Driving Brand Loyalty through Sponsorship

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With a renewed commitment to inject life into the Nigerian Football League using Star Lager’s NPFL Partnership, the management of the Nigeria Breweries has created a new vista for the Star brand in the market, Raheem Akingbolu reports

Sponsorship of sport and entertainment activities has gained prominence over other platforms in recent time because of the huge followership they command. To this end, leading global brands are daily using the two platforms as tools to connect with more consumers. From Coca Cola to Adidas, Nike to MasterCard, sports and entertainment have remained permanent tools for positioning.

For Star Larger, from the stable of Nigerian Breweries, Sports and Entertainment are like Siamese twins being used periodically to boost the profile of the brand. In the last five years, promoters of Star have not only leveraged entertainment to woo consumers, they have used it to nurture talents and gain more market share. This explains why activation platforms like Star Trek, Star Quest and Star Mega Jam, have always been recurrent decimals in the nation’s entertainment scene.

NPFL partnership

Months after the 2016 Nigeria Professional Football League season kicked off without a title sponsor, the brand last week signed on as official beer partner in it bids to increase the brand profile of the league. The partnership agreement will run from 2016 till the 2019/2020 football league season.

Though handlers of the brand argued that Star was not expecting anything from the partnership, except to use it to celebrate with their Nigerian customers, who were passionate about the game of football, it was obvious that the relationship would achieve more than that as it would bring together patrons of the brand and potential consumers. For the existing customers, it would turn out to be a bonding platform that would increase loyalty while it beckoned on new comers to think of Star.

The Nigerian Professional Football League, run by the League Management Company, is starting to hold down its place as a veritable avenue for Nigeria’s teeming football fans that enjoy their game with all its entertainment and drama.

An average of 8000 fans attended games in the 2014/15 season, according to the LMC’s season review. This is the biggest crowd number for domestic football in Nigeria for more than 15 years and is expected to rise this year. It is common place these days to see families attend local league matches in their bright club replica jerseys due to the increased security at venues across the country.

While the win-at-home at-all-cost syndrome is fast becoming a thing of the past with 31 away wins, the highest in 10 years, the league has become more competitive as clubs now chase points on the road leading to greater excitement for the fans, the biggest stakeholders.

Need for corporate sponsorship

It is obvious that the NPFL, like many important leagues across the world, needs big corporate organisations to support its message of youth empowerment – at least 700 footballers are employed across the 20 club sides in the league.

According to the Chairman of the League Management Company, Mr. Shehu Diko, the partnership agreement with Star shows that there is opportunity for corporate Nigeria in the local league. He expressed his confidence that many more organisations would take advantage of football to reach their target market as the management company continues to build an attractive league.

He said: “However, due to the fact that more than 70 per cent of clubs are still owned by state governments, player salaries are hampered by the financial insolvency of many governments across the country. Still, there have been more positives than negatives in the domestic scene, which has seen brand impressions grow digitally with increased interest. An average of 500 posts with 4 million impressions are made about the NPFL on Twitter every weekend (Keyhole),” he said.

Meanwhile, analysts have reasoned that issues related to lack of support from individuals and corporate bodies must have informed why handlers of Star Lager Beer, has taken interest in this growing local success story in order to push it beyond its current reach.

Reacting to the new development, the Managing Director, Nigeria Breweries, Nicolas Vervelde, said NB was excited to sign the agreement with the LMC that sees the company become Official Beer of the NPFL for the next four seasons. “It’s a partnership that we expect to bring excitement to Nigerian football and the fans who love the domestic game,” he said.

The brand’s journey to the stardom

Since the first STAR Lager bottle rolled out in 1949 out of its Lagos plant, Star has been a market leader and was listed by African Business magazine in its 100 Most Admired African Brands in 2015. Star has put its brand to good use in promoting music and youth lifestyle via various entertainment projects.

With a massive investment in the NPFL through this new partnership, Star will be able to connect its message of vibrancy and excitement with football fans across the country.

The partnership would see the brand provide excitement to fans during matches through activations, music and fun games at match venues. Fans would be able to win signed memorabilia, replica match balls and jerseys as well as key rings.

For many that have complained about the lack of entertainment after matches, the company has also indicated that Nigerian Breweries experience with music would ensure there’s never a dull moment post-match. This is aside the fact that it would also amplify the NPFL brand via radio, television broadcasts, traditional and digital media, which would increase the awareness of the Nigerian League’s brand that is set to rival the biggest European leagues.

In the Beginning

Star hit the nation’s beer market on June 2, 1949. Those who were part of the midwifery would attest to the fact that it was not one of the easiest deliveries. Not because the attendants were not honed enough in the skill of getting a baby out of its mother but simply because the existing brands in the market then were not ready to give space.
Then Star was the first indigenous beer brand in the country. Not ready to bite the dust in the battle for survival, the brand and its handlers trudged on.

To make it the household name it was, its parent company, Nigerian Breweries, opened the Aba factory in 1957 to cater for consumers in the eastern part of the country. The advantage of this was that the visibility of the brand was further enhanced by this smart marketing move.

By October 1st 1960, when Nigeria got her independence, Star was eleven years old. But being the first indigenous beer brand, with lots of loyalists in the market, it turned out to be the most visible drink used for the celebration. Since then, Nigerian Breweries has consistently stood by the fact that Star was a Nigerian beer and has since used this to position the brand.

In 1963, the Kaduna factory was opened to cater for consumers in the northern axis of the market. Meanwhile, as all these were going on, competitions were not sleeping. By the 70s, Star had become the premium beer brand and there was the need to checkmate it. Though there were moves by rival brands to check the unbridled growth of the larger brand, it was too late.

In 1982 and thirty-three years after its hitting the market, the success of Star as a brand was so obvious that the Iganmu, Lagos factory could no longer satisfy the demands of the South-west market. There was, therefore, the need to open another factory to meet the demands of this strategic market, hence, the commissioning of the Ibadan factory some twenty-seven years ago.

Indigenous Brands

While the brand has not done everything right since 1949, there is something even its strongest competitors, cannot take away from the brand and its handlers. And it was the fact that it opened doors for many other indigenous brands to take the courage and hit the market.

From 1974 when Gulder was introduced to the market by the same company (ultimately to extend the horizon of NB in the market) to 1989, when Star marked its 40th year in the beer market, there had been over forty beer brands in the market.
And it goes without saying that by that 1989, forty years after the first beer rolled off the conveyor belt of the Iganmu factory, Star had been the market leader for twenty-nine of those forty years. And guess what, as at today, the almost six billion bottles of Star beer had been consumed by Nigerians.