Last Thursday, 31 of Europe’s finest football clubs, and Arsenal, entered the draw for the group stage of this season’s Champions League. Commonly regarded as the most prestigious football competition in the world, between now and next May it will be the battle ground for not just the finest footballers on the continent, but also some the world’s leading commercial brands.
Emblazoned on shirts, advertising hoardings and billboards will be household names such as Samsung, Heineken, Ford and Sony. However, this year there will be a smattering of new names gatecrashing the party in the hope of making a mark on the football-watching public’s consciousness.
Among their number will be solar giants Yingli Green Energy, Q-Cells and JinkoSolar, which have signed sponsorship deals with Germany’s three Champions League representatives, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen. Yingli Green’s grandly-titled Official Premium Partner agreement with the mighty Bayern is undoubtedly the most lucrative of the three, granting the manufacturer marketing rights in areas such as ticketing, hospitality, advertising and public relations.
With more than 147,000 members and nearly 70,000 packing out their Allianz Arena home stadium every other weekend, Bayern are by far Germany’s best supported football club. And Yingli’s three-year agreement with the four-time European Cup winners will give them an unparalleled promotional platform within the world’s number one PV marketplace.
However, Yingli is not confining its ambitions to Germany. In June, Yingli was once again named as one of the official sponsors of the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil, a move chairman Liansheng Miao believes will prove invaluable in increasing business opportunities in Latin America. “After our 2010 Fifa World Cup sponsorship, we saw a tremendous increase in our brand awareness and inquiries for our products… and to be an important renewable energy partner to the world's most-watched single-sport event,” Miao said.
Despite Miao's protestations, in terms of brand awareness and sales, the effectiveness of Yingli’s sponsorship remains to be seen. Nevertheless, such deals are becoming commonplace among module manufacturers, whose behaviour is beginning to mirror that of organizations in other industries. In addition to the Yingli-Bayern partnership, the past year or so has seen Hanwha (Bolton Wanderers and Hamburger SV), Q-Cells (Borussia Dortmund), JinkoSolar (Bayer Leverkusen), Canadian Solar (Fulham FC), Mage (SC Freiburg), Suntech (1899 Hoffenheim) and Trina Solar (Renault F1 Team) all sign lucrative agreements with major sporting institutions.
And this activity bodes well for the future of solar. It is indicative of a maturing industry, with a growing advertising budget and an eagerness to capture market share and break into new markets. It will also, and perhaps most importantly, help to make the word photovoltaics part of the public’s vernacular.
While Yingli or Hanwha will never be a Coca-Cola, they can, in terms of recognition, be a Gazprom (the Russian natural gas firm and current sponsors of Schalke 04 and Zenit St. Petersburg). And for module manufacturers this recognition is vital. Although large-scale solar is facing an uncertain future in Europe, residential is on the rise and companies are looking for any edge they can get in this competitive marketplace.
The initial aim for manufacturers will probably be to merely wrestle market share off one another. However, should this current marketing strategy be more than just a fad, in time, it will hopefully have a more wide-reaching impact on the energy landscape: helping photovoltaics to establish itself as the premier renewable energy and to make further inroads on the global market share held by its non-renewable rivals.