By Ian Gordon
MONTREAL (Reuters) - Heineken and Formula One announced a multi-year global partnership on Thursday that the Dutch brewer said would rank alongside its long-standing sponsorship of European soccer's Champions League.
No financial details were given for the deal, which was announced at the Canadian Grand Prix and starts in September with title sponsorship of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
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"F1 is going to be one of our biggest ever partnerships. The world is going to notice that we are in F1," Gianluca Di Tondo, Senior Director, Global Heineken Brand, told Reuters.
Heineken will be Formula One's official beer partner. From 2017, the brand will be title sponsor of three grands prix with significant signage at six others. The branding will not be on any cars.
Thursday's announcement comes after Red Bull's Max Verstappen last month became, at 18, the youngest Formula One race winner and first Dutch driver to top the podium.
Di Tondo said discussions between the world's third largest brewer and Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management had been ongoing for some time.
"It is the right moment to do this partnership. We expect it to be a long-term one," he said.
"We estimate Formula One can give us the extra 200 million people on top of the other global consumers we have and F1 is looking for spectators to turn into F1 fans. Together we can both reach our goal.
"Champions League football and Formula One are going to be our yearly platforms."
Heineken's sponsorship of European soccer's premier club competition runs to 2018 and is worth in excess of $70 million a year, according to sports marketing research group IMR.
Although the Formula One partnership starts in Italy, Monza has yet to agree a contract with Ecclestone beyond 2016.
Di Tondo said Heineken would not be involved in those discussions but, as an Italian, he would "do everything I can to push Bernie into keeping the Italian GP."
Di Tondo mentioned Monaco, Formula One's showcase race, as well as China and Mexico as races in strategic markets. Heineken is the top-selling lager in Europe and the world’s leading international export brand.
The brewer has sold beer in Africa for decades, while acquisitions in the past six years have seen it add Mexico and Brazil and greater access to Vietnam and southeast Asia.
Di Tondo said Heineken would also develop significantly the use of social media.
"We know how to reach people. Our twitter program for the Champions League this year reached 2.5 billion people."
The partnership will also promote a 'responsibility' message and Heineken's "If You Drive, Never Drink" campaign.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)