Magazine article Marketing

Bass Plans Footie-Led Revival for Key Bitter

Magazine article Marketing

Bass Plans Footie-Led Revival for Key Bitter

Article excerpt

Can the [pounds]23m sponsorship of football's League Cup by Bass's Worthington revive the bitter's flagging sales and give the competition a kick?

The handover of English Football's second biggest knockout competition from Coca-Cola to Bass last week (Marketing, July 9) was as smooth as it was well-timed.

As all eyes were focused on the riveting semi-final clash between Brazil's Ronaldo and Holland's Edgar Davids in Marseilles, back home Bass's Worthington brand became the first ale brand to take on a major football sponsorship in a sport traditionally dominated by lager.

Bass will be pumping [pounds]23m into the League Cup over the next five years, a significant investment in a competition which provides some clubs with as much as 20% of their annual income.

The new partnership is intriguing for two reasons. First, why has Bass decided to relaunch a traditional bitter brand through a competition that received considerable flak last season? The low point came with the Mirror's headline 'Joker Cola Cup' after Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger entered what was effectively a 'B' team into the Cup.

The second big question is whether the relationship can actually prove mutually beneficial.

Boost for bitter

Bass's new sponsorship is part of its overhaul of Worthington this year. The UK's third largest ale brand has traditionally suffered from a lack of marketing investment. Whereas Scottish Courage has invested almost [pounds]6m in advertising its John Smith's brand, and Carlsberg-Tetley [pounds]2m in its Tetley Bitter in the year to April, Bass gave Worthington less than [pounds]150,000-worth of backing (ACN-Meal).

But this changed with the most recent Worthington campaign, a [pounds]10m TV advertising drive through WCRS with the theme 'It's a man thing'.

Bass is faced with a declining ales market - total draught sales shrunk from 11.7 million barrels in 1997 to 11.1 million in 1998 - while the 'hybrid' category created by its Caffrey's brand also seems- to have peaked. So it faces the challenge of finding new ways of building this business.

As in lager, where it has continued to back market-reader Carling, Bass has responded by investing in Worthington, its core bitter brand.

Hence Mike Flynn, Bass's sponsorship manager, was briefed by management to find a suitable sponsorship vehicle for Worthington.

"It's an absolute fit," he says. "Our core market is 25- to 35-year-old C1 and C2 men. The League Cup, which is played by clubs in 68 cities and towns across the UK, will both build the national stature of the brand and drive it at local level. …

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