By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - Nissan will replace Ford as a sponsor of Champions League soccer from next season to support its efforts to become the leading Asian carmaker in Europe, the Japanese company said on Monday.
Nissan said the four-year agreement was its largest sponsorship deal but gave no financial details. It declined to comment on media reports that it was paying as much as $75 million per season for the rights.
U.S. automaker Ford announced last month that it was ending its long-running backing of the Champions League, the most prestigious club competition in European soccer. Ford has been a sponsor since the Champions League was launched in 1992-93.
Nissan said the Champions League had a cumulative TV audience of 4 billion over the course of the soccer season from September to May, drawing big viewing figures as far afield as Asia and South America.
The Champions League has eight main sponsors who are allowed to advertise at matches and use the competition to promote their brand on TV and online.
"The power of the Champions League is that we can reach people everywhere with it," said Roel de Vries, Nissan's global head of marketing.
"A big part of that is obviously Europe where we have ambitions to be the number one Asian brand," he added.
Japan's Toyota is the leading Asian carmaker in Europe, with a market share of more than 4 percent, while Nissan and South Korea's Hyundai vie for second spot.
Car companies have been faced with a shrinking market in Europe in recent years because of the impact of the financial crisis.
Ford, which signs off from the Champions League after this year's final in Lisbon in May, said it planned to focus more on digital communications as it launches 25 new vehicles over the next five years.
Nissan is also a sponsor of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
( $1 = 0.7291 euros)
(Editing by Susan Fenton)