Italy’s UniCredit, Europe’s seventh-largest bank by
market cap, has become an official partner of Europe’s richest
football club competition, the Uefa Champions League, across the
2009-2012 seasons. Financial details were not

The bank is replacing MasterCard as the financial category
sponsor, a role MasterCard had held for the past 15 years.

The move will significantly boost UniCredit’s brand across
Europe, in particular in western European markets where it has no
real presence such as the UK, France and Spain. Brand-raising
opportunities for UniCredit will include advertising at all
Championship games, in-stadium branding, special ticketing
arrangements, exclusive promotional activity and player tie-ins,
and corporate hospitality.

UniCredit, which has focused heavily on the Central and Eastern
European region over the past two years, says the deal “underscores
[its] commitment to build a powerful European brand based on our
master brand strategy launched in 2007. At the start of 2008 the
group decided to pursue this strategy by investing in a strong
European sports sponsorship platform”.

The key driver for the Milan-based group will have been its
sponsorship last year of Europe’s Uefa Euro 2008 tournament, which
took place in Switzerland and Austria in June.

UniCredit has spent around €60 billion ($79 billion) over the
past three years on a string of acquisitions, including last year’s
questionable deal to buy Italian rival Capitalia for €22 billion.
But, with a €6.6 billion capital raising plan hastily arranged last
October and talk of trips to the Middle East to find fresh
investors, UniCredit’s lustre has tarnished significantly in the
wake of the credit crisis over concerns it extended itself too

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Bold plans to dominate the Central and Eastern European retail
banking market, announced as recently as last June (see RBI
), have been put on hold.