UEFA Champions League Final - Does Alicia Keys have what it takes?

This year's UEFA Champions League Final being held in Milan this weekend (May 28th) will look and sound different: as part of a revamped music-driven opening ceremony, Pepsi will be presenting a live performance by Alicia Keys of her new material. Media interest is building, yet I find myself in two minds about the partnership.

On one hand I really want to see a music and sport event tie-up in Europe work and deliver for all parties, to prove that Europe can, as the US has been doing for years, successfully blend entertainment with sport on a big sporting stage. It would be brilliant for everyone: fans, the music industry, the sporting world and of course brands - in this case Pepsi.On the other hand I'm concerned that the approach and strategy behind the partnership is not going to work for the audience and, as a result, the brand. This could have a knock-on impact on whether future major European sporting events and/or artists invest in replicating what has proved to work in the US, in particular at the Super Bowl.

Once more we are seeing the music industry thinking on a very short term basis. The main gain in this case for the label is reach - 220 countries tuning in to see the Champions League Final and hearing Alicia’s new music: as success in music is so reliant on as many people as possible hearing your music, this works well for Alicia and her label RCA.

In order for music to connect with its audience on an emotional level, what is required is familiarity or a simple, catchy hook. But from what we understand, Alicia is planning to perform tracks from her new album. So the TV and stadium audience will be hearing new, unfamiliar music, which will clearly affect their interest and engagement, and may even result in negative reaction.

The stakes for Pepsi are high and you have to ask why they thought Alicia was the right artist. At our recent #TalkinRevolution event about the future of music and brand partnerships, we highlighted that successful brand-led music campaigns generally start with the idea first and the artist second. So: was Alicia chosen before or after Pepsi decided on the strategy?

I have no issue with Alicia Keys - on the contrary, she is a loved, accomplished and talented artist. Her new single 'In Common', is a beautiful song. She has a big digital footprint, with 38m Facebook fans and 23m Twitter followers; so from the perspective of a brand ‘media buy’ I understand the thinking. But what about thought about connecting with the audience? With the Final being held in Milan, Alicia's Italian ancestry maybe offers 'an angle'. But other than that, what's the fit? Is Alicia not naturally more fitting for a female audience? I can't imagine the stadium and viewers will be predominantly female...


Above all, I question whether Alicia can light up European football's Super Bowl moment and, therefore, Pepsi's involvement. If this is going to work for Pepsi, the sound and feel of the music must match the mood of the fans and viewers.

For FIFA World Cup 2014, I co-wrote and delivered the tournament's Official Anthem. As the World Cup was handed to Germany in the Maracana, our music played in sync to a spectacular firework display and I witnessed the result of the studio work, as 78,000 people jumped up and down to the song we put together. That is emotional engagement.

I really want Alicia's performance to work, but I fear that the mismatch between brand, artist and event may prove too great, and that we could be looking at a repeat of Coldplay's Super Bowl 50 halftime show performance, which famously failed in stark contrast to Beyoncé and Bruno Mars. I hope I'm wrong. With more than 220 countries tuning into the UEFA Champions League Final, there are a lot of people who want to see this partnership succeed. Only time will tell if it will. The future of music (and related brand partnerships) at major European sport events may depend on it.

You can hear Alicia Keys new single on Spotify here.