsberg A/S.

The Danish company, whose biggest sponsorship is its 40 million-euro ($44.5 million) agreement with the tournament, also makes a far smaller contribution to fund Iceland’s supporter club Tolfan, or The Twelfth Man. The arrangement led to additional exposure for Carlsberg’s brand -- prominently displayed on many Iceland fans’ jerseys -- at a time when the company was constrained by French laws that prevent alcohol brands from being displayed at sporting venues.

Iceland fans during the European Championship.
Iceland fans during the European Championship.
Photographer: Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Iceland was the tournament’s Cinderella story, a dark-horse team with no stars making its tournament debut, ignored by big sponsors like Nike Inc. and Adidas AG. The squad survived the group stage and then created nationwide trauma by defeating England last week to reach the quarter-finals. The odyssey ended with a 5-2 beating at the hands of France on Sunday, yet the defeat didn’t dampen the support from 10,000 Iceland fans packed into one end of the stadium. Their warlike chants and coordinated clapping received plenty of airtime, with Carlsberg’s logo frequently on display.

While the brewer isn’t a sponsor of the Iceland team, Carlberg’s Icelandic distributor struck a deal earlier this year with Tolfan’s jersey maker Henson. Financial details have not been disclosed, and the value isn’t likely to be significant, said Tim Crow, chief executive of London-based sports sponsorship consultant Synergy.

Smart Investment

It proved to be a smart investment for Carlsberg, as French law prevents alcohol products from being advertised at sporting events. That meant Carlsberg couldn’t feature its brand name on billboards, and instead used one word from its slogan -- “Probably.” (The full slogan is "Probably the best lager in the world.”)

Teams from most of Carlsberg’s major European markets qualified for the tournament, and several made it to the knockout stages. Whoever meets in the July 10 final, there’s likely to be an Icelandic presence: Fans of rival teams, including host France, have added the Viking chants to their repertoire.

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