Showcase: The FHM O2 five-a-side Cup final

After last year's Crystal Palace success, O2 chose to hold this year's soccer tournament at Highbury. Mike Fletcher reports.

Arsenal Football Club said goodbye to the stadium it has called home for the past 93 years in a variety of ways. Thierry Henry kissed the penalty spot after scoring the last goal at Highbury, while former players signed messages of farewell on brick-work in the club's reception area.

For O2, the close of the Highbury era coincides with the end of its shirt sponsorship, while also offering the mobile network the chance to stage a series of customer events at the ground.

On 12 June O2 will host the last Highbury occasion for 500 O2 customers. Tear up the Turf will be a football-themed garden party with string quartets dressed in replica kits playing on the pitch, and 150 guests will take home a piece of Highbury history from around the corner flags.

Before the curtain could fall on O2's shirt sponsorship deal, however, the final for its grassroots football campaign - with 93 five-a-side teams from across the UK that competed in regional heats throughout March and April - had to be settled.

The FHM O2 Cup, run in association with Sony Ericsson and in its second year, has already become recognised as a formidable competition in amateur football circles - partly due to the fact that this year's final was played at Highbury on 14 May.

Event manager Tracey Kirk says: "Last year's final took place at Crystal Palace with around 100 spectators. It was a player experience. This year we've broadened the offer to more of a customer experience. Some 2,200 people 'texted' in for tickets."

She adds: "We've added a women's five-a-side tournament and a best supporters competition with a chance to win a box here at Highbury for the day. The standard from the girls has been exceptionally high while supporters in fancy dress, our own 'O2 Angels' and cheerleader groups have enhanced the atmosphere throughout the tournament."

The heats took place at football stadiums and universities in Birmingham, Egham, Glasgow and Leeds. The top four teams arrived at Highbury to battle it out not only for the cup but also for £5,000 and a Sony Ericsson W810i phone for each of the winning players. A celebrity five-a-side tournament involving TV personalities and models as well as a media tournament ran alongside the main event.

Spectators sat in the North Bank stand. When not watching the action, they were able to mix with glamour models, have their photos transposed onto the cover of FHM magazine or relax in an area which housed a Sony Ericsson DJ, a bar and games consoles.

"Our tie-up with FHM has increased the awareness of our activity but at the same time this campaign is focused on targeting grassroots footballers.

The text-in mechanism provides profiles of people interested in football so it's about targeted marketing and keeping our customers better informed," says Kirk.

She adds: "Sony Ericsson brings both ideas and experiences to the table.

It has hosted a penalty shoot-out competition here today with Welsh international goalkeeper Neville Southall and it's created experiences to showcase new handsets."

Sony Ericsson marketing director Ben Padley played in the media tournament.

He says: "Our remit is to reach other markets through innovative activity.

O2 is a key partner in this and the readers of FHM are a key target market for our products."

Padley adds: "This event is also a great opportunity for our employees to play at Highbury so it ticks a lot of boxes. There are sales targets to be reached but it is also about using event marketing to establish brand associations in the mind of customers."

O2's association with Arsenal will not end with Tear up the Turf, however.

Following the five-a-side tournament, O2 head of sponsorship Paul Samuels announced a £2m four-year deal to become the club's official mobile provider, which will include unique event experiences with Arsenal players for O2 customers as well as goal alerts and perimeter pitch advertising.

O2 may not feature on the shirts of the Arsenal players when they move to the Emirates Stadium but Samuels recognises the importance of remaining involved. The new deal may see another 93 grassroots teams being given the chance to follow O2 into the Emirates Stadium and play in next year's O2 cup final at the new home of the Champions League finalists.


The FHM O2 Cup final in association with Sony Ericsson

Venue: Highbury

Date: 14 May

Participating teams: 93

Production and fixture logistics: B Sport

Men's final winners: Black and White Army - Paisley

Women's final winners: Panfers - London

Media final winners: News of the World

After-party venue: Bloomsbury Bowl, Tavistock Hotel Regional heat drink catering: Eat to the Beat.

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