Is Euros Advertising a Gamble or a Game Changer?

If the 2024 Euros have taught us anything, it’s that sport is an unpredictable beast. With tense penalty shoot-outs and last-minute goals, uncertainty looms over team performances. This unpredictability presents a daunting reality for brands and advertisers looking to capitalise on the event – but is advertising off the pitch as risky as the game on it?

The reality is that despite a global annual investment of approximately $100 billion, there is a notable scarcity of research into sports advertising and sponsorship, with even less focus given to specific sporting events. In this high-stakes environment, where substantial investments are expected to yield both long-term and short-term commercial outcomes, it’s understandable that many brands and advertisers perceive sporting investments as a significant gamble.

However, sporting events like the Euros also present an opportunity for brands to ‘lean into’ a key cultural moment, tapping into the passions of sports fans as well as the topical interest of peripheral fans who engage with the big occasion. But does the potential reward of broad appeal outweigh the risk?

To address these concerns, System1 and Fuse teamed up to assess the sports advertising landscape and identify best practices for securing long-term business success in light of the 2024 Euros.

A Winning Strategy

The good news is that, on average, sports assets perform in line with the UK norm among a mass audience. System1 and Fuse’s “The Sport Dividend” research found that sports sponsorship is no more likely to yield below-average commercial outcomes than everyday advertising, making it neither more nor less of a gamble. And with this year’s Euros, the outlook is even brighter, with a record-breaking long-term brand-building performance of 3.0 Stars on average (Star-Rating uses a scale of 1.0-5.9 Stars, with only 1% of UK ads achieving 5-Stars), compared to 2.4 Stars in the 2021 Euros.

Among a nationally representative sample, the Euros sparked a surge in positive emotion and emotional intensity, driving both long-term and short-term sales potential of creative assets. But the story doesn’t end there. When we examined how Euros 2024 ads resonated with ‘Football Fans,’ we saw a significant uplift in positive emotion, long-term commercial effectiveness (Star-Rating), and short-term sales potential (Spike-Rating). This uplift, aptly named the ‘Sport Dividend,’ has certainly paid off this summer, with brands scoring big by capitalising on strong narratives (Adidas), talent (AliExpress) and clever activation of exclusive sponsorship rights (Lidl) to deliver outstanding brand-building outcomes in the eyes of fans.

Across all assets, among a football fan audience, happiness grew by a significant 13%, unlocking increased long-term growth potential amongst this sample. Meanwhile neutral feelings, which negatively impact long-term commercial outcomes, dropped by 14%. This contributed towards an increased long-term brand-building potential of +1.8 Stars compared to the nationally representative sample for these assets, taking the average to an impressive 4.0 Stars. This marked increase is perhaps explained by the sheer volume of football references in this year’s UK spots, which were notably skewed towards an audience of fans.

What is even more encouraging is that the Sport Dividend isn’t reserved for larger, more established brands; it works for brands at various stages of maturity in the UK. While established brands like Adidas leaned into emotional storytelling by highlighting England’s shortcomings on the international stage and injecting a healthy dose of optimism with wonderkid Jude Bellingham, smaller brands like AliExpress used the Euros as an opportunity to kick-start their presence in the UK. By leveraging recognisable talent such as David Beckham and Euros IP, they successfully built brand salience. Coupled with regional installations and through-the-line campaigns, such as AliExpress’s Waterloo Station takeover, sporting events like the Euros offer brands an opportunity to connect with audiences across a variety of touchpoints.

Leaning into sporting events is starting to feel less like a gamble and more like a safe bet. So how can brands tip the odds in their favour?

Tipping the Scales

This year, we witnessed many brands achieving great success among football fans; however, not all assets resonated as strongly with a mass audience. Among the ads tested with football fans, there was an average Star-Rating of 2.2 among a nationally representative audience. This raises an important question: are brands investing too much creative energy into appealing exclusively to football fans and not enough into broadening their appeal?

Another concern was the general lack of early and prominent branding, which impacted overall brand recognition and the speed at which brands were identified. It seems that in some cases, one audience’s preferences were prioritised over another’s, or the desire to build tension overshadowed the importance of clear branding.

Fortunately, such trade-offs are not inevitable, as demonstrated by many of the successful campaigns launched this year. To highlight how brands can achieve an optimal strategy, we analysed five of the top-performing campaigns among both football fans and broader mass audiences using System1’s Test Your Ad platform. You can watch the side-by-side emotional FaceTraces for a mass audience and custom audience of football fans in the accompanying PowerPoint deck here.

 1. Irn Bru – “Optimism is Back in Scotland” – 5.0 Stars (Nationally Representative Audience)

Irn-Bru’s trademark wit shines as the star player in driving long-term appeal among the public. With top marks for effectiveness, Irn-Bru proves there’s no need to compromise when appealing to both football fans and broader audiences. The campaign skilfully tapped into Scottish national pride, coinciding with Scotland’s return to the Euros, humorously capturing the profound sense of optimism and excitement among Scots. This approach not only resonated within Scotland but also beyond its borders.

While the campaign incorporates attributes that deeply resonate with football fans—such as humour, characters with agency, and shared experiences—it also diverges slightly from the typical Euros 2024 advertising. True to Irn-Bru’s recognised style of defying convention with satirical charm, the ad doesn’t immediately position itself as a Euros campaign. Instead, it places its characters in a GP practice, instantly framing the ad within a universally familiar context. This clever move allows Irn-Bru to engage broader audiences early on, avoiding potential disconnection caused by niche sporting references or unfamiliar settings.

By winning over hearts with its relatable and humorous approach, Irn-Bru demonstrates how effective advertising can transcend specific audiences and resonate widely, ensuring lasting impact and connection with viewers well beyond the football field.

 2. Adidas – “Hey Jude” – 4.5 Stars (Football Fan Audience)


Adidas adeptly demonstrates how happiness plays a pivotal role in unlocking long-term brand-building potential in Euros advertising. They skilfully evoke past setbacks to resonate with fans’ fears and anticipation, then ignite a wave of optimism by rallying behind England’s Jude Bellingham in a unified roar of support, all set to The Beatles’ iconic soundtrack “Hey Jude” at 1 minute 30 seconds. This profound emotional shift resonates powerfully among fans, reigniting their optimism, hope, and passion for the beautiful game, culminating in a peak-end happiness. When delving into negative emotions such as fear, sadness, and contempt, it is crucial to resolve these sentiments by the ad’s conclusion to drive long-term commercial rewards.

“Hey Jude” second-by-second emotional journey:

Across the top-performing assets, happiness emerged as the common denominator for unlocking commercial success among both broad audiences and football fans alike. In sports advertising, championing a positive outlook and highlighting shared human experiences proves to be a safe bet for resonating deeply with viewers.

 3. Lidl – “We’re on Your Team” – 4.4 Stars (Football Fan Audience)

Among our Euros champions is supermarket retailer Lidl, whose impressive 4.4 Star average among football fans underscores their deep understanding of their target audience and their ability to create meaningful value beyond the pitch. As part of their Euros sponsorship, Lidl offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for kids to step onto the grand stage of football as player escorts, a central initiative further fuelling excitement and positivity surrounding the campaign.

Despite playful nods to the frustrations and joys of being a football-mad parent, Lidl’s approach exemplifies how brands can authentically connect with audiences through shared passion and memorable experiences. Their campaign strategically blends sponsorship activation with emotional resonance, enhancing their brand’s affinity among fans and a nationally representative audience alike. This not only bolsters their brand presence but also underscores their commitment to engaging with consumers on a personal and emotive level during prestigious sporting events.

The campaign incorporates a variety of elements known to resonate, connect with, and capture the attention of audiences, as outlined by Orlando Wood in his books ‘Lemon’ and ‘Look Out‘. These include a clear sense of place, characters with agency and vitality, and humour, which collectively contributed to an above-average score among mass audiences. Additionally, the campaign leverages insights from ‘The Sport Dividend’ research, effectively highlighting competitive football action throughout to heighten its appeal to sports fans.

4. Paddy Power – “Europe’s Favourite” – 3.9 (Football Fan Audience)

In their non-sponsor activities, Paddy Power’s irreverent take on English football culture, starring the iconic Danny Dyer, struck a chord with sports audiences. By embracing well-known cultural tropes like British pub gardens, Brit-abroad stereotypes, and tongue-in-cheek historical nods, they created an enjoyable viewing experience that cleverly sidesteps direct football references.

Unlike its counterparts, Paddy Power delves into the deeper meaning of football beyond the game itself, embedding it deeply within UK culture. Similar to the impact of “Hey Jude”, their ad taps into the power of shared experiences and the unwavering passion of fans gearing up for another Euros season.

Humour, a crucial element for long-term commercial success as highlighted by Orlando Wood, also proved effective among fans in ‘The Sport Dividend’. Like Lidl, Paddy Power authentically connects with their audience by intertwining cultural references and comedic appeal. Despite belonging to a typically polarising category that seldom exceeds 1 Star in mass audience ratings, Paddy Power manages to engage broadly through shared experiences, comedy, and diverse cultural perspectives.

 5. Hellman’s – “Grilling Grealish” – 3.6 Stars (Football Fan Audience)

Hellmann’s has emerged as a bold digital contender, achieving an impressive 3.6 Star-Rating among fans, significantly outperforming the digital UK average of 1.9 Stars. This leap above the digital norm underscores the potent engagement potential of sporting events like the Euros on typically low-attention digital platforms with limited emotional appeal. By aligning with football and the Euros, Hellmann’s effectively taps into the passions of football fans, enhancing brand sentiment and affinity.

Despite not being part of the Euros lineup this year, Jack Grealish remains a prominent figure in UK football, and his presence in the “Grilling Grealish” interview-style digital campaign proves strategically effective for several reasons. As highlighted in ‘The Sport Dividend’, featuring celebrities can significantly enhance engagement among sports fans when portrayed with agency, vitality, and within a context that resonates emotionally with the audience—an approach Hellmann’s executes adeptly. The campaign playfully teases Grealish’s well-known aversion to maths, a recurring personality trait among fans, and places him in familiar sporting attire for a football-focused conversation. This ensures the campaign resonates effectively and maximises the impact of leveraging talent across multiple platforms.

What’s the Verdict?

As demonstrated by this year’s Euros ads, advertising and sponsorship linked to major sporting events can be a game changer. While it might not directly improve our chances on the pitch, for brands and agencies developing sports strategies off the field, “The Sport Dividend” research provides evidence of long-term commercial benefits. It shows how sport can drive brand salience and allow you to connect with the emotions of a passionate audience.

We’ve unlocked just a handful of pre-game tips, with more creative insights for driving broad appeal, engaging different types of sport fans and ensuring there is no compromise when it comes to branding in the full report. Download a summary of the System1 and Fuse report, “The Sport Dividend: Unlocking Incremental Brand Growth through Sport Sponsorship” to learn more.