This weekend, all footballing roads – or more specifically the M4 and A48 – lead to Cardiff as the Uefa Champions League bandwagon rolls into town. At the end of the day – read: 19:45 – Juventus and Real Madrid will kick-off with high hopes of scooping Europe’s biggest prize since Amar Pelos Dois won the hearts of Kiev.
These days, football and cars are as intertwined as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Ferrari 599 GTB and the tunnel beneath Manchester Airport. In Cheshire, (dis)tastefully modified cars are as common as fake tan, must-have handbags and sunnies the size of dinner plates.
But while it’s easy to poke fun at footballing car culture – hat tip to Stephen Ireland for services to the industry – the fact remains that football is big business for the car industry. And that’s not a throwaway cliché, Clive.
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The Champions League gives 110%
Nissan certainly thinks so, which is why you’re forced to endure endless ads when Gary, Jake and co. have finished over-analysing misplaced passes with old pros. The Japanese firm signed a four-year Uefa Champions League sponsorship deal in 2014, reported to be worth €54.5 (£45m), replacing Ford, which had sponsored the tournament for 22 years.
Whichever way you look at it, that’s an awful lot of Nissan Micras. Or 3,750 base-spec models, to be precise.
For Nissan, the benefits are obvious. Around 200 million fans are expected to watch the final on June 3, not to mention the countless others who have tuned in since the tournament kicked off back in June 2016. Although quite how many cars Nissan sold off the back of The New Saints vs. Tre Penne is anybody’s guess.
“The Champions League has massive power in terms of views that it can give us,” Jean-Pierre Diernaz, vice president for marketing, Nissan Europe, told the BBC in 2016.
“We are a growing brand around the world, but with the exception of Japan, and possibly the US, we are a challenger brand. To go a step further we need to grow awareness. The Champions League has massive power in terms of views that it can give us.
“It is working in terms of making sure our brand is growing,” the Frenchman said.
Interbrand’s Top 100 Best Global Brands ranks Nissan as number 43, with the brand valued at $11.066m in 2016, an increase of 22%. Messrs Iniesta, Thiago Silva and Aguero kicking a ball about in a studio are doing more than just bookending the commercial break.
A game of two halves
But the car industry’s involvement with the Champions League final goes far deeper than Yaya Touré kicking a football through the roof of a Nissan X-Trail. Real Madrid vs. Juventus presents a compelling automotive sideshow in Ingolstadt vs. Michigan. Or Audi vs. Jeep.
Audi calls itself a “partner of premier international clubs” and has been the vehicle partner of Real Madrid since 2003. The internet is awash with photos of players smiling gleefully at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu as they’re presented with the keys to their new highly-specced Audi.
Hats off to the Audi PR team for convincing Ronaldo to risk a moment of ‘helmet hair’ in the name of corporate sponsorship. He’s probably just thankful that he escaped the possibility of being given a club Chevrolet when he left Manchester United. Hard luck, Rooney, De Gea, et al.
Not that Audi is a one-club company. Its sponsorship of FC Ingolstadt 04 is understandable, as are its links with Bayern Munich – that must sting, BMW – but a partnership with FC Barcelona? Proof that business is more important than fierce rivalries. When sponsorship deals get Messi…
Jeep: a no-nonsense player
Jeep’s sponsorship of the ‘Old Lady’ dates back to the 2012-2013 season when it signed an initial three-year deal worth €35m, or €11.7m per season. To outsiders, seeing the famous Jeep logo adorning the equally famous black and white stripes of Juve might seem like just another sponsorship deal, but to car enthusiasts and those with a thing for economics, the link is more obvious.
Juventus is controlled by the billionaire Agnelli family, the investment company with a 29.41% share in Fiat and a 22.91% share in Ferrari. In 2015, the Fiat-founding family signed a merger agreement with Chrysler, which created Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and created an indirect link between the American SUV brand and the city of Turin.
Not that Juventus has encountered anything other than smooth roads this season. Having secured the Serie A title, Juve made light work of Barcelona at the quarter final stage and saw off the attacking threat of Monaco in the semis as the Italians marched to the final in Cardiff.
Top, top cars
Victory at the National Stadium of Wales – Uefa regulations prevent it being called the Principality Stadium – would net the winning team €15.5m, while the other finalist will receive €11m. Enough for the clubs to pick and choose from their corporate sponsor’s range of vehicles.
Leaving aside the fact that the players are given the keys to the cars of their respective club sponsors, you’re unlikely to see Ronaldo splashing out on a new Q2 or Buffon spending any time using the Renegade online configurator. The players can pick and choose from the world’s elite range of supercars.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s car collection has been well documented and includes a Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse he bought to celebrate winning Euro 2016 with Portugal. He announced the purchase on Instagram with the simple caption: “The animal arrive.”
Not to be outdone by his Real Madrid teammate, Karim Benzema often arrives at training in a black and chrome Bugatti Veyron. Meanwhile, Toni Kroos drives a Ferrari 488 GTB.
Welshman Gareth Bale, who is hoping to recover from an injury to play in the Cardiff final, reportedly gave up driving supercars because he believed it was the root cause of a succession of hamstring injuries. Bale was a member of a £30,000-a-year supercar club.
Legendary Italian ’keeper, Gianluigi Buffon is unlikely to suffer any supercar-related injuries ahead of the Champions League final. The 39-year-old Italian is more interested in clean sheets than expensive motors, choosing to squeeze his 6ft 3in frame into a Fiat 500. In his first year as a pro he’d turn up at training riding a Vespa. Once a legend, always a legend.
Predictability, many of Buffon’s teammates at Juve don’t share his love of mundane motors, with some opting to keep it in the family by driving a Ferrari. For Dani Alves it’s an FF, Leonardo Bonucci drives an F12berlinetta, while Claudio Marchisio has chosen a 599 GTO.
At the end of the day…
Not that this precludes the Juve players from partaking in the odd promotional job for Jeep. “Smile and think of the paycheque,” mutters Giorgio Chiellini as he manages something that might pass as a grin. Almost.
Come Saturday evening, Juventus will be all smiles if they overturn the odds by beating the favourites Real Madrid. Will Italian-American grit triumph over German precision engineering in the battle of the sponsors, or will the Japanese score on the break?
It’s back to you in the studio, Gary.