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Is this the future for Shirt Sponsorship?

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Stuart Fuller from the blog The Ball is Round comments on the latest English Sponsorship fad.

We love the whole shirt sponsorship deal.  We are fascinated as to why companies spend ridiculous sums of money to put their logos on the front of football shirts (such as the £20m PER SEASON Standard Chartered Bank will give Liverpool from July). We are also fascinated by those clubs who resist the urge to damage/spoil their brand by putting such logos on.

Is this the future for Shirt Sponsorship?One such club who have resisted the urge to plaster a brand on their shirts has been West Bromwich Albion.  Since the end of their deal with T-Mobile in 2008 the club have no had anything on their shirts.  Has it increased replica shirt sales?  Only the club would know this and the figures are certainly not public.  But have they inadvertantly stumbled on a new commercial model?  The concept of opening bidding for a different shirt sponsor for each game?  On Sunday 20th February West Bromwich Albion ran out in their televised game versus Bristol City with SBOBET plastered on their chests.  SBOBET are of course better known as the sponsor of West Ham United, but recent noises made by “the circus*” suggest that the relationship may be on its last legs.

But this is not something new for Baggies fans this season.  They have already seen the team sport wear shirts emblazoned with Blue Square, Victor Chandler (two more online betting companies) and Esprit.  The deal seems like a win/win for both sides.

Adrian Wright, West Brom’s Sales and Marketing Director said: “We’re delighted to welcome SBOBET on board for Sunday’s game. Our one-off shirt sponsorships are proving very popular and have provided a tangible return for the companies we have worked with so far. Analysis provided by Repucom illustrates that the return in media value has been more than ten times their initial investment.”

Bill Mummery, SBOBET’s Executive Director, added: “We like the Albion business model and this is an ideal opportunity for us to extend our television reach whilst testing the effectiveness of Albion’s approach. We are a leading global sports betting brand, a positioning which we plan to repeat in the UK. Football and television are playing a significant role in us achieving this goal.”

What is interesting though is that this model is not allowed within Premier League roles, and the club had to ask for permission from the Football League.  And it seems that this is one of the plus sides of relegation from the Premier League for the club as they continue to persue more commercial revenues.  A note on their website reads:-

Anyone interested in discussing sponsoring Albion’s shirt on a single or multiple game basis should call David Colesby on 0871 271 9800″

Going back to our initial classification of sponsorship deals (see our previous post here on the full details) such a deal can only be classed as a Short Term Relationship, with the basis purely financially motivated.  Does it help foster any further allegence between the fans and the brands – not according to the West Brom fans we spoke to who have seen it as a cheap gimmick. “Although not commercially realistic I for one would prefer a plain shirt; this conveys a certain indepence to the world.

Some on the other hand think that the money is more important:-

“I couldn’t really care less who puts a logo on the shirt,”

So would you be happy with your team if they auctioned off their shirt sponsor on a game by game basis?  Has money become so influential in the game that the clubs will sell their soul to the highest bidder?  We fear so.

Photo with thanks from Footballshirtculture.com

*The circus is the term I use to describe the going’s on at West Ham since it was acquired by “them” in January 2010.

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I am a football writer and blogger who looks at the commercial aspects of the game today both at grass roots and full blown professional aspects. I report on one game per week, taking time to research the club, talk to supporters and key personnel before writing my reports and publishing them on my blog. I recently wrote the book Passport To Football which was published in October 2009 which covers 30 "adventures" around the world watching the game. I am currently working on a new book (my 7th) which will be published in September 2010 about what it is like to follow a non-league team in England.