Nissan will have one eye firmly on the 4bn cumulative TV audience with its Champions League deal

Nissan will have one eye firmly on the 4bn cumulative TV audience with its Champions League deal

It's not hard to see why Nissan was so keen to replace Ford as UEFA's automotive partner in its four-year Champions League sponsorship deal, despite what appear to be eye-wateringly expensive costs.

Some have suggested official partners with UEFA are having to fork out as much as GPP45m ($75m) per year, that's per year, for rights to television advertising, stadium promotion and the increasing prevalence of online channels including now ubiquitous social media.

But despite the cost Nissan didn't exactly hang about - the inner sanctum dealings of UEFA's presumably hard-bitten negotiating team have not been revealed - but once Ford revealed it would exit the Champions League Nissan quickly moved in.

Presumably Nissan wasn't the only automaker to make a bid and whether there was any form of auction is unclear, but the huge costs involved still did not dilute the carmaker's determination to win the race.

The very fact Ford hung on for so long to its decades-long deal indicates just how much value it ascribed to the sponsorship, which it used for a plethora of brands such as the Mondeo, B-Max, S-Max and of course, its Focus model.

But the Americans in Europe clearly thought its Champions League backing had run its course - I can't even think of another brand that has a 21-year association with any sport - and it was time to move on.

"It has been a successful relationship for 21 years, but with the new products, it was just felt it was time to look at other alternatives and ways of communicate [ing], particular in the social and digital area," a Ford of Europe spokesman told me from Cologne.

"It just seemed like a good time to go out on a high point, rather than just letting it drift."

Nissan won't be drawn on whether it intends to press for any extension to its four-year deal, but it must have looked at Ford's longevity and seen significant bang for its huge buck, the largest sponsorship deal in its history.

The automaker will now leverage its backing, which runs from 2014/2015 to 2017/2018 and also includes the UEFA Super Cups this year, next year and in 2016 and 2017, through match rights, pre-game training sessions, content, media, hospitality, stadium perimeter boards and online channels.

In short, the whole gamut and paraphernalia associated with mega deals such as this, which, despite its European stance, really does reach a global audience Nissan is estimating at a cumulative 4bn people.

I watch a fair amount of football and that Champions League anthem, seemingly incorporating Handel's coronation music for British monarchs, Zadok the Priest, is instantly recognisable the world over.

Even if you're not a football fan, the music, which cannot be bought or legally downloaded from any website, as UEFA sternly warns, is just one aspect of the deal with which Nissan wants to be firmly associated.

There's a hard-headed marketing approach of course to go behind the sporting kudos of being linked with one of the world's largest tournaments - some happily believe the Champions League is larger than the World Cup itself - and that is Nissan's implant in Europe.

"European growth is important to Nissan, and in UEFA we feel we have found the perfect partner to help us achieve our business goal of becoming the number one Asian car manufacturer in Europe by 2016," said Nissan vice president marketing Europe, Bastien Schupp.

The marketing VP is also remaining firmly silent on the cash involved here, but estimates do seem to put the annual figure at the GBP45m mark.

"It is a four-year deal, but we are not putting a number on it," Schupp told me, adding: "I am not allowed to discuss any of the numbers."

Nissan's now in some pretty rarefied company here too. The carmaker joins global icons such as Adidas, Gazprom and Heineken and it's probably safe to say UEFA will guard Nissan's exclusivity as jealously as FIFA does its own select few global backers at the World Cup.

But apart from the obvious glamour of its brands appearing in the stadia themselves across Europe, the potential for car launches and the not insignificant incentives of the four-year agreement to its dealer network, it is surely the media of television and online channels the Japanese automaker is targeting.

A captive audience of 4bn is no small beer, its demographics clearly appeal to Nissan and the route is tried and tested by Ford.

But times have moved since Ford's first foray into the Champions League in 1992, with the advent of digital and social media now firmly added to the mix and Nissan will no doubt be using the whole range of tools available to extract maximum value.

Closer to home here in the UK, Vauxhall has also clearly aligned itself with the football world by its sponsorship of the national teams of England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"It just fits us perfectly," said former Vauxhall CEO, Duncan Aldred, way back in 2011. "We aim to build some resonance with the British public - everyone knows us but we need people to love us a little bit more.

"The Vauxhall brand is uniquely British, we only sell in the UK. We did that [sponsorship] because it is British and who else is going to do it apart from Vauxhall?"

Nissan is no stranger to sponsorship - it is already backing the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Olympic Teams GB and Mexico, the Africa Cup of Nations, NCAA Football, Heisman Trophy and the Canadian Football League, while 100m record holder, Usain Bolt, is a GT-R ambassador.

But the lure of the Champions League dwarfs even these venerable institutions, while the four-year deal will see it establish some serious clout in the European market.

The agreementl is for four years, but if Nissan is pleased after dipping its toes in the football water, there is surely scope for more as the public appetite for the competition shows no sign of abating.