Hyundai and Conti are winners in soccer sponsorship

Munich. Cars and association football (soccer) are pretty much near the top of the agenda when men gather in bars in most of the world. Hyundai Motor, for one, is taking advantage of this.

A big sponsor of the World Cup in South Korea and Japan two years ago, Hyundai kept up the momentum during the European Championships in Portugal this summer.

It has already signed up with world soccer's governing body FIFA as an official partner for the 2006 World Cup - much to the annoyance of the Mercedes Car Group.

Mercedes, sponsor of the German national team since 1972, wanted to become official FIFA partner at the next World Cup in Germany. But as a 2002 sponsor Hyundai had an "option to purchase" - one it was eager to take up.

Now tire supplier Continental AG in Hanover, Germany, is football's latest signing.

"Football works," Lars Fahrenbach, marketing director at Continental. "Men buy tires and men watch football," he said, explaining the group's role as official FIFA partner for the 2006 World Cup.

Conti wants to make the brand known beyond the German borders. And a global showcase such as the world cup is the best platform.

Hyundai thinks along similar lines. The South Korean auto maker, the official sponsor of the European championships, will also supply the busses for the football teams during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

There have already been positive effects. Stefan Henrich, who co-ordinates Hyundai's sponsoring activities from headquarters in Ruesselsheim, said that the brand is better known than before.

Additional activities based around the tournament in Portugal should further improve the brand's image. Hyundai is targeting young drivers with its street-football tour "Kick it" and the show "BallaBalla Tour".

Conti made a TV spot with Timo Hildebrandt, the reserve goalkeeper for the German national team.

There remains some debate as to whether football sponsoring is effective or not. "Official TV presenters stick in viewers' memory for quite a long time," said Dirk Jungels, who teaches sport, media and communication at the university for engineering in Munich.

As well as sponsoring tournaments, car companies are big sponsors of teams as well. Opel sponsors the team of the Czech Republic and Audi supplies the players at FC Bayern Munich and Real Madrid with cars.

Hyundai's Henrich is against supporting football clubs or country specific activities. Should the supported team be on the downward slope the sponsor would also be under pressure. But when sponsoring an international event such as the European or world cup a brand is "definitely present", no matter who wins the tournament.

Fahrenbach is of the same opinion. "That way we are unbeatable."

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