Eelco van der Noll: "The pain needs to be shared"

Amerika is het zwaarst getroffen land door Covid-19. wat betekent dat voor sponsoring in het land en wat kunnen wij daarvan leren. Eelco van der Noll is hoofd partnerships bij het grootste biermerk in de VS, Budweiser. In de Sponsorreport World Tour op 8 september wordt Van der Noll geïnterviewd over samenwerking, activaties en hoe sponsoring gaat veranderen in het post Covid-19 tijdperk.

What means the Covid-19 pandemic for AB InBev in the USA and your sponsorships?
Eelco van der Noll: "Many of our sponsorships are highly dependent on bringing people together and offer them a great experience. In a football stadium, baseball park, basketball arena etc. In fact, our company’s mission is to bring people together. Obviously, with Covid-19 it is a little challenging to physically bring people together. We have to adapt, adjust and find creative solutions to engage with consumers on their favorite passion point, sports. For example, through our Michelob Ultra brand we are working closely with the NBA and Microsoft to bring fans “virtually” to games by placing Courtside LED panels where fans can enjoy the NBA games in Orlando, FL, through Zoom while engaging with each other."

What are specific problems you have to deal with?

"The main two issues really are a) the disruption, suspension of most of the leagues which really impacted our planning and b) the inability to physically engage with our consumers and fans. From planning perspective, it just requires a lot of flexibility, agility and close coordination with the leagues and teams. Meanwhile, the lack of opportunity to offer our consumers live experiences are being replaced with virtual experiences, live streams, content plays etc."

If the value of our sponsorships are significantly diminished, we will not hesitate to insist on financial refunds

Eelco van der Noll, AB InBev

What are the solutions you work on with the rightsholders if you can’t use your sponsrshiprights?
"Rightholders are suffering and are in the same boat as we, the sponsors, are. We need to jointly find solutions to continue to engage with fans and consumers. We truly are in this together. We have seen rightholders being more flexible in offering certain extra (content) rights or other assets that normally are not part of our contractual rights, just to allow us to activate such property. That said, the pain needs to be shared. That is, if we truly believe that we cannot exercise our rights, or if the value of our sponsorships are significantly diminished, we will not hesitate to insist on financial refunds."

How difficult is it to activate your sponsorships with the shifting hotbeds of the pandemic in the USA?
"Again, it comes down to agility, flexibility and focus on opportunities rather than problems. Of course, it doesn’t help if the Covid-19 centers move. But, let’s face it, I think we have arrived at a point that we need to accept that things won’t get back to some normalcy until a vaccine is widely available. Until then, we just need to assume that we won’t be able to bring people together in big groups."

How do you prepare for the post Covid-19 period?
"I think it was Winston Churchill who said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. We are taking the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to X-ray our rich portfolio and reflect on what we really need to achieve going forward. We have enhanced our measurment tools such a overall sponsorship ROI, ROI coming from content, activation ratios etc which allows us to build a more effective and efficient portfolio, ready fort he next ten years. The Covid-19 crisis accelerated that process and we will come out of it stronger."

There is a real risk that fans may not return, even when it’s safe

Eelco van der Noll, AB InBev

How will our industry change because of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Some leagues were already struggling to fill their stadiums. Now, with certain virtual opportunities and enhanced digital experiences there is a real risk that fans may not return, even when it’s safe. I also think that smaller properties may struggle to continue to find sponsors and survice. This was already in process prior to Covid-19, but this will likely accelerate. Also, I can see relatively new properties such as Gaming/ESports coming out of this much stronger."

How long does Covid-19 will have impact on our industry?

"I am not Dr Anthony Fauci, but I think it all depends how fast we find a vaccine and are able to distribute such vaccine broadly. I think only then things will get back to top normal. I don’t think many of us expected to be in this situation so long. Honestly, I fear for next year’s Olympics, EURO 2021, Copa America, Superbowl etc."

"What will have a bigger impact on sponsorship: postponement of events and empty stadiums or the economic crisis in the wake of the pandemic?"

"The cancellations, suspensions and playing with out public will be relatively short term. Again, whenever we get that vaccine. I am afraid the economic downturn will be long and painful. In my view, such long winded economic downturn will have a greater impact than the cancellations etc. People have less money to spend, they are not in the right mood or mindset, without a job etc."

Consumers expect companies and brands to take a stance

Eelco van der Noll, AB InBev

Do sponsors have a role in the Black Lives Matter movement? Do they have to take position?
"Yes. And not just BLM. #metoo and many other movements that promote social justice and equality. At AB InBev we take that extremely serious. While we ultimately are in the business of selling beer, consumers expect companies and brands to take a stance. And we are not shying away from that. There are many ways of doing that and different brands express themselves very differently. For example, Nike is very direct for example with Colin Keapernick and some other content. I think we do it slightly more subtle, but no less committed. For example, we just entered into a partnership with female recording artist Halsey. A strong proponent of women’s rights. Another example is our growing footprint in Women’s sport. For example, we are partners of the English and US Women’s Soccer Team as well as a sponsor of the National Women’s Soccer League in the US. As far as BLM is concerned, we work closely with the Jackie Robinson Foundation (the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB, we have a partnership with Dwayne Wade for our Bud Zero brand as well as Gianns (MVP NBA, Milwaukee Bucks) and much more."

How did Covid-19 effect you personally?

"There are a few people in my personal circle who contracted Covid-19, but thankfully no one who died from it. Other than that, the inability to travel means I have to postpone my trip back to The Netherlands to catch up with by dad, brother, nephew and other family."

Eelco van der Noll is hoofd partnerships bij AB InBev in Amerika. Eelco heeft 20 jaar ervaring in wereldwijde marketing, meest recentelijk als hoofd partnerships bij 's werelds grootste brouwer, AB InBev. Eerder was hij marketingdirecteur bij FIFA (2004-2007) en bekleedde hij senior marketingfuncties bij toonaangevende wereldwijde merken, waaronder MasterCard (1995-2003) en Canon (1990-1994).
Eelco van der Noll is een van de sprekers op de eerste World Tour sessie van Sponsorreport. Op 8 september starten we met een panel met naast Eelco van der Noll (Budweiser), Willem Dinger (Unilever) en Jonathan Bosch (Seattle Seahawks). Op 15 september volgt Kim Skildum-Reid (Power Sponsorship).

Schrijf hier direct in voor deze World Tour.