The UK's army of armchair football fans is displeased that the
advertising in ITV's FA Premiership coverage nearly outweighed the
football action. However, when you consider the sheer weight of
advertisers commercially tied into the game, it's a wonder viewers got
to see a single kick.
At a rough estimate, there are more than 170 separate brands involved in
the sponsorship of football in the UK, a number that has swelled beyond
all recognition since the first years of the Premiership. With this in
mind, it's worth asking whether the advertisers clogging up the ad
breaks at 7pm on a Saturday come away with any real brand association
from their involvement.
Campaign turned to our own panel of experts to look at the effectiveness
of companies' football sponsorship. We asked football fans from the
worlds of advertising and media to name the sponsors of a few teams,
competitions and players.
And to be honest, we were easy on them. We might have thrown in the
shirt sponsors of a few non-Premier League clubs but we didn't grill
them on Michael Owen's watch brand of choice (Tissot) or the England
team's favourite supermarket (Sainsbury's).
The results give some idea as to the problems with jumping on the
Back in the 80s and early 90s, football sponsorship remained largely a
matter of sticking your name on the team shirt and buying up a few
advertising hoardings around the pitch. Now, top Premiership sides can
have up to ten vertically integrated sponsors, and as a result it's
harder to achieve standout even with those supporters who go to most
However, even if you are the top advertising dog on your home ground,
you still don't get exclusive rights to your star players. Performers
such as Owen and David Beckham can rack up ten category exclusive
sponsors themselves - which may well be in conflict with those of the
club. When Nike launches its massive sponsorship of Manchester United in
a year or so, it may be perturbed that Beckham, their star player, is so
closely associated with Adidas.
Other conflicts can arise with the sponsors of competitions that the
players perform in. The Premier League, for example, has a major sponsor
but also a number of other investors that buy hoardings and indulge in
promotional activity around the grounds. These are, of course, different
to the sponsors of the UEFA Champions League, the FA Cup and the
Football League Cup.
The UEFA Cup is currently sponsor-free, but that is set to change within
the next year or so.
Finally, most of these sponsors can still be effectively gazumped by
advertisers who buy up rights to the TV coverage, by those whose past
sponsorship of the event has created a long-running association in the
minds of fans, and by those whose advertising activity is nicely
designed to look like football sponsorship. Hence several of our
respondents believed Coca-Cola and Snickers must sponsor a
When you consider how little brands such as Axa, Mastercard, Yorkie and
One2One seem to have received from their investments, you'd expect it to
be advertisers complaining of being conned by the beautiful game.
Mike Ironside, managing director, Mail on Sunday. Chelsea fan
Neil Jones, communications director, Carat. Leeds fan
Colin Gottlieb, chief executive, OMD Europe. Tottenham fan
Graham Duff, chief executive, Zenith Media. West Ham fan
Paul Parashar, screen trading director, PHD. Man U fan
Tim Irwin, managing director, BJK&E. Tottenham fan
Garry Lace, chief executive, TBWA/London. Chelsea fan
Paul Silburn, creative director, Leith London. Wimbledon fan
MEDIA PLAYERS TRY THEIR LUCK IN CAMPAIGN'S 'NAME THE FOOTBALL SPONSOR'
Question: Name the shirt sponsors of Manchester United, Liverpool,
Fulham and Queens Park Rangers
Answer: Vodafone (above), Carlsberg, Pizza Hut and Ericsson
Form: All of our players nailed the Pizza Hut sponsorship, probably
because the company logo made it on to Fulham's shirt. Nostalgic Silburn
named Sharp as Man U's backer, while Jones and Ironside struggled with
the name on Liverpool's shirts, guessing at Carling and Candy. Goal of
the round goes to Gottlieb and Duff, the only two to match up QPR and
Question: Who sponsors the FA Cup?
Form: Oh dear! Backing football's longest-running cup competition hasn't
brought wide recognition for the Axa boys. Perhaps it's because we
loyally refuse to associate the cup that cheers with commercial
sponsors, or maybe it's because there's no real ad breaks to leverage on
Match of the Day. Gottlieb, Duff and Parashar scored to make it three
out of seven. Lace is ruled out, since his agency produces the
Question: Which fast food restaurant, chocolate bar and shampoo
sponsored the Premier League last season?
Answer: McDonald's (above), Yorkie and Wash & Go
Form: A convincing victory for the Golden Arches, with all players
naming the fast food chain correctly. Worse news for our other gallant
sponsors. Silburn, Ironside, Lace and Duff named Yorkie, but the rest of
the field were misled by cheeky Snickers advertising. Only Gottlieb and
Jones found the net for Wash & Go.
Question: Who sponsors the Football League's Division Two?
Form: "What, the second division has a sponsor?" was the common
knee-jerk response, before our panel settled down, thought about it, and
unanimously came up with the correct answer. The scattergun approach of
Nationwide's sponsorships - three leagues and the English national side
- seems to have paid dividends. But the fact that its name so closely
describes what it sponsors could be diluting the brand impact.
Question: Who sponsors the FA Charity Shield?
Form: Our fans clearly weren't fully warmed up when Liverpool turned
over Manchester United in this season's curtain raiser. Silburn and
Irwin both went for Coca-Cola, the first of several "if you don't know,
guess Coke" responses. The boy Jones was the only success here - and
Leeds haven't played in the thing for more than a decade.
Question: Who is the major sponsor of the FA Premier League?
Form: All the players have clearly been reading Private View recently.
With the help of that David Seaman ad, the Premiership's new sponsor
scored 100 per cent recognition. However, in a worrying sign for
Barclaycard and BJK&E, Irwin tried Carling and Nationwide before getting
this one right.
Question: Who is Michael Owen's personal kit sponsor?
Form: Some of our players thought about this logically and sensibly, and
consequently got it wrong. It's not Reebok, as Duff thought, though it
does make the Liverpool kit. It's not Walkers, as Irwin went for, though
it used to be one of Owen's personal sponsors. Lace, Parashar, Gottlieb
and Silburn scored, while Jones and Ironside never came close.
Question: Whose sunglasses does David Beckham wear?
Form: Chelsea fan Ironside loyally declared he couldn't care less about
Beckham's eyewear. Man U fan Parashar didn't know either. The rest of
the field, along with almost everyone else Campaign asked, nailed this
one without even pausing.
Question: Name the four official sponsors of the UEFA Champions
Answer: Sony PlayStation (above), Amstel, Ford and Mastercard
Form: The Champions League is a TV event that can carry more than one
advertiser. All of our panel picked out PlayStation while only Ironside
struggled with Amstel. Ford scored healthy recognition, but Mastercard
seems to have thrown the cash away, with only Jones naming it
Question: Who sponsors Sky's football coverage?
Form: No real problems with this one. Silburn was the only failure,
blaming bitterness at Wimbledon's exit from the top flight.
Question: Who sponsors ITV's The Premiership?
Form: Panel members incorrectly named Coke as a sponsor of the FA Cup,
Charity Shield and Champions League, proving what name association the
brand received from its "live football, drink Coca Cola" line. Strangely
enough, Lace, Gottlieb and Duff all struggled with the brand's actual
sponsorship of ITV's coverage. Perhaps they missed it in all the other
Question: Name the five past and present sponsors of the Football League
Answer: Milk Marketing Board, Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca-Cola and
Form: The League Cup is derided as a Mickey Mouse competition, but it's
clearly branding dynamite. The panel all named the current sponsor,
Worthington, as well as the original backer, Milk. Littlewoods and
Rumbelows, though, have faded from mind.