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Would you spend your entire solar marketing budget on a World Cup sponsorship?

YingliThe FIFA World Cup has come to an end with Spain crowned as the champions for the first time in their country’s history. The play in the final was less than inspiring, but the event was not without its interesting stories. One of those stories was about a Chinese solar company joining the ranks of Budweiser, Castrol, Continental and McDonalds as official sponsors of the sporting event.

That company is Yingli Solar as a visit to their web site makes clear. As a sponsor, they received at least eight digital billboards during each of the 64 World Cup matches, as you can see here in a company photo. I noticed it a few times, did you?

But the bigger questions are: how much money did they spend and was it worth it? Although the company has declined to state the exact amount of the spend, there are a few clues.

They spent how much?

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF, subscription required) asked a similar question to Judy Tzeng Lee, Yingli’s director of corporate development for an article titled “Great strike or own goal for solar manufacturer”?” Here’s an excerpt:

Lee declined to say exactly how much Yingli spent on its sponsorship, but said that nearly all of the company’s 2010 marketing budget will go toward its World Cup efforts. Marketing will be about 2% of Yingli’s 2010 projected revenue, she added.

Based on the firm’s projected 950-1,000MW of shipments for the year and assuming an approximate $2/W price, Yingli’s total spend could easily total $30-40m.

IEG, who apparently helped FIFA prepare their sponsorship packages, put the cost of Yingli’s sponsorship at $10-25m, according to an article in Business Management.

BNEF thought the presence of a clean energy company as world Cup sponsor no doubt signals the sector has achieved a certain degree of size and maturity, but they wondered if it was worth it given the niche audience that Yingli is targeting. A week before the Cup ended, Helena Kimball, head of marketing communications at the San Francisco office of Yingli Green Energy Americas, told the New York Times that the company planned “to do a complete analysis” after the World Cup to determine whether the sponsorship achieved its goals. Ms. Kimball noted that traffic to the Yingli Web increased so dramatically that it crashed a few times.

Was it worth it?

Yesterday, the company said that the World Cup sponsorship helped it a secure a potential credit facility of 36bn Yuan ($5.3bn) from the state-owned Hebei Branch of China Development Bank. Once details are ironed out and the deal is finalized, the credit facility will support Yingli Group’s PV related businesses in China and overseas.

BNEF noted that Yingli’s shares declined 6% the day the sponsorship was announced and were down nearly 22% since the announcement. However, their stock actually didn’t decline as steeply as other large publicly-traded solar companies over that same period.

So what do you think? If you were the Chief Marketing Officer for a company manufacturing solar PV cells and modules, would you recommend spending your entire year’s marketing budget on a sponsorship of the World Cup?

Written by Nathan Schock

Nathan is the director of public relations for POET, the largest producer of biofuels in the world. He is also a digital advocate of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He wants to help communicators improve their delivery of this information to the public in order to drive social change. Although he monitors communications from all sectors, his primary focus is business, because it it the only institution with the resources necessary to implement the lasting changes needed to preserve and protect the environment. You can read his latest thoughts at http://www.greenwaycommunique.com.

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  1. There are many variables that were not mentioned here. Maybe Yingli is sold out of panels for the year…if that is the case hell yes, go for a big branding splash, or an ego buy as we put it… and this is the biggest splash they could make. If they are still trying to move panels I could think of a lot better ways to spend the money…like supporting their dealers with co-op money in the communities they sell into. I run a marketing firm that specializes in solar and have a long list of much more effective campaigns I would implement before a World Cup campaign.

  2. Good questions. I'm not an expert in this field, but if Yingli is looking to be the top solar company in the world, it doesn't seem like all that bad of an idea.

    They are reaching as many people as you could imagine reaching in such a short time, and extending way beyond their niche, as you point out. With the solar industry growing as it is, I think that is a big plus.

    Down the road, if people are thinking about solar, Yingli has a good chance of coming to the top of their minds.

    I don't know, but it was fun to see the boards 😀

  3. Both good points. Thanks for the comments. We don't have all of the information but in comments attributed to the company in both the New York Times and the Bloomberg New Energy Finance articles made it appear that the objective was branding in preparation for a larger presence. Tzeng Lee said that the solar space is "at a point that you need to be establishing your brand."

    The question is, as David asked, is this the best way to do that? Seems doubtful, but I guess its possible and I agree with Zach that it was fun to see the boards.

    On a related topic, I'm going through withdrawal now that the Cup is over. Sigh.

  4. This is just another example of China's determination to establish itself as a leader in the global solar energy economy. America, alas, is still allowing partisan politics to determine its place in the burgeoning green revolution.

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