December 16, 2019
If anything positive came from the chaos that was the Copa Libertadores Final in 2018, was that the competition seems to finally have caught the attention of the rest of the world. After the horrific images that went around the media on a global scale, featuring Boca Juniors and River Plate fans going against all that is good in football, the 2019 final showed the world that football in other continents could bring entertainment as well.
The match that had Flamengo, from Brazil, and River Plate, from Argentina, facing each other had excitement. However, the delivery of the product was far from the standard global audiences are used to when enjoying the UEFA Champions League. It should be noted that this was Conmebol’s first attempt on having a single game as a final. And that the organisation has a long road ahead of creating awareness to the competition and raising the standards when it comes to marketing it.
The lack of awareness to what the Libertadores means for wider audiences around the globe can be seen at the opening of the broadcast by the BBC; the South American equivalent to the Champions League, the announcer claims. And the BBC is not wrong. It is the equivalent. However, when you have the need to explain, it means that the general audience does not know what the match represents. There will not be a broadcaster in South America claiming, as they prepare for kick-off on a Champions League final, that it is the equivalent of the Libertadores. And that simply shows how the South American continent is late in promoting its main club football product.
The Copa Libertadores is an exciting competition. It lacks the diversity of nations that the Champions League has, but it boasts fierce rivalries, not only within the countries but against neighbours. There is some disparity between Argentinian and Brazilian clubs at the moment, but easy matches are not characteristic of the continent’s leading club competition.
Conmebol partnered with IMG in 2017, on a four-year deal that started in 2019 and runs up until 2022. After taking the knowledge of a global sports management company on board, the continental federation has experienced a growth in awareness and marketing ventures.
Conmebol 2019 in Marketing:
Amstel renewed their sponsorship for three years and added the Copa Sudamericana to the deal, up to 2024.
EA Sports’ FIFA 20 has reached an agreement to add the Libertadores to its 2020 edition of the game, also creating an eSports competition, in partnership with Conmebol, that will offer USD 100K in prizes
The Final was allegedly broadcast across 182 countries. Thirteen airlines also had the match as part of their inflight entertainment: AeroMexico, All Nippon, American Airlines, Bangladesh Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Fiji Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Thai and Turkish Airlines.
The 2019 trophy was escorted by Stormtroopers, from Star Wars, as part of Disney’s marketing push on the latest movie in the franchise – The Rise of Skywalker.
Increase in the prize pool, offering 20M USD to the champion.
Still a long way to go
Conmebol has stated that it wants to shorten the distance between its flagship competition and its European counterpart. The prize pool for the winner shows that there is still much to be done. Flamengo netted around 20M USD as the champions of 2019. In comparison, Liverpool has been awarded about 82M – just over four times what the South Americans get.
There is, obviously, quite a difference when it comes to the economies of European countries and South American, one of the reasons why the gap is as it is. However, Conmebol has been looking into alternatives on how to expand the competition. One of the main talking points in the continent is the possibility of bringing the rest of the Americas into the fold, which would mean Liga MX and the MLS would also take part in the competition and most likely provide a positive financial influx. The Liga MX has already been a part of the Libertadores before, as guest competitors – with Club Deportivo Guadalajara reaching the final in 2010.
The issue with making a whole American continent competition lies within the FIFA Club World Cup, and how would qualification occur for the North Americans. Having clubs taking part in a competition, and to not be able to benefit fully from its participation – i.e. Club World Cup qualification – would mean that outside South American teams, it would bring the feeling of invites, as it has happened before with Mexican outfits.
Ultimately, the Copa Libertadores has massive potential. Although it might still feel as travelling back in time and watching football in simpler times, Conmebol seems to have found a path towards development. The passionate crowds of South America deserve to have their main competition to be displayed on a global stage while showcasing the highest of standard, and the first steps towards this goal have indeed been taken.
This article was written by Bruno Pantaleoni of SBI's Marketing & Academic Content Team. For further information you can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org