Spain’s largest banking group, Santander, has signed a
five-year deal to sponsor the Libertadores Cup, the leading club
football tournament in South America. The move comes hot on the
heels of Santander’s acquisition of ABN AMRO’s Brazilian
operation, Banco Real, writes Douglas Blakey

Santander has agreed a five-year deal to become the title
sponsor of the Libertadores Cup, South America’s main football club
tournament, part of the Spanish group’s ongoing marketing efforts
to boost international recognition of the Santander brand.

The competition, to be known as the Copa Santander Libertadores,
involves 38 club sides from 11 countries (Argentina, Brazil,
Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay
and Venezuela) competing for the annual title, with 138 matches
taking place over 20 weeks. According to the bank, the competition
attracts an audience of more than 1.5 billion every season.

The football deal represents the bank’s second major international
sports sponsorship investment in 2007, following the five-year,
multi-million dollar deal signed with UK Formula 1 motor racing
team McLaren Mercedes, which started in January this year.

This year, Santander has been running its first global ad campaign,
in the 14 countries around the world where it is active in retail
banking, with a €40 million ($55 million) budget designed to push a
unified Santander brand. The unification has been accompanied by
the standardisation of the way branches look, a programme that
started last year and is planned to be completed by 2010.

According to the bank, the South American deal will help to
position Santander in the international financial sector’s top ten
in terms of branding and strengthen its position as a regional and
global bank – the aim of the bank’s marketing blitz is to catch up
with other global banking brands such as Citi, HSBC and ING, which
are better known worldwide.

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The importance of Latin America to Santander is highlighted by its
2007 half-yearly report, which disclosed that the bank achieved
$1.81 billion in net attributable income in the region, up 28
percent year-on year, with Brazil alone contributing 10 percent of
group profits.

Earlier this year, Santander’s vice-president, Francisco Luzón,
head of the group’s Latin American operations, stated that
Santander’s target was to double its business in Latin America by
2010, aiming to increase its customer numbers in the region by 9
million to over 30 million in the same period. “Our slogan for the
next three years is clear: doubling is winning,” said Luzón.
(See RBI 567.)

Brazil, where the Libertadores Cup attracts huge television
audiences, has been Santander’s top profit contributor in the
region and a key factor in its desire to win the battle, along with
its consortium partners, for ABN AMRO (see Global retail
banking map redrawn as RBS consortium gets ABN

Santander’s acquisition of ABN AMRO’s Brazilian subsidiary, Banco
Real, combined with Santander’s existing Brazilian unit, Banespa,
will create the country’s second-largest bank by deposits and the
third largest – after the government-owned Banco de Brasil and the
country’s largest private-sector bank, Bradesco – in terms of loans
and branches, with a network of 3,972 outlets.

According to ABN AMRO’s 2007 half-yearly report, its Brazilian arm
contributed 95 percent of its Latin American operating income. As
part of the carve-up of the former Dutch banking giant, Santander
will acquire 1,900 Banco Real stand-alone and in-company branches,
6,700 points of sale and 8,700 ATMs in Brazil.

The ABN AMRO deal also extends Santander’s market share leadership
over other foreign banks that have invested in Brazil, notably HSBC
and Citi. “We believe in Brazil,” said Santander president Emilio
Botín, during a recent visit to the country.

Santander has predicted that Brazil will receive an
investment-grade rating within the next 18 months and believes that
it can obtain €1 billion of synergies from its Brazilian purchase
by 2010. Santander is looking to benefit from the continuing growth
in demand for consumer loans in the country, fuelled largely from
economic stability and falling interest rates.

“Football is the most global sport in Latin America and thus
becomes the best vehicle to reach every household and to be
recognised as a single brand, positioning the bank as the leading
financial institution in Latin America,” said Juan Manuel Cendoya,
general manager of communications at Santander’s corporate
marketing division.

While Brazil, which it first entered in 1982 – the $4.8 billion
acquisition of Banespa followed in 2000 – represents Santander’s
biggest Latin American investment, the bank also has a presence in
a number of South American countries, notably Mexico, Chile,
Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia.

“The visibility provided by the presence of our brand in the
stadiums where the matches will be played and in the Libertadores
events will give our brand a significant boost and will be
intensely leveraged by our banks in Latin America,” added