Is Quantity or Quality More Important in Football Sponsorship? 27th June, 2018

Whether it’s Arsenal’s sleeve sponsorship deal with Rwanda’s tourist board or Manchester City’s sizzling hook-up with Tinder, the sheer quantity of football team sponsors has exploded in recent years.

You don’t have to think too far back to a time when clubs would have been more than happy to simply enjoy commercial ties with a kit supplier for team equipment, with a major sponsor’s logo splashed across the front.

However, in the age of globalisation, sports organisations – and their potential partners – see sponsorship as an enabler of expansion. This allows both clubs and brands to reach millions of potential new fans and consumers wherever they’re based, while of course remaining a key way to drive revenues.

Who is making the most of these opportunities?

Manchester United perfectly embody this renewed approach to sport sponsorship. Already a global brand with fans and non-fans alike, in recent years the Red Devils have aggressively pursued sponsorships and commercial partnerships from less traditional industries across the globe.

For example, United’s Integrated Telecommunications Partners are split up by region. This means that they have separate sponsors in many different territories, such as STC (Saudi Arabia), TM (Malaysia) and others in Hong Kong, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Nigeria and Ghana. This approach allows the club to maximise potential revenue in just one specific industry.

More obscure sponsors include Japan’s Nissin Foods, who are Manchester United’s official global noodle partner (yes, really). Malaysian brand Kansai are proudly the official paint partner of the club, while in May 2018 United extended its deal with Chinese company MLILY to be their official mattress and pillow provider. These are all in addition to more traditional financial and motor companies who are considered part of their 22 “global partners”.

What are the positives and negatives of this?

Quite understandably, the main argument for this proliferation of brand sponsorships is that it boosts clubs’ coffers whilst also raising its profile in less traditional markets. In time, this expanded fanbase will generate future income thanks to merchandise sales and so forth. Meanwhile, sponsor brands benefit from increased exposure and its allegiance with a successful, popular club.

However, this explosion in sponsorships can also have a negative impact if not handled correctly. The sheer amount of sponsors a club could attract can dilute their image of exclusivity and prestige, which prospective sponsors may view as a drawback to any potential involvement. Such a multinational and seemingly unselective approach to sponsorships could also erode the identity that years of success and history have helped to create.

So what does the future look like?

There is an argument for clubs to reconsider this approach and focus on fewer, more focused and appropriate brands. This could result in greater bargaining power for clubs as they take back some of the feeling of exclusivity they have gifted away – albeit at a profit, of course.

With the 2018 Premier League television deal worth over £4.5bn – a somewhat surprising drop of around £500m on the previous deal in 2015 – there is an indication that the vast sums from this vital revenue source may have peaked. Clubs will be buoyed, then, that brands are showing no signs of being put off by the prospect of teams retaining more and more sponsors.

Although if the trend continues on the current path, there may come a day when less in considered more in the world of football sponsorship.