Soccer fans everywhere are anxiously awaiting the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The 20th tournament begins today in Brazil. I’ve been staying up to date on news coverage and information related to the World Cup through their official website, and my background in marketing left me curious about which brands were sponsoring this year’s tournament. I skimmed through the World Cup’s sponsorship page, taking note of the Adidas, Coca Cola, and Budweiser logos. At first glance, these pairings made sense to me. Adidas and Coca Cola both have partnerships in place with FIFA, and Budweiser is a staple at most major sporting events. They are all CPG companies that will likely reap the benefits of their World Cup sponsorship.

Upon further review, I also noticed that this year’s tournament was being sponsored by a company called Yingli, a solar panel manufacturer. Thinking back to the 2010 World Cup, I also remembered seeing banner advertisements for this company lining the field. It left me wondering why this particular brand would choose to pair up with FIFA in the first place. I was having trouble making the connection between solar panels and a global soccer tournament. I decided to take a deeper look at the data to see if I could make some sense of the sponsorship.

Why did Yingli choose the World Cup?
Since Yingli announced that they would be advertising at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup tournaments, many were left scratching their heads. There is no obvious connection between an international sporting event and a solar company. But before signing on as a World Cup sponsor, Yingli did their homework. They conducted an analysis of which markets were at the forefront of the sustainable energy movement, and they uncovered some interesting information related to solar panel purchases. According to their findings, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are four of the largest solar panel markets in the world.

Given this, you’d think that Yingli might be better off focusing their efforts on a major sporting event like the MLB World Series to broaden their reach with US residential customers. After all, baseball is America’s pastime. But further analysis reveals that World Cup viewership is on the upswing in the US. It has skyrocketed by nearly 70% since the 2006 tournament. Over 24 million American viewers tuned in to the 2010 FIFA World Cup match in South Africa, and US adults purchased the most tickets to the event after South Africans.

It’s also important to note that the Yingli sponsorship isn’t just about raising brand awareness in the US. Further research reveals that the solar energy company is also interested in elevating their brand on the global stage. And they’re not just targeting residential consumers. Yingli also seems to be interested in making connections with global sports franchises and stadiums. Thanks to their FIFA partnership, they’ve already caught the attention of several stadiums around Brazil, as well as the NFL’s New York Jets.

To help expand their reach, they’ve taken their sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup a step further by fully powering Brazil’s iconic Maracana stadium for the 2014 tournament. Not only does the installation of solar panels at Maracana fall in line with the World Cup’s tenet of preserving the environment, it also puts the Yingli brand in the spotlight. Yingli’s solar panels are expected to significantly reduce energy costs at Maracana stadium, and this data will undoubtedly be reported at the conclusion of the 2014 tournament. Concrete proof of cost savings is likely to pique the interest of many other global sports franchises and generate some hot new leads for the solar energy company.

How did their 2010 World Cup campaign fare?
After Yingli signed on to sponsor the 2010 tournament, MEC Global, a large media company, spent some time analyzing how the brand fared with regards to raising awareness among potential residential customers. Research indicated that consumer awareness increased 30% thanks to their World Cup sponsorship, and that Yingli Solar successfully piqued the interest of many. 18% of those surveyed said that Yingli was now their preferred brand for solar panels, and 11% said that they intended to purchase products from the company. Not only did Yingli succeed in raising awareness about their brand, their creative marketing efforts converted potential customers into buyers. It will be interesting to track the results of their 2014 sponsorship.

At first glance, the connection between a solar company and a soccer tournament wasn’t particularly clear to me. But a deeper look at the data shows that the 2014 FIFA World Cup sponsorship was actually an excellent choice for the sustainable energy company. Their campaign will help increase their brand awareness with a global audience. It will also help them broaden their reach with residential customers and sports franchises around the world. Be on the lookout for Yingli Solar’s ads during this year’s tournament!