Has sport sponsorship finally come of age? 20th December, 2012

Sport is the best known platform for sponsorship, and sadly often the least inventive –money exchanged for logo awareness on kits, stadia and perimeter boards. However, the recent £150 million sponsorship deal between Emirates and Arsenal F.C. is a great example of a shift from traditional sponsorship to a relationship where shared resources drive mutual benefits – what all sponsorship should be aiming for. Is this creation of a genuine partnership a one-off or might we be seeing a wider move in this direction across sport?

Arsenal & Fly Emirates

Arsenal’s agreement to share its advanced CRM system with the Dubai based airline was integral to the sponsorship deal going ahead. Head of Communications at Emirates Boutros Boutros outlined the importance of this saying:

‘Data on customers is important to us… detailed data on customers allows us to work out where we spend our ad budgets and who we target as well as what markets we focus on.’

While Emirates did purchase kit and stadium rights the CRM data deal constructed a two way channel of exchange that benefits both parties. This new approach to sponsorship is by no means exclusive to Arsenal; other Premier League clubs have also moved towards this model .

Manchester City/EA Sports – Finding a fit

Since its takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group Manchester City has led the football world in creating meaningful partnerships through sponsorship – the creation of a Head of Partnerships role at the club in 2009 signalling this. Luis Vicente – the man holding this role – outlines the clubs belief:

‘(…)for us it is not about where you place the logo of your partner. It is not about the size of the financial commitment with us. It is about how we can find a fit.’

A great example of the club finding a fit is its partnership with EA sports, a relationship so integrated the gaming company employs two people solely to produce content for the club. The partnership has led to permanent gaming installations put inside the Etihad for fans, the team’s kit being launched virtually by EA and exclusive and in depth club content for City fans. In the last few days the club has extended this through the creation of branded corporate boxes and non-matchday events.

Formula 1

It is not just football within the world of sport that has moved in this way. The deal struck between Infiniti cars and the leading F1 team Red Bull Racing mentioned by Ben Fuchs is another example. As part of the deal Infiniti are assisting the F1 team in the development of its Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), along with the team using Infiniti’s Scratch Heal paint for aerodynamic purposes. In return Red Bull is helping Infiniti in the creation of a new High Performance road car to follow the Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel. Chelsea FC’s unconventional partnership with the F1 team Sauber is another example. While output has been minimal so far the two are promising to embark on the next stage of their partnership very soon.


As the value of sponsorship deals continues to grow within sport the expectation from brands will only increase that sponsorship partnerships will become exactly that, partnerships. Luis Vicente highlights this as something that sport should embrace, saying:

‘Sponsorship in its traditional form is dead. You have to come up with something that is an embedded, engaging experience with your partners.’

This desire to create an engaging experience through a genuine partnership is a model that is becoming increasingly popular, suggesting sport as a platform for sponsorship is finally coming of age.