The Curious Case of Stevenage FC

What if I told you the most used team in EA Sports’ FIFA 20 is not Manchester United, Real Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, or any other Big Team from any of the top leagues of the world? Instead, it is a club that finished second last in the 4th division of English Football - Stevenage FC. I know you wouldn’t believe me but yes, Stevenage FC is the ‘most played with’ team from FIFA 20. To put things further into perspective, Stevenage FC is a club situated in Stevenage, a small town 29 miles north of London with a population of fewer than 100,000 people. Their average attendance for games is less than 3000 people and most of their games are not even televised. So how did a club like Stevenage FC become the biggest team online? It all started with them signing Burger King as their principal sponsor in late 2019. Although they received a lot of backlash after the announcement for partnering with a fast-food chain, Stevenage believed in the plan Burger King had for them. They even changed their team colors to accommodate red and yellow (ketchup and mustard) for their new association. Burger King, on the other hand, got their logo on the team kit and they knew for a team in the fourth division this was not going to be a very productive investment from a traditional sponsorship perspective. But Fernando Machado, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Restaurant Brands International which owns the fast-food chain ‘Burger King’ saw something beyond the normal. Stevenage being in the fourth division meant they will be part of the same game that the biggest teams and players will also be featured in - FIFA 20.

Machado understood the mindset of football fans who played FIFA, they didn’t mind playing with a club they didn’t support if it’s an underdog club. And Stevenage was the ultimate underdog club. And hence they decided to take this partnership beyond the normal parameters of a sponsorship deal. They announced the #TheStevenageChallenge as soon as the game FIFA 20 released. They asked gamers across the world to play the game with Stevenage FC and share the best goals on Twitter. With every such tweet, the player would get one free item from their menu.

A couple of months ago, the club shared another video to show how successful the campaign turned out to be. Gamers across the world shared more than 25000 goals on various social media platforms, the club gained 2.5 million$ worth of earned media, and their shirts were sold out for the first time in the club's history.

For Burger King, it wasn't their first association with football. They have previously in 2009 done another quirky campaign with the Spanish Club Getafe CF. But doing this campaign with a club as small as Stevenage was a huge risk especially when the challenge was to combine traditional sports with gaming and social media. But Burger King knew the potential of digital and banked on the popularity of FIFA and the underdog factor. This campaign is path-breaking as it seems also demonstrates the importance of digital for small teams. Stevenage FC was bold enough to take this step and partner with Burger King for such a campaign, and as you read the results are amazing! Hopefully, this case shows how to utilize sponsorship in an effective way, how to be creative with your strategies, and maybe this will give you some ideas to improve your sponsorship strategies.

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