This article written by Angelo Palmeri originally appeared in Estonian football magazine ‘Jalka’ (issue December 2013).
The most familiar nickname of Estonian lower football tiers, especially IV.th league, is the ‘beer league’.
Since start of summer 2013 this letter of intent has literally been printed out on amateur clubs jersey.
A project launched in spring has allowed clubs from III.rd and IV.th league (5th and 6th tier of Estonian football pyramid - edit) to either wear new kits or, as in the case of (former) FC Pokkeriprod, to add an away kit to the existing one.
'We had no problems or complex to play away games with pink kits’ reveals Pokkeriprod’s captain and representative, Lauri Hanstin, about the unusual choice made by a democratic poll among club members ‘I think that the home teams were disappointed at losing to a team who wears pink. It was quite an amusing experience.’
A similar amusing experience should have enjoyed also the other 40 amateur clubs that were involved by the project: either they had the chance to renew their worn-out kits or to give themselves the luxury to choose another jersey when travelling away. ‘The quality of the product is very good’ Lauri admits ’the kit is very light and comfortable to play with.’
Toomas Järvet, strategy director at Taevas, the PR and communication agency behind the project sponsored by A.LeCoq, explains how the idea was born ‘I have played football myself at amateur levels for many years’ recounts ‘and I know one big cost for a club is to get every two years, if not every year, the kits for the footballers’ recognizes a former amateur footballer at FC Concordia.
How the idea came out of a meeting room to reach hundreds of players? ‘It came from one of those workshops we have with A.LeCoq (the beer brand is their client almost since the agency was born in 1998 – A.P.). The idea was to go beyond the mere passive sponsorship of the Estonian FA and the national football team.’
Toomas proposal was on the table and A.LeCoq picked it up as the opportunity to involve more the lower leagues participants: now it was the time to look for a supplier. ‘Errea had really the best possible offer no one could compete with’ repeatedly admits Toomas hinting at the fact that choosing the Italian brand of sport clothing founded in 1988, it was much easier than anyone can think. ‘Errea was really approachable, eager for cooperation and interested in being part of this project. Additionally, they offered two tickets to go watching an FC Parma’s Serie A game in Italy (Parma-Inter which will take place on the 19th of April - edit) to those clubs who would have subscribed to the fair play challenge’.
The contest was among those clubs who would have submitted their team picture wearing the new kit: at the end of the season, the fairest player (on games played/cards received ratio) has received the award during the Estonian FA end-of-season football gala at Nokia Concert Hall.
‘The fair play campaign attached to the project was a good idea’ admits Siim Juks from the Estonian FA Public Relations and Partnerships Department.
‘We were surprised and asked why they decided to invest at amateur level and their answer was that besides investing in top football they wanted in lower tiers too. As a marketing responsible, I must admit this was a great tool considering the geography and target group of lower leagues’.
The ‘beer league’ indeed.
What was the Estonian FA role in this project? ‘Previously we have negotiated with A.LeCoq about national team and Meistriliiga, with the latter being renamed ‘Premium Liiga’ at the start of 2013 season. The amateur clubs project came unexpectedly and it reflects the fact that such idea came from the grassroots level as conceived by a former amateur footballer’ reveals Siim who instead has not played football at amateur level.
‘The FA actually offered to be given the money allocated for this project in order to implement something like decreasing the registration fee’ admits Siim ‘However, A.LeCoq were already determined to go on with the kits project. Therefore, we agreed with their project and gave the green light.’
A.LeCoq supports Estonian football since 2001 and it is not only a name given to a stadium. ‘One of the many initiatives was the one that installed those mini-football pitches for kids around Estonia, like the one outside of A.LeCoq Arena: they are about 40’ recounts Toomas about the past before hinting at a plan for the future: ‘At the end of the year, we will draw conclusions about what we achieved through this project. Probably we will ask the clubs’ feedback and from those conclusions, we will decide what to do next year.’
What is the club’s feedback then?
‘This campaign was very positive’ says Lauri Hanstin at (former) Pokkeriprod adding a suggestion for future action ‘experience tells we are struggling with footballs. Quality ones are quite expensive and you need approximately 10-15 of those for regular trainings. I’d happily take the chance to buy footballs with a discount’
Will Errea be the partner for a future initiative? For the moment, Tartu-based Latvian owner of the Baltic distributor (Sportapunkts), Maris Robeznieks, is happy with the outcomes of the partnership: ‘the most important thing was that we established contacts in Estonian top-level football, something that did not happen before even though Errea was known in other sports (handball, volleyball – A.P.)’
Errea managed to reach Estonia as last of the Baltic countries over the past few years: ‘Previously, a Finnish distributor covered the Estonian market; we convinced Errea that we could do a job better. A.LeCoq informed us about their project, we made an offer they found it convenient. In our opinion it was a very successful initiative, both for the Estonian amateur football and for Errea to make itself visible in the country.’ concludes Maris very satisfied; he reveals that soon a Premium Liiga club might wear Errea kits too: ‘we had already negotiations with some clubs during last season, however due to previous contractual obligations they had, we have to wait these to end before finalizing a new Errea supply.’
Going back to the amateur football realm, Siim Juks sets the target for the next campaign ‘The FA opinion is that the initiative could be used as a motivation for Rahvaliiga clubs to upgrade themselves to IV.league’ explains Siim clarifying that the FA main target is to increase the number of registered players in the country every season.
'Running initiatives at amateur football level is already in A.LeCoq’s priority list’ assures Toomas on behalf of their client ‘in the preliminary stage of the implemented project, Rahvaliiga was also included’ reveals Toomas ‘however, the costs were too high: it might be an option for the future though’.
A rosy future expects amateur football.
Maybe not really literally this time.