The news the other week that Manchester United had secured a lucrative sponsorship deal with DHL for their training kit (1) rather caught my attention. It wasn’t the unique (?) case of training kit being sponsored – I would expect this to be a one-off, with all new shirt sponsorship deals having a clause requiring exclusivity over all shirts. It was the fact that a global courier service was the sponsor. Their business is truly global, they have previously sponsored sport (2), and a Premier League club would give them global ‘reach’. No doubt we will see UPS signing up next season – they too are already into sports sponsorship (3). They actually offer a handy application form on their website – commercial managers of football clubs get typing!
The news that QPR have finally signed up not one but two shirt sponsors (home/away kits) (4) allowed me to complete this season’s entries into my Premier League shirt sponsorship database. More on this in a second, but I must warn you that the official QPR website has followed the Times in charging for content other tasters – a distinctly retrograde step and hardly fan-friendly. Do these clubs need ‘naming and shaming’?
Two initial views of the data show some interesting trends. First, some data on the country of the sponsor. The graph is a tad grainy as presented I fear, but clicking on any of the images will open it up to a rather more legible size (I kept them small on the posting itself so as not to slow downloading).
Very broadly there seem to be three periods apparent: from the start of the Premier League a steady-state period to roughly to the end of 1997/98, with sponsors falling roughly equally into the UK and foreign categories; a period from then until 2006/07, when foreign sponsors started to turn away, before starting to return; and the most recent period, showing a return to a roughly equal split. I would have to admit that I can’t see a simple obvious reason for this trough of foreign sponsorship in the middle period. Do any readers have any thoughts on this?
While the Premier League began with almost half the clubs sponsored by locally-based companies, there has been a slow but steady decay. This I would simply attribute to the rising cost of shirt sponsorship, with foreign-based multinationals better placed to pay higher fees than the likes of, for example, the splendidly named Reg Vardy Motors, sponsors of Sunderland roughly a decade ago, and now part of Evans Halshaw.
It shouldn’t be assumed that ‘local’ necessarily means a UK company. For example, Peugeot sponsored Coventry City for their first five years in the Premier League – the Peugeot 206 was at that time built at their Coventry site.
Secondly, data on the sponsor’s sector.
The graph shows the four most frequently occurring sectors over the two decades. Financial services are just the largest grouping at 13.5%, closely followed by breweries at 12.8%, although, if the breweries are combined with the occasional sponsorship by spirits and cider manufacturers, alcohol manufacturers, with a combined total of 13.8%, slip into top spot.
It’s clear that financial services have grown steadily as sponsors over two decades, but gambling, the Johnny Come-Latelys of PL shirt sponsorship, is very much in the ascendancy. Together the two sectors now sponsor 13 of the 20 clubs. The early days of the Premier League saw a much greater diversification among shirt sponsors.
Finally a look at the Top 4 v. the rest of the Premier League clubs. One would expect the clubs which have pretensions of being global brands to attract global sponsors, and this is indeed the case.
By playing more televised matches, especially when qualifying for the Champions league, the Big 4 have consistently attracted more foreign sponsors than the other clubs, generally two to three times more. By being able to play a global market in attracting sponsors, they have been able to push their sponsorship charges up, and so increase their financial muscle. There is thus a double effect of reinforcing their dominant position, by greater TV revenues and by greater sponsorship revenues. Whatever happened to competitive balance?