Champions League Sponsor Heineken Calls for Free Games on TV

  • Dutch brewer renews elite soccer sponsorship through 2021
  • Audience in the U.K. has fallen since games moved to pay TV

Heineken NV has renewed its sponsorship of European soccer’s Champions League through 2021, extending a 20-year association and the company’s biggest sports marketing commitment.

The competition, which resumes later this month, reaches an audience of 1 billion worldwide, said Hans Erik Tuijt, head of global sponsorship at Heineken. Still, he encouraged the Union of European Football Associations to consider returning some games to free TV in its next U.K. media rights deal.

"I believe one game at least should be on public television," Tuijt said. "Access to all the other games you can buy. I am a big advocate to get solid reach, otherwise you won’t remain relevant."

Fans in the U.K., the largest TV market for Champions League games, used to be able to watch some matches on national free-to-air channel ITV, which shared rights with Sky Plc. In 2015, UEFA sold its entire slate of games to cable provider BT Group Plc for 900 million pounds ($1.4 billion), and viewership fell dramatically.

BT’s three-year deal with the Champions League expires in 2018, and UEFA is seeking bids for its next broadcast deal, with a decision expected in March.

Tuijt declined to say how much the beer company is paying but allowed that the price had gone up since its last agreement. "The brand association and activation is still working for our brand," he said. "Sponsorship doesn’t get cheaper."

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