Football and sponsors: the perfect match?

Almost one billion people tuned in to watch the World Cup final between France and Croatia in Russia this year. In the previous round, a staggering 26.5 million people in England watched as the Three Lions were dumped out by Croatia, an impressive figure considering England’s population is 53 million. These viewing statistics prove that football has an audience on an almost unprecedented scale.

It’s also a multi-billion-dollar industry, teeming with money and companies eager to take advantage of the sport’s popularity. In this article we explore some of the best and worst attempts by companies to reap the financial benefits of being associated with football.

Big money for big event exposure

The World Cup provides sponsors with a staggering amount of brand exposure, but to get that exposure they must shell out a significant amount of cash. There are only 8 premium FIFA partners that are allowed to advertise at all FIFA events, including the World Cup.

To break into that elite group, sponsors must pay a minimum of £32 million a year to FIFA along with various other individual charges. It’s not possible to just pay £32 million in a one-off payment either – premium partners must be long-term in order to get a slice of the World Cup exposure.

Below is the list of the 8 premium FIFA partners. Perhaps cover your screen first and see if you can guess them:

– Visa
– Coca-Cola
– McDonalds
– Adidas
– Gazprom
– Wanda
– Hyundai/Kia
– Qatar Airways

Did you know? Earlier this year Scottish side Hamilton Academicals received a five-figure sum from HopeCBD to sponsor their stadium, but were widely criticised for accepting this deal. Why? Because HopeCBD are a business that produces cannabidol, the controversial cannabis derivative.

The Premier League and the explosion of sponsorship costs

Since its inception in 1992, the English Premier League has become football’s biggest cash-cow. With fast-paced, entertaining action – and some of the world’s best players – television deals are now worth billions. Clubs lucky enough to be in the league now have millions at their disposal for new players.

Another key revenue area for teams is shirt sponsorship. Manchester United have the biggest shirt deal with automotive giant Chevrolet, who pay £60 million to sponsor their shirts and training gear. Even traditionally smaller clubs such as Huddersfield Town are drawing in massive sponsorship deals.

When the Terriers were promoted from the Championship, their shirt sponsors were a local legal firm called Pure Legal. They paid £200,000 a year to sponsor Huddersfield, but they were soon discarded once the team reached the Premier League. In Pure Legal’s place came OPE Sports, a Chinese betting company that paid £4 million to sponsor the Premier League strugglers.

So already, we can see the influence of football in the gambling, automotive and legal industries – whose main players are throwing considerable money at pushing their brands into the game.

Did you know? In 2009, fast-food giants Burger King took the step to sponsor Spanish La Liga side Getafe. Forget the obvious contradiction of having a fast-food outlet sponsoring a professional sports team, because that isn’t the weird part. On the inside of the shirts was a transfer of the Burger King Mascot’s face. Every time a player scored they would pull the shirts over their heads displaying the Burger King brand directly to the TV cameras.

The problematic associations

Not all business-club relationships are so fruitful, however. Some can even turn toxic. Mike Ashley has been a controversial figure during his tenure as chairman of Newcastle United. As the owner of Sports Direct, he saw an opportunity in 2011 to cross-promote his business by renaming the club’s stadium from St. James’ Park, to the Sports Direct Arena @ St. James’ Park.

Needless to say, the decision was received poorly by fans and after several protests, he reneged on his decision, returning the stadium to its original name. However, this wasn’t his only PR faux pas during his time at the North-East club.

Newcastle once again rose to infamy when announced high-rate lenders Wonga as their main shirt sponsors in 2015. The online money lending company had been at the centre of controversy after enticing customers in with quick cash but exorbitant interest rates.

Poor working-class areas around Newcastle were particularly hit by Wonga, and the club’s decision to partner with them was misjudged at best. This example, more than most, illustrates how such a tight association to a club can go wrong when difficult decisions have to be made.

Did you know? In the 1970s shirt sponsorship was illegal in Germany, but Eintracht Frankfurt came up with a unique way to get around this rule. Instead of plastering the name of their sponsors Jägermeister onto their new shirt and getting in trouble, they changed their badge. Gone was the traditional Eintracht Frankfurt logo, replaced by the Jägermeister logo with the wording beneath.

Is the relationship changing?

Rather than risking an official association with a club that could cost them financially and reputationally, some companies are using football to attract customers, rather than paying for the privilege through sponsorships with a particular football franchise.

At the Russia 2018 World Cup, companies launched several campaigns to tie in with the tournament. While not exactly a new concept, it’s an alternative way to use a huge, global event to connect with potential customers.

Ikea were one such example. Using a clever spin on the tribalism of football, they advertised their range of customisable sofas by showing how someone who wasn’t particularly a fan of the endless stream of football at the World Cup, could avoid the action by turning their seat around. Alternatively, they showed how sofas could be split when loyalties were divided during games. Check out these other innovative marketing campaigns in the World Cup.

It wasn’t just big retail corporations trying to benefit from World Cup fever.

Rose Slots, an online gambling company in the UK, primarily cater for middle-aged women with a range of slot and bingo games. Recently, they released two football themed slot games in an effort to appeal to a demographic traditionally not seen as football enthusiasts. This demonstrates that companies don’t necessarily have to pay extortionate sponsorship fees to benefit from football’s global popularity. As you’ll see by checking out the range of online slots at Rose Slots, their games cater for every niche – not just football, but movies and music too.

The issue around sponsorship in football aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. As football continues to evolve alongside the commercial world, the next few years should see further innovations as brands seek to reach out to the beautiful game’s audience in ever more creative ways.