As with most things in life which restrict our actions, we will forever strive to find a way around it, a loophole which allows us the freedom to do what we want. It is human nature to rebel against the controlling influences which limit our liberty. Though football is wildly removed from wider society, the rules of human nature still apply; football clubs and those who run them will always endeavour to ways of initiating gain in spite of regulatory legislation.
With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rulings imposing a deeper sense of financial caution, clubs are increasingly seeking new avenues of income to counter the restrictive but necessary regulations. Though at times appearing a legal maze of complications, at the heart of Financial Fair Play is the notion that a club’s ‘football-related expenditure’ must be assessed in relation to revenue; it is this choice of terminology which clubs are looking to best exploit.
In fact, although UEFA’s policies look at first glance to be taking a rugged approach to excessive spending, the wording of the body’s official legislation presents clubs with a viable opportunity to capitalise upon UEFA’s vagueness. Essentially, ‘football-related expenditure’ is what clubs spend on wages and transfer fees. Any other money spent on academies, stadium improvements or other such ventures is discounted. Perversely, however, this is measured against all forms of income.
As a result, no longer able to rely upon the bankrolling of sugar daddy owners, Europe’s elite have sought alternative revenue streams – and found them. In the cases of Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United, innovative decision making has detailed the ease with which clubs can placate UEFA’s rulings.
At Manchester City, the much publicised stadium deal with Etihad Airways has been the subject of much chagrin in footballing circles, as the eclipsing deal further lengthens the ever-widening disparity between England’s top clubs. Though figures of £400million are somewhat debatable, there is little doubt that the sale of naming rights and sponsorship has gone a long way towards balancing City’s gigantic losses.
Over the past two seasons at White Hart Lane, though perhaps not instantly noticeable, Tottenham have been playing with separate sponsors split between league and cup competitions. Overall, this is estimated to have brought an estimated £20million in revenue for the club. Not at all suspicious, merely a simple piece of financial engineering.
In much the same way, you may recently have seen an advertising campaign from DHL proclaiming the company to be Manchester United’s ‘official logistics partner’. Signed at the start of the season, the partnership ensures an additional £10million per year for United with DHL receiving sponsorship rights on training gear. In a slightly less glamourous venture, Malaysian Food Manufacturer Mamee Double Decker recently struck a deal for their Mister Potato brand of crisps to be United’s ‘official snack partner’.
Each of these three examples highlights an alarming and unnerving trend in the realm of football sponsorship. Increasingly, clubs are attempting to emulate a U.S form of branding which maximises profit potential yet compromises the ethical composition of the English game. In the United States, limited legislation on sports sponsorship provides opportunities for franchises to benefit from multiple backers. As UEFA Financial Fair Play pushes clubs to obtain extended forms of income, there is the real risk of English football shifting towards an American style system whereby every inch of available advertising space is occupied. Shirts appear less a representation of club ideals and begin to resemble a sticker strewn suitcase of a frequent traveler.
Though there is nothing particularly illicit about the activities of clubs wishing to acquire greater sponsorship, there must come a time in which we say enough is enough. Many are able to pacify UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rulings through shameless exploitation of any revenue means necessary. We have now reached a point where Manchester United list a total of 28 sponsors on their official website, from ‘Official Office Equipment Partner’ to ‘Official Communications Partner in Bulgaria’. Clubs have a right to explore new avenues of income, but English football has now reached ludicrous levels of capitalisation.