The Reebok, The Emirates, The JJB, The Weston Homes Community Stadium, The A-Line Arena…Household names I am sure but does sponsorship in football actually work? Do the fans care? Do the fans actually have any brand allegiance?
I have asked this question time and time again to people I have met in football. All of them say “of course it does” but as a football fan, and a season ticket holder with one of Europe’s top 20 richest clubs (fact!) I would say categorically NO. Sponsorship executed well can have a positive effect, but there is also a balance. Most football fans can remember that Arsenal used to be sponsored by JVC during the 1980’s and 90’s. What impact did this have? Well Spurs fans actively avoided buying JVC in the fear their mates might find out they were supporting the “enemy”. Yet Arsenal fans would still buy the cheapest product available, with little allegiance for their club’s sponsor. Would any Aston Villa fans fly with FlyBe if they had a choice of career? I doubt it. So it actually has a negative effect. Shirt sponsorship actually started near twenty five years ago when Kettering Town ran out onto the pitch for a game versus Bath City with a big “T” on their shirts (see https://theballisround.co.uk/2009/03/14/the-trend-setters/ for more details). Since that day the world has gone a bit mad and some of the amounts now bandied around are ridiculous – £13.5m per annum paid by T-Mobile for Bayern Munich is one such example. As far as I can see, sponsorship falls into four catagories.
Made in Heaven relationships
Where two brand leaders get together then there is a win/win for both parties. The best example for this is Manchester United and Vodafone, both essentially the biggest brands in their relative markets, and so there would be synergies between the two. Man Utd need to distribute their product on a worldwide basis, and the Vodafone platform gave them the opportunity to do this. With the growing importance of media as a distribution method, Vodafone were the perfect partner for Manchester United in getting their message over to millions of potential fans in the Far East. Vodafone users in return could pay for exclusive rights to Manchester United content. Chelsea’s recent tie up with Samsung works on similar lines.
Nice touch relationships
What reason did Barcelona need to tie up with Unicef? What about Aston Villa and Acorns Hospice? These are clubs who have essentially seen that sponsorship does not work and have moved their “inventory” (the term the clubs use for the space on the front of their shirt or stadium) from a commercial model to a conscious one. Whilst these two are examples of clubs committing for personal reasons, there are also a number of examples of companies agreeing deals with clubs that they see they have an affinity with. Wirral Borough Council sponsored Tranmere Rovers for a number of years, West Bromwich Albion supported a “Stop Smoking” logo for a few years and of course Norma Cook’s Skint Records sponsored Brighton & Hove Albion for years.
West Ham have always been an interesting case. In order their sponsorship deals were Avco Trust, BAC Windows, Dagenham Motors, Dr Martens and JobServe prior to the deal with the now defunct XL. All of these companies had an affinity with the Hammers, either in terms of the decision maker in the deal being a West Ham fan or a local interest such as Dagenham Motors. Nowadays money has taken over and the most recent deal with an Online betting company who did not even have a presence in the UK in SBOBET is proof that money is now the divine force.
Short term relationships
Some clubs change their sponsors more than the likes of Daniella Lloyd changes her football-playing boyfriend. There is only one guiding force in these relationships – money. There is no partnership, no cohension to the fans, no synergies in terms of direction. Examples include Everton’s deal with Keijan who (I think) was a Chinese beer that was and still is today not available in the UK. Llanera is another classic example. A Spanish time share company sponsoring Charlton Athletic. Hardly the club with the most fans with disposable income. Over 50% of deals are now classified in this area. For the forthcoming season the Premier League sponsors include six online sports betting sites, four finance/banking companies and two airlines (neither of whom fly to more than a couple of routes from the UK) and a bunch of random companies. In terms of size Manchester United’s AIG deal is coming to an end, but there are few global brands bigger than Liverpool’s long term deal with Carlsberg. A good deal on the face of it, but few fans drink in the stadium these days – in fact with so much European football they cannot sell (or advertise if the game is featuring a French team!) alcohol on the day of a game. The smallest deal in the Premier League next year is probably the deal Sunderland have with local sports store BoyleSports.
Basically any deals that don’t fall into the catagories above. Partnerships that could work, but may seem strange in the first instance. Sheffield United’s deal with Desun a few years ago may have seemed odd but the Fruit Powder company had a huge market in China and that was the market the Blades wanted to crack. Ditto Everton’s deal with Chang.
Stadium naming rights are another story. Some work as an association of the brand to a stadium, such as The Reebok and the McAlpine (despite the fact that Huddersfield’s deal with McAlpine ended years ago). Some are absolute failures, with the fans refusing to call the stadium by its new name. Some are just pure vanity – the JJB Stadium is now known as the DW Stadium in “honour” of Dave Whelan the chairman. There are only five stadium naming deals in the Premier League at the moment (The Emirates, The Reebok, The KC at Hull, The DW Stadium and Stoke’s Britannia Stadium). As you move down the league structure you will see fewer clubs willing to sell their greatest asset for a small bag of silver. Five in the Championship, and just two each in the lower Football leagues.
Answer me this as a final question? Who are/is Keepmoat that they did a deal with Doncaster Rovers when they moved to a new stadium? Liberty as in the Liberty Stadium in Swansea? Exactly nobody knows or cares outside of DN and SA postcodes?