The England football team may have failed to live up to its promise over the past few years but, in one area, it is the undisputed world champion.
According to exclusive research by Marketing, the team generated more than EUR71m (£49m) through sponsorship during the 2004-2005 season - EUR31m (£22m) more than Italy, its closest competitor.
Sponsorship money is crucial to any national team seeking to finance itself, especially with governing bodies being run with a greater commercial emphasis than ever. The FA has five main sponsors, covering a variety of sectors: Umbro, McDonald's, Carlsberg, Nationwide and Pepsi. In return for the heavy investment required to sign these contracts, they get category-exclusive access to the team, its players and its brand - all vital ways to get the message to consumers about their association with the national sport.
Partnering the national team during qualifiers and friendly games is one thing, but the real value to a sponsor's relationship comes from tournaments.
The best chance to capitalise on the potential of this sponsorship in four years arrives this June.
While national team sponsors are presumably rubbing their hands with glee, there are potential problems. The tournament itself already has 15 sponsors, contracted to global governing body FIFA, some of which are the main category rival of the national team partners. For example, Coca-Cola is an official World Cup sponsor, while Pepsi is an FA partner. Similarly, Budweiser and Carlsberg find themselves competing directly.
In order to protect the investments made by its event sponsors, FIFA has put in place rules to outlaw any but its official partners from gaining coverage at the event, such as a blanket ban on non-official brands being present within a kilometre of a World Cup stadium. In this heavily regulated environment, how do team sponsors get value for money?
According to Phil Carling, former Football Association (FA) commercial director and head of football at Octagon, sponsors must be canny in how they exploit their links. 'There is no doubt that the big thing for all FA sponsors is access to the England team,' he says. 'This isn't easy given the restrictions in place around the World Cup, where all the match-day areas are exclusively the remit of FIFA sponsors.
'The training ground offers the best and only real environment where team sponsors can get close to the players, which is why most sponsors go big on branding the training area and then working the media angle. It's the only environment the FA controls commercially at the World Cup.'
Some teams are more open to commercial opportunities than others. Brazil, for example, has built a 7000-seat stadium for its pre-World Cup training camp, which is likely to attract 1500 journalists a day. The Brazilian Football Association has been selling commercial packages for this temporary venue to sponsors.
'It's very open,' says Carling. 'It's basically a showcase event and the sponsors get free rein. Compared with that, the England training camp is Fort Knox.'
Of all the FA's sponsor brands, McDonald's probably will have the easiest time in Germany, given that it is both an English national team and FIFA World Cup sponsor. 'We have opportunities on both a national and global level through our dual sponsorship, not to mention the exposure we get at the actual tournament,' explains Stephen Hall, the fast-food giant's UK sponsorship director.
'There is a global theme but then on a national level we lock in to specific campaigns. For us, the focus is on our player escorts programme through which we'll be taking 1500 children to the tournament. We've had a phenomenal response to this promotion. The big advantage we have over other sponsors is a physical touchpoint with consumers through our 1200 UK restaurants, which allow us to communicate our World Cup activity to the 2.5m people who come to McDonald's every day.'
Different sponsors reap different benefits from an association with the national team and some are unconcerned by the lack of a pitch-side presence.
For Carlsberg sponsorship controller Gareth Roberts, the fact that the tournament is being played in Germany will have little influence on its sponsorship effort. Roberts' main focus is the majority of England fans who will be watching on the sofa at home or in the pub, meaning the main promotional opportunity is in the UK.
'From a tournament point of view, as long as England qualify for the World Cup, Carlsberg has a real opportunity to drive sales,' says Roberts.
'People don't follow the tournament, they follow England, and everything we do is around Carlsberg being Beer England. We don't need to get close to the World Cup in Germany when it's about driving sales in the UK.'
It is as well that Carlsberg's efforts are geared toward the home market, as any activity in Germany by non-World Cup sponsors will meet with severe disapproval from FIFA. 'It has to protect its sponsors,' says Roberts.
'But we get as much exposure through our FA sponsorship without breaking the rules. FIFA is aware of our actions and we have good relations with it.'
The area of sponsor protection is a quandary England team backers are familiar with. Roberts says Carlsberg is continually watching its competitors to make sure they do not overstep the mark. If it does, the FA can be relied on to intervene.
One FA and England sponsor that will be out in force in Germany is Nationwide, which is resurrecting its Fans Embassy roadshow used at previous major tournaments. Its stalls will be based in towns where the England team is playing, handing out advice to fans, with a Routemaster bus as a focal point.
The building society is also developing a TV campaign and 148-page booklet with a 100,000 print run. 'Although we didn't have as big a budget as some of the other players in the tournament, it has not stopped us being creative to secure awareness of Nationwide in association with the England team,' says the brand's commercial sponsorship manager, Chris Hull.
For non-FIFA sponsors, there is one way to be seen in the World Cup - although it is open only to a very niche set of brands: for Umbro, being the kit supplier to the England team allows its brand and products to be seen on the players throughout the tournament.
Duncan Thomson, head of Umbro's FA division, explains that the deal gives the brand worldwide exposure. 'We are an English brand that has global appeal and we will align our association around the England team,' he says. 'Our World Cup strategy will be a combination of promoting England and running our "One love" campaign in Asia, France and Spain.'
Most team sponsorship activity happens in the build-up to a tournament, but there are ways to get coverage during the event, according to Octagon's Carling. At Euro 2004, Nationwide sent a film crew out to record fan snippets in and around the towns hosting games, before passing them on to the news agencies. 'In practically every piece of footage there was some kind of Nationwide branding - it was almost like product placement,' he says.
As for which sponsor will make the most of its team sponsorship, Carling believes there are two favourites: Nationwide and Pepsi. Both are likely to be adventurous in their activity, given that their associations with the FA come to an end after the World Cup. But while the temptation to break the rules in order to get better exposure will undoubtedly be strong, national team sponsors need to tread a fine line, as any minor violation of the sponsorship rights will be enough for the FA or FIFA to hand out a red card.
THE RICH LIST - TOP 10 TEAMS BY SPONSORSHIP INCOME
Sponsorship income (pounds) 49,060,290
% of total turnover 24
Primary sponsors Umbro, McDonald's, Carlsberg, Nationwide, Pepsi
Sponsorship income (pounds) 27,639,600
% of total turnover 48
Primary sponsors Puma, TIM, Mapei
Sponsorship income (pounds) 25,465,996
% of total turnover 44
Primary sponsors Adidas, Caisse d'Epargne, Brioche Pasquier, SFR
Sponsorship income (pounds) 16,583,760
% of total turnover 27
Primary sponsors Kirin, Adidas, Saison Card International, FamilyMart,
Fujifilm, JAL, Nissan
Sponsorship income (pounds) 16,557,454
% of total turnover 61
Primary sponsors Vivo, AmBev, Coca-Cola, Nike
Sponsorship income (pounds) 10,364.850
% of total turnover 25
Primary sponsors Mercedes-Benz, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Lufthansa,
Sponsorship income (pounds) 8,669,161
% of total turnover 16
Primary sponsors Adidas, Toyota, Santa Monica Sports, Mahou
Sponsorship income (pounds) 7,690,987
% of total turnover 39
Primary sponsors Budweiser, Gatorade, The Home Depot, Nike, Hyundai,
Sponsorship income (pounds) 7,341,078
% of total turnover 17
Primary sponsors ING, Adecco, Heineken, Nuon, Tele2, Staatsloterij,
Super de Boer, Nike
Sponsorship income (pounds) 1,777,723
% of total turnover 32
Primary sponsors Sporttip, Swisscom, Puma, Credit Suisse, Carlsberg,
RISING STAR - AUSTRALIA
The Socceroos have caught the attention of Australia and its marketers. Qualifying for its first World Cup has led to a multimillion-pound deal with National Australia Bank.
RISING STAR - GHANA
With the 2010 World Cup heading to Africa, marketers are beginning to invest in the continent's teams. Ghana, the team of the moment, has netted a £7m deal with Puma.
1950: India pulled out of the tournament in Brazil as FIFA refused to let them play in bare feet
1994: Switzerland and the US contested the first indoors match, at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.