The football World Cup arguably represents the ultimate marketing bonanza for brewers but taking full advantage not only involves major investment above and below the line but meticulous preparation and market intelligence. Ben Cooper reports on how Carlsberg UK approached the pinnacle of the sporting calendar.

Sports pundits often say football is a game of two halves, but any brewer will tell you that it is in fact a game of many pints. Football and beer go hand in hand to provide a matchless opportunity for pub retailer and supplier to increase sales, and there is no better occasion to exploit this perfect marriage than a World Cup.

According to Carlsberg UK, each successive major football tournament provides a larger marketing bonanza, so the arrival of this summer's FIFA World Cup was greeted enthusiastically by the world's brewers. But Carlsberg not only sought to take maximum advantage with a comprehensive marketing campaign, but also conducted detailed research during the tournament, producing some interesting insights and clues on how to capitalise further from such opportunities in the future.

According to Carlsberg's Beer and Football Report - A Summary of the 2006 World Cup, the World Cup presented the on-trade with a series of sales opportunities equivalent to five bank holidays in one month. Carlsberg estimates that an extra 21m pints of beer, about 75% of which was lager, were sold during the tournament. Overall, Carlsberg estimated it sold an extra 20m pints of Carlsberg and Carlsberg Export in both the on- and off-trade while England remained in the tournament.

The fact that 77% of men watching football in pubs choose to drink beer, with 10% of these switching from wines or spirits to beer for the match, underlines the scale of the marketing opportunity for brewers. "They get bigger and bigger every time there's an event like this," Graeme Mitchell, on-trade controller for Carlsberg UK, told just-drinks. "We were certainly more geared up this time than we have ever been before."

However, in spite of the prodigious figures, Carlsberg believes there is potential to tap such opportunities still further. While the brewer has gathered information during previous tournaments, this time it tracked sales on an hour-by-hour basis during match days using electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) data from around 500 of its on-trade customers.

The results give food for thought. Carlsberg divides the match occasion into three episodes: the gathering, the match and the post-mortem. Each can be approached differently by the retailer to address the particular challenges and maximise returns.

For example, the sales profile peaks immediately before kick-off, followed by a sharp fall in sales once the games begin. Pubs that offered floor service and brought drinks to their customers during the game made the most of their World Cup sales opportunities, the report concluded.

The priority after the match, however, is keeping customers in the pub. The research showed that up to 40% of people moved on to a different venue after England's first two games, against Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. These fans were not going home to mope alone. They may have been going somewhere to drown their sorrows but the pub showing the game did not retain their custom. While some drop-off is inevitable, particularly when England lose, there are ways to retain customers, says Mitchell, such as enhancing the food offer, possibly with a barbecue, or running a quiz.

Although Carlsberg revealed that some 14% of men aged between 18 and 44 saw every game of the World Cup, by far the most lucrative occasions were the England matches, which were viewed by 80% of men in the same age bracket.

Carlsberg's results bear this out. England's first and last weeks in the tournament were two of the biggest three weeks for standard lager sales in the last four years. Carlsberg estimates that one third of the lager sales seen during the whole tournament were achieved on the five days when England played. In addition, the spend per match per person increased by 22% from GBP25.31 to GBP30.86 for England matches.

"I think one of the things that really stands out is that the tournaments are really all about England and that is the point we're making in the report," Mitchell said, adding that this justifies targeting activity towards England matches. As well as being the Official Beer of England, Carlsberg based its marketing activity around England's bid to win the tournament, with the strapline "2006…Probably", and a major TV campaign featuring former England stars.

Although each market has its own cultural differences, Mitchell believes there are best practice messages to share with his Carlsberg counterparts in other countries. Above all, the work surrounding the World Cup is about making sponsorships work across all channels to maximise the considerable investment.

"If all you do is sponsor then don't do anything else in terms of making it come to life you're not making that investment work as hard for you as it can do," says Mitchell. "We spend a lot of money securing the sponsorship but we then invest a lot of money, time and effort in making those sponsorships come to life in pubs and clubs, and that is really important."

Just as Carlsberg used its experience of the European Championships in 2004 in planning for World Cup 2006, the brewer is looking to address some of the findings from this summer in the build-up to Euro 2008, where the brand will also be a tournament sponsor.

However, as always it is critical that the brewer communicates market insight to its retail customers and encourages them to act on it. To this end, the company is sending out a copy of the report to all its customers. The brewer will also continue to share intelligence with its retail customers through the Carlsberg Sports Viewing Club.

However, Mitchell was keen to stress that the lessons learnt during the summer can be acted upon immediately, not simply borne in mind for 2008. "There is a perception that next time is in two years' time," Mitchell said. "Next time is next weekend when England play Greece. If licensees just sit on this and wait for the next big tournament to come round in 2008 they will have missed so many big opportunities."