SOUTHAMPTON: In the battle to reach football fans, Sky and BT have spent billions to acquire broadcasting rights, but rival Virgin Media has opted to actually sponsor a team and – in a move guaranteed to win it goodwill – it is offering supporters free beer.

As the new sponsor of Premier League team Southampton FC, it will give home fans a free drink at the first game of the season this Saturday, the Southampton Echo reported.

It is also laying on free transport for season ticket holders travelling to a Friday night away game in Manchester later this month.

Nor are away fans visiting Southampton being neglected, as Virgin Media is capping their ticket prices at £20 – in line with the Twenty's Plenty campaign aimed at making it affordable for fans to attend away matches.

"We thought about the position Sky and BT take in the marketplace and also about Virgin as a parent company, which is all about being accessible and inclusive," explained Ellie Tory Norman, head of advertising and sponsorship at Virgin Media.

"We are passionate about the home team, but we also care about the away experience," she told Marketing Week. "So we wanted to raise our credibility in football and take the side of the fan.

"We want our presence in football to be grounded in reality and focused on the people who turn out week in, week out whether they are home or away fans."

Virgin Media's approach, she added, is rooted in the brand's heritage. "The whole idea is to be disruptive to cause a change that benefits people."

The club has also brought a digital agency on board to devise a range of digital consumer touchpoints and to raise awareness of the Southampton brand internationally.

"We need to consider ourselves as brand and not necessarily as a football club," said James Kennedy, Southampton's head of marketing, last year.

Data sourced from Southampton Echo, Marketing Week, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff