Few things are more universally recognizable to football fans in Africa than the sound of that famous opera song. Few things even drive them into emotional expression more than the competition you’d expect.
And nothing represents these two like one of the most iconic titles in all sports, the UEFA Champions League.
Ol’ Big Ears – La Orejina in Spanish and La Coupe aux Grande Oreilles in French – occupies a special place in the life of every sports enthusiast. It stands out as one of the most famous, if not one of the most prestigious awards in all sports. Besides the World Cup, it is the only trophy that every player dreams of and aspires to play in, create and win memories.
But footballers are not the only ones with ambitions. Although fans cannot win it, they can participate in creating, experiencing and reviving memories year after year.
Every football fan has a Champions League memory. When Daniel Amokachi scored the first-ever goal for the newly revamped competition in 1992, Nwankwo Kanu’s pass from the slip base to Patrick Kluivert to help Ajax beat AC Milan and win the title in 1995, Lars Ricken set the stiletto. To the hearts of Juventus fans with a shocking surprise victory in 1996, or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last minute brilliance for Manchester United against Bayern in 1999 or even Zinedine Zidane’s stunning shot to win the title with Real Madrid’s victory.
Whether in the final or during the match, the end goal is the same, climb the podium and shake hands with the La Orejina team. Before Heineken, that exhilarating experience was unique only to the winning teams.
Seeing and experiencing the Ol’ Big Ears up close and personal was a dream that the average football fan in Africa could not have imagined 10 years ago.
This all changed when Heineken came into the picture in 2005 when the Dutch brewery entered into a partnership with UEFA. Seven years later, the trophy was on its way to Africa, where every football fan felt the magic up close for the first time.
But it wasn’t the only trophy. Accompanied by this tall and sexy cast of stars, many fans have only seen on TV enjoying and weaving magic; Celestine Papayaro, Austin Okocha, Christian Karembeu, Hernan Crespo, Ronaldinho, Alessandro Del Piero, Carles Puyol, Ryan Giggs, Sunday Julis and Clarence Seedorf, among many.
“I got a picture with the trophy,” said police officer Daniel from Lagos after visiting the trophy. “I will keep him for life. It is great to meet Oliseh on Sunday as well. Nigerians are Champions League fans.”
His feelings reflect the majority of fans who thronged to the trophy tour venue not only to get a glimpse but also to take pictures with the trophy and their favorite stars.
Fans weren’t the only ones who were fascinated by the experience. So were the players. Former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho surprised Gaucho, who is known to be one of the best players ever in the game, at the reception he received.
“Ethiopia is amazing! I never thought I would get so much affection in my life! I don’t have words to thank you all. They are the photos of a lifetime dedicated to football, they were worth every minute!!!”
So did Del Piero, who scored an heeled goal in a 1996 loss to Dortmund after a visit to Ivory Coast.
The people were very excited and funny and took a lot of pictures. It was a great moment. I said, “I’ve been here for an hour and I really became a king.” You can get things like this on these tours. It’s great because people really take care of you, especially in this country they want the best for you.”
The tour over the years has brought titles in Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 2022 being the biggest tour to date.
Heineken’s Director of Global Sponsorship Hans-Eric Twigt explains why: “Africa is an important football region for good reasons. There are five billion football fans around the world and Africa represents one of the largest fan bases in the world. There is no doubt that football Football is one of the most popular sports in Africa with an estimated 400 million Africans watching it regularly every season to watch the Champions League.For Heineken, the continent is also one of our biggest markets with some of the highest growth rates for the brand, even during the Covid- pandemic 19″. †
“That is why UEFA and Heineken have teamed up to take back the prestigious UEFA Champions League (UCL) Trophy for a tour of Africa with one goal: to inspire a new generation of African football fans and in recognition of their love for the UEFA Champions League and Heineken,” he added.
After the Trophy Tour, Heineken has already taken steps to develop and deepen the connection with fans through the most exclusive viewing experience for football fans: Heineken House.
It was an experiment that set the standard long before it was a thing. Invitations to Heineken House on Champions League nights are most sought after and represent a commitment to cultivating the passion of fans. But on a more important, if less well-known level, Heineken’s life was changed by that experience.
Janet, now a wife and mother of two, says working at the Heineken house has helped her pay for her way to school.
“Being a flight attendant at Heineken House is the job that most young girls want. It was the best and that job helped me pay my fees at Unilag.”
Prior to Vimmi, who now owns his own company, he began training at the production company that produced content for Heineken House.
“This experience helped me develop as a content producer and I bought my first camera from what I earned during my time at Heineken House.”
These two are among the millions of Africans who have been directly involved in UCL activities during their 17 years of partnership with UEFA. These activities have helped develop sports and engage young people in Africa (who make up about 70 percent of the total population) in an effort to discover new talent and develop the economy. The company’s efforts during these years have led to the promotion of football and other related activities and the creation of employment opportunities, directly and indirectly, for thousands of young people.
For the 2021/2022 UEFA Champions League season alone, Heineken’s Tour across Africa in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and operations in Rwanda and Congo-Brazzaville have been suspended. All of this, along with unique consumer experiences, photo sessions featuring the UCL Cup and football legends, the UCL quarterfinals, media visits and press conferences, have all reached 50,000 Africans live and an estimated 10 million across the media.
but that is not all.
With investments in excess of $250 million over the past seven years, Heineken has created jobs and opportunities for young Africans to express their interests in sports, film and fashion through global franchises such as the UEFA Champions League, Formula 1, James Bond and The Lagos sponsorship. Fashion Week while building networks and enjoying shared experiences.
All of this shows that Heineken’s commitment to the continent and its people is more than just a commitment to skin. It is already a huge part of the fabric of the continent, as a brand that has always believed in and invested in Africa. The company’s oldest brewery – in Pralima, Kinshasa – is 99 years old. New activities continue in new markets such as Mozambique.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Heineken’s dedication and success in Africa has led other global brands to join in, invest in the region and take advantage of the opportunities the continent offers.
But if there is one thing history has taught us, it is that Heineken will continue to lead, not only in addressing the Continent’s young masses and their passion for football and other sports, but also for this population. To be creative and profitable. Take advantage of their creativity.