After a golden Olympic summer for Team GB and a magnificent Euro 2016 for (some of) the home nations, it’s au revoir la France, adieus Rio and welcome back to the Premier League, the most lucrative season ever.
As fans slip back into the domestic footballing routine, the changes to the commercial landscape of England’s top flight are dramatic even for by the standards of a league propelled ceaselessly forward by cash-fuelled hype.
Money is a central part of the Premier League narrative and this year has seen financial records broken all over the field. For starters, each club will receive at least £125m in TV revenue, an increase of around 50% on what they received last season.
And it’s burning a hole in their pockets. In the recent summer transfer window, fewer than 13 Premier League clubs have broken their own transfer records as they try to remain competitive in the arms race for the title and Champions League places.
Money is a central part of the Premier League narrative and this year has seen financial records broken all over the field.
This exponential growth of TV revenues has led some to suggest that sponsorship has become less important as an income source for Premier League clubs. The evidence they point to is the Premier League’s decision not to replace Barclays as title sponsor.
Only in its inaugural season of 1992/3 has the Premier League ever gone without a title sponsor and the conclusion reached by many was that we’d ended up here for two reasons.
First, the Premier League had been unable to secure a sponsor at a similar level of investment to the £40m Barclays paid for each of the final three seasons of its partnership, and second, there was reluctance among clubs to sanction the centralised sale of rights for less than a reported £60m per year.
The League itself pointed out that being "clean" of a title partner would help it to build its own brand more effectively. Meanwhile, it would still generate significant revenue from a range of official partners, including Barclays, paying around £10m per season.
To underline the break from the past, it adopted a new look and feel to help build the Premier League brand in its own right, free of a title sponsor association.
From a commercial perspective, Premier League clubs have become divided into what are effectively two sponsorship markets.
The first consists of a group of six clubs comprising Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and United, Arsenal and Tottenham who have each secured shirt sponsorship deals worth in excess of £15m per season.
The second consists of 14 clubs, among whom only Southampton, Sunderland, West Ham and Everton currently receive more than £5m a year from their shirt sponsor. Ten of these teams now rely on income from betting firms rather than more recognisable global or even nationwide brands.
The League itself pointed out that being "clean" of a title partner would help it to build its own brand more effectively.
Whereas the equitable distribution of TV revenues means that the Premier League is a pretty egalitarian arrangement, sponsorship still ensures that England’s genuine super clubs retain the ability to generate income to set them apart from the crowd in terms of buying power, if not always on-pitch performance, as Leicester City’s success suggests.
Shirt sponsorship revenues are the most accurate gauge of the global popularity of a Premier League club. This is because the brands that the top clubs are attracting tend to be genuinely global brands, capable of paying sponsorship fees that are beginning to eclipse those paid by Barclays to sponsor the entire league in order to reach the huge numbers of fans the League attracts worldwide.
Manchester United and Chelsea now receive north of £40m a season from Chevrolet and Yokohama respectively, representing somewhere in the region of 30% to 35% of their share of TV revenues.
But commercially, that has become a mere jumping off point. Through a sponsorship strategy which, at the very least, could be described as a portfolio approach, Manchester United have become a textbook case study as to how to monetise the popularity of a sporting brand on worldwide scale.
The club’s ability to salami-slice a finite number of marketing and commercial rights across multiple categories and geographies seems limitless.
No fewer than 24 brands currently hold the "global partner" designation and a short quote from the club’s most recent financial report illustrates the momentum behind this growth: "During fiscal year 2015 we announced five global sponsorship partnerships, four regional sponsorship partnerships and two financial services and telecom agreements"
As a consequence, sponsorship now accounts for £154.8m of United’s overall commercial revenues, a figure more or less in line with what the club can expect to receive in terms of TV revenue this season given that it will, once again, most likely appear more often than any other club, earning incremental bonuses for doing so.
To achieve parity between sponsorship revenue and TV rights income is a major feat and not one that many other clubs can aspire to quite yet. If the "clean" new Premier League brand continues to grow in popularity worldwide then smart commercial operations, inspired by trailblazing approach of Manchester
United, will soon be rebalancing their clubs’ long-term reliance on TV revenues in favour of genuinely global sponsorship portfolios.
Neil Hopkins is director, sport, at M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment.