Soccer clubs around the world are welcoming to myriad of sponsorships. Sponsors bring in revenue for the club, raise the profile of the team, allow clubs to connect with fans in new ways, and enhance their product. However, sports fans are becoming more informed and can tell the difference between sense and “non-cents” when it comes to a sponsor for their favorite team.
In the digital world, soccer organizations are looking to sign deals with globally recognized brands, despite the product or purpose of the sponsor. Interested companies looking to sponsor soccer teams are paying large sums of money in hopes that fans will associate their favorite team with a sponsor’s business and thus raise profits. But the general population is becoming savvier and is demanding more from companies. Firms are finding they need to be purpose driven rather than profit driven.
Because soccer teams sign so many sponsors, it is difficult to keep track of every sponsor for each team. Sponsors can generally be broken down into four major categories: financial sponsors, athletic sponsors, technology/innovation sponsors, and vice sponsors. Some of these sponsors make soccer sense while others may leave fans scratching their heads.
Financial sponsors seem to be dominant in soccer around the world in terms of total dollars invested in sponsorships. Most famously, banking giant Barclay’s has naming rights to the Premier League in England and has maintained that sponsorship since 2001. Aon, an international insurance company, signed an 8-year deal with Manchester United in 2013 worth $240 million. Manchester United renamed their training ground to the Aon Training Complex as part of the deal. Visa was one of FIFA’s official partners for the 2014 World Cup and will continue their partnership until 2022. These are a few of many others in this category. The ultimate purpose of these companies is to associate the stability of a successful soccer club with the stability and strength of their own financial institution. While these sponsors have little to do with the on-field competition, fans may recognize the link between their favorite club’s financial situation and their financial sponsor.
Sponsors that probably make the most sense to fans is the link between their club and the sponsors that help them perform. The companies that sponsor soccer are few and far between, but they certainly dominate the market. Global organizations such as Nike and Adidas pay top dollar to sponsor top clubs, national teams, and even individual players. Gatorade is also a major player in soccer sponsorship, but these three companies take a good portion of the market share in all other sports as well. In a smaller role, Degree is an official sponsor of US Soccer. These sponsors encourage fans who want to emulate their favorite player or team to purchase their products.
This type of sponsorship is quite broad, but has a far-reaching impact across many teams. Chelsea, for example, has a $23.9 million jersey sponsorship with tech company Samsung. Manchester United made headlines recently with their record sponsorship deal with car company Chevrolet to emblazon their logo on their jerseys for the 2014-15 season. Several other Premier League teams are also sponsored by tech companies, including Manchester City, Tottenham, and Southampton. Real Madrid’s Fly Emirates jersey sponsorship is one of the highest profile sponsorships given the club’s tremendous value as the second most valuable sports franchise. Castrol, a motor oil company, has even developed methods to track every player’s movement and decision-making in a live match and rank their performance for US Soccer fans and MLS fans. These sponsorships have very little to do with soccer, and are simply raising the profile of their company through their sponsorship and, in most instances, use their product to aid the club in travel or training in some way.
The vice sponsors probably make the least amount of sense to soccer clubs but are ever pervasive in the sporting world. McDonalds, an official sponsor of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is obviously a global company whose association with soccer is based on the premise that their company looks to improve communities around the world. Investing in their product will help with this cause, but McDonalds has stepped back from commercials that feature superstar athletes eating Big Macs after an intense practice. Coca Cola, another FIFA sponsor, has followed the same model. Coca Cola ads aimed to unite fans of the World Cup rather than have athletes endorse their “refreshing” soft drink. Budweiser does very little to support athletic lifestyles associated with soccer, but is still a chief sponsor of several FIFA World Cups. The most prominent vice sponsor around the world in soccer is gambling organizations. Soccer is the most popular sport to bet on worldwide. Bwin, one of the largest sports betting companies, has sponsorships with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, and Juventus amongst others. Wonga, Marathonbet, Bet 365, and Dafabet each paid Premier League clubs to feature their logos on the front of team jerseys for 2013-14. The vice sponsors play a significant role in sports, despite the sometimes negative impact that comes with these products and services. Some in the soccer industry have even called for the removal of gambling sponsorships in the Premier League, or at the very least, from children’s merchandise.
Depending on the type of company, each sponsor pushes a specific message in their association with soccer clubs. Vice sponsors have the most difficult position, relying on fans to follow their urges to use their product despite the negativity that the association may suggest. Individual players are more selective with their sponsorships than clubs. Most recently, United States Men’s team goalkeeper Tim Howard has been outspoken about selecting his sponsors, explaining,
It’s important that I’m a role model, and that the companies that I associate myself with feel the same way about their own images. Those are companies I’d like to be associated with…Just because there was money on the table doesn’t mean that I took it.
As fans gain access to more media vehicles and information about companies than ever before, clubs will have to be even more selective about which sponsors they accept money from. If fans see sponsors that make no sense, it may lead to no cents for the sponsor, or for the club.