Bidding Farewell to a Uniquely Successful Naming Rights Partnership

Bidding Farewell to a Uniquely Successful Naming Rights Partnership

Friends Arena in Stockholm, home to Sweden’s national football team, the prominent pro football club AIK, and a host of other major sports and entertainment events will take on a new name this summer. On July 12 it will become Strawberry Arena, the result of a new naming rights sponsorship from Strawberry Hotel Group, one of the largest hotel operators in the Nordic region.

The change marks the end of a groundbreaking partnership with the former naming rights owner, Swedish banking powerhouse Swedbank, which obtained them in 2007–prior to the building’s construction starting—in a deal running through 2023.

In 2012, just before the arena opened, Swedbank announced it would turn over the naming rights to Friends, an anti-bullying organization the bank had partnered with since 2002. The move was intended to call attention to the issue of bullying, something that 65 percent of Swedish adults report experiencing as children, and which the bank’s research estimated would cost the country 1.6 billion euros over the next 30 years.

Initial results from turning a major venue into “a physical manifestation against bullying” were positive for both the bank and the cause, but what stands out the most as an example for other brands and properties are the steps Swedbank took to maintain relevancy about halfway through the partnership’s run.

By 2018, research commissioned from Kantar revealed that the arena name had become so familiar that the original intention behind it was unknown to six out of 10 visitors to the venue. Working with owner/operator Stockholm Live/ASM Global and the Swedish Football Assn.—which the bank has sponsored since the 1980s—Swedbank devised an activation that had the following three goals:

  • Increase knowledge among visitors about why the arena was named Friends Arena by 30 percent
  • Increase the intention among visitors to donate money to the Friends Foundation by at least 30 percent
  • Increase traffic to Friends’ website by at least 30 percent

The initiative consisted of installing 25 bronze sculptures of children throughout the venue, each with an accompanying sign and wall inscription reminding viewers that adults are responsible for protecting vulnerable children.

To call attention to “The Children of the Arena,” Swedbank enlisted the members of the Swedish national team to carry mini versions of the statues onto the pitch during player introductions—in much the same way they would normally be escorted by actual children—during a friendly against Chile a few months prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The program achieved all of its stated goals:

  • Awareness of why the venue was named Friends Arena rose to 75 percent of all visitors post campaign.
  • The number of visitors stating they would be willing to donate money to the Friends Foundation increased by 50 percent
  • Traffic to Friends’ website increased 50 percent (and its Facebook page increased views by 124 percent)

In addition, YouGov research showed that the Swedbank brand grew the most in brand strength of all Swedish brands in the year following the campaign, a strong testament to keeping things fresh regarding long-term partnerships.

Despite the name coming off the building after 11 years, ASM Global has stated that Friends will continue to be represented at the stadium and the tie-in with the organization will be extended to the company’s other venues in Sweden.

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