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Heineken applies for 'Official Beer of Soccer' trademark as North American World Cup looms

Major League Soccer (MLS) partner Heineken has made a bold trademark application to become the 'Official Beer of Soccer' in the US, a keen indication of how pertinent the sport is to the Dutch brand's marketing plans.

Already positioned as the 'Official Beer' of the MLS in its marketing, the brand wants to build out its ownership of the sport. Just last year it expanded its partnership with MLS in a five-year deal that will see it through to 2022/23; indicating a long-term ambition. At the time, Heineken's senior vice-president of marketing, Felix Palau, said: "Since working with MLS, we've seen a huge spike in our pull with soccer fans and supporters, and we hope to continue this trend for the short and long term."

Now, Heineken looks to be taking its ownership of the sport even further, a sign that soccer is delivering for the European beer.

A trademark application was filed to the US Patents and Trademarks office on 4 January and was spotted by Twitter user @ReeseCommaBill by 9 January. With the World Cup coming to North America in 2026, there's a possibility the brand could be looking to block rivals from hijacking the title while it supports the domestic league. After making inroads into the sport in the UK as the 'official beer' of the England national side, World Cup sponsor Budweiser could look to leverage support of soccer in its home turf in 2026 too. 

Richard Gillis, sport business author and journalist, reflected on the trademark effort: "I must’ve been out of the room when football fans were consulted on this. I’m assuming it's legally binding and we’re all now required to drink Heineken on every football-related occasion, with heavy fines for those caught drinking Bud or Carling.

“It’s a welcome trend, and a real timesaver on the part of sponsors and their agencies. No need for ideas or strategy: just declare yourself 'Official Partner' and wait for the love and affection of the football family to flow toward the brand. A masterstroke."

Among Heineken's global partners are Formula 1, Formula E, the Uefa Champions League, the Rugby World Cup, Daniel Craig's James Bond has been known to drink the brand, and of course the MLS.

MLS needs the marketing dollars of big partners like Heineken to grow the sport. In 2018, The Drum sat down with Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures who noted advertisers were buying into the MLS brand as much as the were the sport.

He said: "If we are good at solving the brands' problems, then they will spend more money. That way we can tap into our partners’ marketing dollars and they can make our sport, league and players come alive. We can never have that amount of marketing dollars to do something similar. We're reliant on them to build the sport.”

The Drum has contacted Heineken for clarification on the application, it had not returned comment at the time of publication. 

The US patent office claims it takes around six months to process applications. It tends to be difficult to register vague trademarks that could be broadly applied. Time will tell whether the Official Beer of Soccer is covered, Heineken brings a strong argument to the table with its support of the sport since 2014. 

It is not unusual for brands to submit for broad trademarks granting ownership over particular assets. Below is the last handful of 'Official Beer' trademarks issued to the office. Several of them have been shuttered perhaps indicating at the success of Heineken's application.

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