EXCLUSIVE – Business as usual

Euro 2004 is this year’s big event for Portugal. The tickets have all sold out and it is estimated that around 50,000 people will visit the country during the tournament. Coca-Cola is one of the main sponsors of the event and José Alberto Antunes, Coca-Cola Project Manager for Euro 2004, spoke exclusively to The Resident reporter George Fletcher about the importance of this summer’s championship and dispelled some of the myths surrounding the 118-year-old drink.

On Euro 2004…

“This is a huge event for Portugal,” he explained, “and very important for us because any event of this size brings us closer to the consumer. It is significant for Coca-Cola to sponsor big football championships because there are many similarities in the way football and Coca-Cola are perceived.” Antunes explained how values such as friendship, fun, teamworkand positivity are reflected, associated and promoted by both football and Coca-Cola.

Putting together the sponsorship of this type of large-scale event takes years of planning and Coca-Cola have known they will be sponsoring Euro2004 for four years. “We have a very good relationship with UEFA,” Antunes explained, “so we are usually the preferred sponsors for big events such as this.”

So, what does Coca-Cola have planned for the Algarve stadium?

“We will have the usual concessions and hospitality tents in the stadium and, this year, we are also organising ‘fun zones’. The idea is to give people something to do before the match.” The fun zones will feature face-painting and hair-spraying, but Antunes revealed that there would be a big surprise at the Algarve stadium. “I am not telling you what it is, but it will be excellent and the fans will love it,” was all he would say. “We have also planned a new initiative to offer more activities in the streets outside the stadia”, he explained. “Usually, the stadium is the main focus, but we are going to provide activities in the cities to coincide with matches.”

What does sponsoring this event actually mean for Coca-Cola’s profits?

According to Antunes, the actual sales of the company’s soft drinks within the different stadia where the matches take place are “a drop in the ocean”. However, the promotional initiatives and special offers surrounding the event as a whole do impact on sales. “For instance, we have promotions on Coca-Cola bottles where the consumer is offered the possibility of winning either tickets to a match or merchandise by collecting coupons,” Antunes explained. “Coca-Cola is also running promotions with cafés and bars across Portugal, involving special offers linked to the sales of Coca-Cola. We also provide cafés with tables, chairs, place-mats, napkin holders and so on, to encourage impulse consumption.”

Ultimately, sales of Coca-Cola depend on how well the company takes advantage of the promotional opportunities that surround the championship itself. And, according to Antunes, Coca-Cola has already observed a positive sales increase in January and February this year.

Coca-Cola is such a symbol of American freedom – do you think the company needs to fear terrorism at this summer’s games?

Antunes explained that, like everybody, on a personal level he is concerned, but, as a representative of Coca-Cola, it is business as usual. “We trust very much in the security that is being organised for the event. We have contacts with the security departments of UEFA and, if they see no reason to be worried about the threat of terrorism, then Coca-Cola does not,” he confirmed.

And what about hooliganism?

“Again, we trust in the security which is in place for the event,” he commented. Antunes used the example of the England versus Portugal friendly, held at the Algarve stadium in February, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the management, which ensured that there were no problems. Antunes credits the lack of trouble at the friendly match to the “Portuguese attitude” and welcome laid out for the English fans. “This is a very peaceful country. I cannot say for sure that people adopt a certain calmness when they enter this country, but Portugal certainly has not had problems with hooligans in any of the matches that have taken place here before.”

Antunes seems totally confident in the ability of the Portuguese authorities to deal with any problems caused by football hooligans. “Of course, if someone comes here to be violent, there is nothing anybody can do,” he explains. “But, if you make someone comfortable, provide them with food, drink and shade, then they will behave properly and not become violent.” He is also wise enough to note that, even then, the commercial impact on his brand would be negligible. “Essentially, Coca-Cola is not concerned about hooliganism because it will not have an impact on the brand. If hooligans do start causing problems, nobody will associate their behaviour with Coca-Cola simply because it has been a sponsor of the event,” he points out.

On Coca-Cola, the brand…

Why doesn’t Coca-Cola sell all of its products in Portugal – Cherry Coke, for example?

“Portugal is still in its childhood; it has only been free from dictatorship for 30 years and is basically a changing and growing market, so we do not want to bombard the consumer,” Antunes explained. He pointed out that today’s mums are only the first generation to grow up with Coke, meaning that the brand has only just become firmly established. “Also, Portuguese consumers are very open and will try anything, making it very hard to know which flavours of Coke will make an impact,” he revealed. “In order for Coca-Cola to introduce a new flavour here in Portugal, a whole new production service would have to be installed. That’s why, for example, you cannot get Cherry Coke here at the moment.” Despite this, Coca-Cola currently has 28 brands under its umbrella here in Portugal.

Any comment on the recent UK bottled water scandal?

Coca-Cola attempted to tap into the bottled water market in the United Kingdom, but the product was quickly withdrawn from sale because high levels of bromide were discovered in it. “Everybody will have read about it by now,” Antunes said. “It caused huge controversy in the UK, but I can assure you nothing like that is planned for Portugal.”

You mentioned earlier that you provide cafés and bars with branded furniture and condiments. How do you think that kind of merchandise impacts on the environment?

“In a positive way,” Antunes commented. “I like to see bright red chairs outside a café – as well as obviously being Coca-Cola, they are colourful and cheerful.” For Antunes, offering extra products alongside the actual drink itself serves two purposes: it constantly reinforces the brand image and it provides the café with chairs. “Of course, as a company, we have to advertise, but we provide a service as well. A red chair does not actually affect the environment; it works on an aesthetic level.”

Is it true that only a handful of people know the secret formula for Coca-Cola and that they cannot travel together on a plane in case it crashes?

“Yes, that is all true. Coca-Cola is highly protected and there would be huge legal ramifications if anything were to be leaked.”

And why is it so good as a cleaning product?

“I think that is a myth.”


Who is going to win the Euro 2004 championship?

“Portugal will win against Spain,” answers a confident José Antunes.