Football shirt sponsorship is back in the news following a report which urged the UK Government to ban gambling firms from sponsoring British Football clubs.
Supporters of the ban point to Spain and Italy where restrictions prohibiting gambling companies from sponsoring football clubs’ are set to come into force next season. Currently, half of all Premier League club kits feature a betting logo or gambling brand.
If the proposed ban gets the nod, it will dramatically impact Premier League and Championship teams’ revenues. The total value of kit sponsorship for all Premier League clubs amounts to £350 million per year.
Below we take a look at the history of kit sponsors, how much Premier League clubs make from shirt deals and the future of sponsorship.
FIRST FOOTBALL TEAM TO HAVE A SPONSOR
It’s widely believed that Liverpool FC was the first UK club to carry a shirt sponsor (Hitachi) in 1979. The truth is slightly less glamourous. On the 21st January 1976, Kettering Town played host to Bath City in the Southern League. The home sides shirts were emblazoned with ‘Kettering Tyres’ lettering. The club received a much-needed cash injection for the sponsorship, but the deal sparked trouble with the Football Association. Kettering Town received a fine and was told to remove the company name from its kit.
As the 1977 season kicked-off, the FA withdrew the long-standing restrictions surrounding sponsorship, opening the flood gates for the now-familiar sight of corporate brands covering football shirts.
In the early days of sponsorship, clubs still faced problems with corporate branding. Television stations ITV and BBC refused to screen games if a club carried a shirt sponsor. However, by 1987, every league club in England had a sponsorship deal in place.
Resistance to the practice faded and these days it’s not uncommon for clubs to have multiple corporate partners for their kits, including shirt, short and sleeve sponsors.
PREMIER LEAGUE SPONSORSHIP DEALS
Below we take a look at the current deals in place for Premier League clubs in 2020. The most lucrative sponsorship contracts are listed in descending order. Let’s find out exactly how much Premier League teams make from shirt sponsorship.
MANCHESTER UNITED £64m
Man Utd secured the most profitable shirt sponsorship deal in the Premier League history when it teamed up with car manufacture Chevrolet (General Motors) in 2014. The American firm paid £450 million for the prime real estate on the Reds shirts for seven years. The deal works out at £64 million per season; it’s due to expired at the end of the 2021 campaign.
MANCHESTER CITY £45m
Manchester United’s neighbours have the second most expensive jersey deal in the Premier League. Etihad Airways paid Manchester City £45 million to display their logo on their shirts for the 2019/20 season duration. The deal raised eyebrows in the football world, as Manchester City owner Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has close ties with Etihad Airways.
Chelsea football club is coming to the end of their three year deal with Yokohama Tyres. The Japanese company paid Chelsea £40 million per season for the privilege of displaying their logo on Chelsea shirts. The Yokohama deal ends in 2021. The next sponsor for the front of the famous blue shirt is reported to be UK mobile network THREE.
International Bank Standard Chartered has sponsored the Reds since 2010. The deal is reported to be worth £40 million per season. It’s fair to say that Standard Chartered got its moneys worth with Liverpool’s recent success in the European Cup and Premier League. The current deal is set to end in 2022/23.
The Arsenal/Fly Emirates deal is one of the longest-running commercial partnerships in the Premier League. The Arsenal shirt first featured the Emirates logo in 2006, and the current agreement is not set to expire until 2024. This will surpass the 17-year shirt deal between JVC and Arsenal which ran from 1981 – 1999.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR £35m
The life insurance company has been Spurs’ shirt sponsors since 2013. The club receives around £35 million per year for the deal. It was recently announced that Tottenham and AIA would team up until the end of the 2026-27 season. If you’re wondering what AIA means, it’s the American-founded Hong Kong multinational insurance and finance corporation. AIA stands for American International Assurance.
WEST HAM UNITED £10m
(Betway) Gambling Brand
The £10 million paid by sports betting company Betway is the highest amount for a sponsorship deal outside of the Premier League’s big six. West Ham United have signed an extension of their shirt sponsorship contract with Betway in a six-year agreement that will run until 2025. However, it’s uncertain times for Betway and West Ham; the government is currently looking at introducing a ban on gambling firms sponsoring sporting events and clubs.
(SportPesa) Gambling Brand
Everton is another club which carries a sports betting logo across their shirts. SportPesa is a brand that offers betting services throughout Africa; it currently pays around £9.5 million per year to be Everton’s main commercial partner. However, the club has announced that the arrangement will terminate at the end of the current season (2020/21).
(ManBetX) Gambling Brand
Wolves exercised a break clause with sponsor W88 after just one season to partner with ManBetX. The Malta-based ManBetX, which is popular in Asia, is believed to have paid £8 million to feature on Wolves shirts for the 2019/20 season.
(LD Sports/Sportsbet.io) Gambling Brand
The table on this page shows figures for Southampton’s commercial arrangement with LD Sports. However, the Saints and LD Sports abruptly ended their commercial partnership in August 2020. The controversy left Southampton sponsorless heading into the 2020/21 season. Thankfully, Cryptocurrency-based betting operator Sportsbet.io filled the breach and committed to a one year deal with the club.
(LoveBet) Gambling Brand
At the cost of £7.5 million per year, the sponsorship of Burnley’s shirt isn’t large by Premier League standards. However, the club is already looking for a new shirt sponsorship due to LoveBet experiencing ‘serious financial difficulties’. The Clarets agreed on a three-year deal with the gambling firm, but it’s unlikely the contract will run the full term.
CRYSTAL PALACE £6.5m
(ManBetX) Gambling Brand
The Eagles share a shirt sponsor with Wolves. ManBetX is reported to have paid Palace £6.5 million for the rights to sponsor club shirts. Interestingly that is £1.5 million less than Wolves received for their shirts.
NEWCASTLE UNITED £6.5m
(Fun88) Gambling Brand
It was surprising to discover that Newcastle could not secure more than £6.5 million for their shirt sponsorship rights. I would have expected them to match Everton’s (£9.8m) commercial sponsorship rates. However, Newcastle will keep the Fun88 logo on their shirts for now.
(Sportsbet.io) Gambling Brand
At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, the Hornets reached an agreement with Sportsbet.io to become the new front of shirt partner. The agreement, which will run for three years, was the largest sponsorship deal in the club’s history. Sportsbet.io is a Cryptocurrency-based betting platform who also sponsor Southampton FC.
ASTON VILLA £6m
(W88) Gambling Brand
Aston Villa is another famous football club which seems to under-perform in the shirt sponsor race. The club received just £6 million from Asian betting partner W88. Given the club’s history and fan base, you’d expect them to command a bigger fee than Burnley or Palace.
We’ve had Fun88, W88 and now M88. Despite sounding like a motorway network, M88 is a subsidiary of gambling group Mansion. According to the Athletic, Bournemouth chose not to extend the partnership after the UK Gambling Commission opened an investigation into M88. MSP Capital now sponsors the club.
LEICESTER CITY £4m
The Foxes have one of the lowest-priced shirt sponsorship deals in the whole Premier League. Considering they won the league title just five years ago, it would seem that ‘King Power’ have got themselves a great deal. However, that doesn’t tell the full story. ‘King Power’ is the Thai business venture which owns Leicester City. Recently LCFC shirts carried the message ‘Thailand Smiles With You’ in an effort to promote tourism to Thailand.
SHEFFIELD UNITED £3.5m
In 2019 global multi-asset broker USG agreed to a three-year deal to partner with the Blades to become front of shirt and sleeve sponsor. The deal is said to be worth £3.5m per season. It would seem to be a cheap deal for a Premier League club, but given Sheffield United’s performances, they could be playing in the Championship next year.
The last team on the list is Brighton. At £1.5 million per season, Brighton is the bargain bucket of Premier League shirt sponsorship. Yet, the club has managed to attract a big-name financial brand in American Express. Although the shirt sponsor price is listed at £1.5 million, Brighton penned a £100 million ‘cover all’ deal with American Express. The US-based financial services provider, which has its UK headquarters in Brighton, gets naming rights to the stadium and training facilities, plus kit sponsorship. The total package is one of the biggest ever signed by a club outside the top six.
GAMBLING BRANDS AND THE FUTURE OF SHIRT SPONSORSHIP
The future of shirt sponsorship looks bleak in light of the House of Lords Select Committee report. The committee’s recommendations state: “There should be no gambling advertising in or near any sports grounds or sports venues, including sports programmes.”
The aims of the committee are laudable. Nevertheless, the fact remains that over half of the Premier League clubs rely on gambling firms for shirt sponsorship. In the Championship the picture is even starker, 17 of 24 Championship clubs are sponsored by bookmakers.
The report recommends restrictions on shirt sponsorship and other advertising but states that it “should not take effect for clubs below the Premier League before 2023.”
The committee’s time scale won’t give clubs enough time to replace their current arrangements. When you consider that lead times on shirt design and production can stretch over 12 to 18 months, clubs need to have contracts ready to go now. Given the current restrictions on fans watching live football, it would seem clubs will have an uphill struggle to fill the void left by gambling brands.
In response to the Lords’ report, the EFL said in a statement: “The association between football and the gambling sector is long-standing and the League firmly believes a collaborative, evidence-based approach to preventing gambling harms that is also sympathetic to the economic needs of sport will be of much greater benefit than the blunt instrument of blanket bans.”
It’s unknown if football clubs will be able to bridge the revenue gap a ban on gambling would inevitably produce. Apart from multinational insurance companies and banks, few brands have the financial clout to take on a Premier League sponsorship deal. It’s unlikely we’ll see Everton, Burnley or Southampton sponsored by a local garage!
The impact of gambling bans in Spain and Italy is yet to be felt. However, smaller clubs are already struggling to attract interest in shirt sponsorship. Real Sociedad went without a main shirt sponsor during the 2018/19 season. They recently signed a £1.2 million deal with Goodball.com after a long search for a sponsor. In Italy, Roma and Lazio have lately been sponsorless in recent seasons.
When clubs playing in high profile competitions like the Champions League and Europa League can’t attract interest, it doesn’t bode well for the likes of Luton Town or Rotherham United playing in the Championship.