The magnificent 7s
Hampden Park at Coca-Cola 7s timeWe’ve all done it at one time or another. Stood around the office fax machine the morning after a Scotland international football match and bemoaned how badly they performed and how the Scottish game looks doomed due to the lack of young talent coming through the ranks.
We moan, cuss and curse, then saunter back to our desks, head in hands, to do absolutely nothing about it.
However, not everyone who moans about the future of the Scottish national game does nothing about it. In fact, ironically, during the last three years the best known brand in the known universe, Coca-Cola, has put a large portion of its marketing budget where its mouth is to invest in grassroots Scottish football with its Coca Cola 7s Tournament.
Coca-Cola has been in Scotland since the turn of the 20th Century, and it has been based in East Kilbride since 1964, where it employs up to 560 staff at its manufacturing plant during the high season.
To say the Coca-Cola organisation is complex would be a major understatement but, basically speaking, Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland (CCGB), the company that actually owns the Coke brand, creates the demand for the drink while Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) meets that demand through its bottling and distribution rights.
Over the last few years the soft drinks market has changed radically, particularly as bottled water and high-performance drinks have taken strong footholds.
“People say that marketing Coca-Cola must be the easiest job in the world,” says John MacLean, marketing manager – Scotland at Coca-Cola Enterprises. “People think you can just put it on the supermarket shelves and it will automatically sell. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that. The soft drinks market is changing a lot. Water is becoming very big and we have experienced massive growth in that sector. In fact, last year sales of soft drinks went up 5 per cent while sales of bottled water went up by 19 per cent and certainly we see that sales growth continuing for some years yet. That said, we do believe that there is still growth in the Cola market, which Diet Coke with Lemon has recently proven.”
At a Scottish level, the soft drinks market is an interesting one. It is split into two categories – Grocery, which includes supermarkets and multiples, and Impulse, which covers all local corner shops. In the Scottish “Grocery” category Diet Coke is the biggest brand, while in the Impulse category Irn Bru still rules the roost. Interestingly, calorie-conscious Scots actually over consume Diet Coke by 61 per cent of the national average.
So, what does all this mean to the future of Scottish football, I hear you ask? Well, while many global organisations often play the “think local, act local” marketing card, which can boil down to consumers getting a free T-shirt if they live in a particular postal district during the month of July, Coca-Cola is going all out to build its brand amongst the Scottish people through localised initiatives that actively aim to put something back into the communities on which it relies so heavily for its workforce and to buy its products.
Locally, perhaps Coca-Cola’s most noticeable investment is in assets such as Hampden Park, where Coca-Cola is the official drink. Likewise as the official drink of the Scottish Premier League and through contractual agreements with clubs such as Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibernian and Hearts. You may have also spotted the Coca-Cola Football Bus, passing by or parked in the car park of your local supermarket, which provides what Coca-Cola calls “retailtainment” through interactive games and displays in its two-deck, refurbished interior.
However, not all of Coca-Cola’s marketing activity is as high profile as these examples.
“Coke has been involved with football for a long time and people do actually expect Coke to be involved when the World Cup or the European Championships are on the go. But much of our sponsorship money is now going into grassroots football. It is all about kids covered in mud, smiling, laughing and having a great day out. It is a combination of both, really. We are in at a high level, but we are investing most at the grassroots level,” says MacLean.
Of course, he refers to the Coca-Cola 7s football tournament, which is now in its third year.
The development of the tournament, organised in conjunction with Maximise, began in June 1999 and the primary objective was to integrate all of CCGB’s and CCE’s football assets into a single grassroots programme.
The first Coca-Cola 7s tournament was launched in December 2000 and instantly became the biggest schools football tournament in Scotland. The tournament sees teams of 13-year-old boys and girls pitched against each other, with the first round this year being played at 20 venues throughout Scotland, the second round played at 10 Scottish Premier League grounds, the Regional Finals played at Lesser Hampden and the National Finals played at Hampden Park.
MacLean says: “In 1999 we had a look around and saw there was nothing available for 13-year-old school kids, so this really is a new event.
“Coca-Cola is all about being inclusive, we are not elitist at all. Most of the money spent on this event is spent on the first round so that as many school kids as possible can get involved. Every kid that gets involved gets a half-day of training from Sandy Clarke, which is great for the kids, as they get the chance to train with someone off the TV.
“We actually introduced the second round this year and got ten SPL clubs to let us use their grounds. This again is to enable us to be as inclusive as possible. If you think about it, for a kid living in Aberdeen who supports Aberdeen FC it would be a bigger thrill for them to play at Pittodrie than to play at Ibrox.
“Our real success has been in the local press. Last year, out of 112 local newspaper titles we got coverage for the tournament in 105 of them, which is incredible, and that’s right across Scotland, not just the Central Belt.”
Last year more than 3,500 girls and boys took part in round one and it is estimated that over 5,000 will participate this year, with 160 players taking part in the National Finals at Hampden Stadium in June, when the victorious boys’ and girls’ teams will win the chance to go to Barcelona’s Nu Camp stadium for a week of FIFA training.
As well as this, all kids taking part receive a special football gift from Coca-Cola and entry into a prize draw, which enables those teams knocked out in the early stages to still stand the chance of winning a dream prize.
But as well as this local initiative Coca-Cola in Scotland last year opened a visitor centre in East Kilbride, which is now visited by up to six school classes each and every week. Run by a local teacher, the visitor centre allows kids to understand the manufacturing process and to physically get involved with the Coca-Cola brand.
According to regional director for Scotland Alan Halliday, the aims for the visitor centre are more long term.
He says: “I suppose our overall objective of the visitor centre is to find the engineers of the future and the marketers of the future. These school visits serve us in that respect because many people have got an outdated idea of what working in a factory is all about. It is a hi-tech process and we want to paint the kids a modern picture, so that in the future they may consider a future with us.
“There is no commercial angle to the centre. We do not go in there trying to sell Coca-Cola, as that would ruin the centre’s credibility. We also aim to reinforce the message that learning can actually be good fun, so kids should stick with it at school.”
So, while Coca-Cola is splashing out all of this cash on these initiatives what does Coca-Cola actually get out of it?
Halliday says: “I would not really want to put a monetary value on the return we get from these initiatives. If I did it would probably scare me too much as it costs a fortune. If publicity were the key driver for these initiatives then we could have simply gone out and bought that publicity. We have got to give a lot of credit to the company for allowing us to do these things. We have a lot of liberty and are given the ability to meet our consumers’ needs. There has been high buy-in to all these schemes at a very high level in Europe. In fact, now when we ask for funding we just say it is for the 7s Tournament and they give us the money.
“This truly is a remarkable achievement, which basically started out with three disgruntled football fans talking about the lack of talent coming through. It is amazing what these guys have developed over the last few years and it is actually being repeated as best practice globally by Coca-Cola. I even had a telephone call from the Caribbean FA recently asking for details about it.”
Not surprisingly, MacLean is more than keen to offer his organisational services to the Caribbean FA, but for now he is keeping his feet on the ground, saying: “I am not interested in achieving headlines that read ‘Coca-Cola is the biggest selling soft drink in Scotland.’”
I venture to ask how he would feel about a headline such as “Coca-Cola – the saviour of Scottish football”? He grins. I think Scotland’s Coca-Cola management team would settle for that.