Three will succeed Yokohama Tyres as Chelsea FC’s shirt sponsor from next season.
In a deal lasting appropriately three years, the brand will appear on all of the club’s shirts, including the Chelsea Women and Academy sides, and will also ensure Chelsea’s home ground Stamford Bridge is 5G-enabled within the first year of the partnership – echoing rival EE’s deal with Wembley Stadium.
Chelsea and Three have not disclosed the value of the deal, but its agreement with Yokohama was reported to be worth £200m over five years – the second-biggest in the Premier League, after Chevrolet’s sponsorship of Manchester United. Yokohama will continue its commercial relationship with Chelsea as its official tyre partner.
Three chief executive Dave Dyson called Chelsea "a great match" for the brand. "We share the same values and are both playing to win," he said. "This partnership is a great way to kick off 2020, when we are building the UK’s fastest 5G network and Chelsea are building the best team.
"Three UK has enough 5G spectrum to put us in the top 10 holdings in the world and give our customers the very best 5G service, and we want to be with the team that can drive that winning message over the next few years."
Rupert Pratt, consultant at Snack Media, said the shorter deal could be an indication that the role and value of shirt sponsorship deals for brands was changing.
"The number of brands prepared to commit significant chunks of their marketing budget on a long-term basis is shrinking," he said. "Marketing needs to be so responsive and agile. Partnerships have become less exclusive – sponsorship can no longer be seen as a top-of-the-funnel, long-term commitment."
Branding on the front of a shirt was "no longer seen as the ultimate bit of estate" by marketers, Pratt added: "It’s a crude billboard – there’s more effective ways of doing advertising."
The kind of brands buying sponsorship rights at big clubs "don’t have an awareness problem", Pratt said – instead, the value of these deals lies increasingly in clubs' data capabilities and the audience understanding they can offer to brand partners.