Are these modern deals in football ingenious or desperate?

Chelsea and Sauber F1 racing team partnership

Since the birth of the Premier League English football has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity that has seen clubs treated and indeed traded like commodities. Not a week goes by with the announcement of a unique sponsorship deal, but are they a sign of desperation in the tough economic climate or simply an ingenious way to increase revenue?

Newcastle United’s controversial new sponsorship arrangement with loan company Wonga has attracted a swarm of criticism. The club have even risked upsetting the Muslim quartet of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Cheick Tiote and Hatem Ben Arfa, who may view the partnership as a violation of Sharia law. It seems as though this move has the potential to be even more unpopular than the Sports Direct fiasco.

The decision to revert the stadium back to its former title as St. James’ Park will appease fans, but I can’t see how it will disguise the fact that they’re the prime targets for the companies eye-watering interest rates. Despite the disapproval, the deal is hardly surprising. Bolton, Wolves and Wigan are sponsored by online bookies, Swansea and Aston Villa by casino groups and Everton by a Thai beer brand. The move towards increasingly ‘amoral’ partnerships has been on the cards for a number of years.

Teaming up with the Toon Army is not Wonga’s first foray into the world of football as they already sponsor Championship side Blackpool and Scottish outfit Hearts. However, fronting a Premier League team presents them with an unrivalled level of exposure, which will be reflected in the inflated sum that enters Newcastle’s bank account.

Chris Walker, editor of Blackpool site Up the ‘Pool, indicated that the Tangerine Army have voiced their dissatisfaction on several occasions but admits they have little influence in the commercial ventures of their football club.

Ultimately though, whatever opposition there is, fans of most clubs are powerless to force the owners’ hands.

The only way for supporters to get a message across is to withhold money in the form of season tickets and merchandise, but for the many the emotional ties to their club prevent this. (Telegraph)

According to The Secret Footballer, supporters on average contribute to around 30% of their club’s wage bill which although significant, dismantles the general consensus that the game wouldn’t survive without the fans. As the wages of Premier League stars continue to soar, it’s only natural that clubs will seek out new exclusive sources of income.

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Last year Manchester United unveiled a new deal that saw logistics company DHL become the club’s first training kit sponsor. The four-year contract is apparently worth an incredible £40m and exemplifies how valuable a mere whiff of publicity can be at the summit of the game. Chelsea have also been constructing intriguing sponsorship deals, which has seen them branch out into the advertising haven of Formula One with Sauber. The club has also recently announced a deal with a Burmese whisky firm, a move that has taken advantage of the easing of sanctions that had previously meant the country was effectively off-limits.

At the start the season it was revealed that the shirt sponsorship income of the Premier League’s 20 clubs had ballooned 25 per cent to £147million (Daily Mail). This figure doesn’t even include any recent developments, United’s DHL deal or the fact that Tottenham also receive an additional £5m a year from Investec as a sponsor for all cup games.

Sunderland’s new deal with Invest in Africa will now mean they pull in the same £20m annual sum as the likes of Manchester City and although Arsenal currently only acquire a modest £5.5m, their deal with Fly Emirates expires this season, with chief executive Ivan Gazidis declaring that the new arrangement will “propel us forward as a club in terms of revenue.” (Telegraph)

However, there is a contrasting situation outside the top flight as the Football League faces an uncertain future with npower’s three-year deal soon to expire. The exclusive renewal negotiation period for the energy giants ended this week and there is a fear that prospective partners will struggle to match the current £21million asking price. With the collapse of ITV Digital still the subject of nightmares, clubs will hope a resolution is reached sooner rather than later.

Football may have sold its soul in the eyes of many, but only to ensure it stays alive. Even Barcelona, a club once revered for its stance on commercial sponsorship, have succumbed to lure of significant financial investment and ended up on the opposite end of the scale.

Michel Platini’s impending Financial Fair Play regulations mean that the level of revenue ultimately determines how much money graces the transfer budget. With this in mind, sponsorship is no longer important, but an essential aspect of the beautiful game.

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