Football sponsorship used to be a fairly easy concept to grasp. The
local butcher stumped up a couple of quid for the match ball and, in
return, his name was printed in the programme under the team
Easy. In even more recent memory, the sponsor’s business retained a
certain quaint charm. Remember the Milk Cup?
These days, we’re long used to thinking the unthinkable. Tournaments,
grounds, kit, teams, competitions, television coverage - everything is
Not everyone can be an official World Cup sponsor - the ultimate prize -
but there are plenty of other opportunities to explore. You can sponsor
’Team England’ (presumably as it prepares to participate in the Cup
World) or individual Wembley matches. Television coverage of the
European Champions League has a handful of official sponsors. And in the
other European competitions, sponsorship of the coverage of individual
games is up for grabs.
Then there’s the domestic game’s three main sponsorships - of the
Thus, we have the Coca-Cola Cup, the Littlewoods FA Cup and the Carling
Premier League. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous kit sponsor. The beauty
of this option is that fans become walking billboards.
You could argue that the business has got out of hand. It can be very
confusing - for example, when Scottish Courage (Newcastle) play
Carlsberg-Tetley (Liverpool) under the auspices of Bass (the Premier
League). Surely the football sponsorship business reached saturation
point years ago?
Not according to the Football Association. Last week, it announced that
various properties - the ways you can ally yourself to Team England
through to sponsorship of the Charity Shield and the FA Vase - will be
repackaged and offered to ten advertisers.
Will there be a stampede? Well, perhaps not. Canon reacted to the news
by pulling out of its sponsorship of Team England to concentrate on its
World Cup activities.
Mark Palmer, head of communications strategy at BMP Optimum, argues that
a fundamental reappraisal of sports sponsorship is taking place.
’Sponsorship has traditionally come out of the corporate or public
relations budget and has been particularly suscep-tible to the whims of
company chairmen. To do it properly, you have to have ownership of the
event, have a good fit between event and product and make sure you
exploit it properly.
’Now I think we’re increasingly seeing it coming within the marketing
function. It will be increasingly examined for its value within the
strategic marketing plan. I think many companies will realise that
peripheral players won’t get a great deal out of some sponsorship
Which is perhaps ironic. This is, after all, a World Cup year and the
marketing business is eating, drinking and breathing football. Clients
are finding the thinnest of justifications for including football
imagery in their commercials.
Alex Fynn, ex-deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and now a football
industry consultant, argues that all of this perhaps disguises the fact
that the English game is in a relatively weak position.
It’s not the popularity of the product that matters, he argues - what
counts is quality. ’Scarcity value is important. The World Cup is
important because it comes round only every four years and it is a huge
’The Premier League might be good entertainment but we have to face the
fact that as a league it is ranked sixth in Europe. The World Cup will
probably be a big disappointment from an England point of view. The
commercial success of the game at a national level has to be rooted in
success - I think football is currently pitching itself too high.’