Editorial: Who are ya?

The news that Charlton Athletic's new shirt sponsor is to be Llanera SL proves that Premiership Football really is a game of two halves. Draw a line under the current top 10 clubs and you will find sponsors that you have actually heard of, including Chelsea (Samsung), Liverpool (Carlsberg) and Arsenal (02).

From the relegation zone up to mid-table obscurity, where Charlton currently languishes, the partnerships include Everton and Chang Beer, Aston Villa with DWS, and Portsmouth and OKI Printing Solutions. Admittedly it is an imprecise science, but so too is the whole business of sports sponsorship.

Charlton will be relieved to have plugged the financial hole left when previous sponsor All:Sports went into administration. Beyond that, the explanatory niceties being uttered by both sides do not really stack up.

Llanera is a Spanish property and town-planning company that apparently shares the same strong sense of community commitment as Charlton. The real reason for its sponsorship, as mentioned only in the open letter to Charlton supporters, is that the company is shortly to open an office in Maidstone, Kent. In the world of sponsorship it is a bit passe, but putting your name to a local team that can play a bit, with all the associated benefits of corporate hospitality, works. Llanera has previously tested this approach by sponsoring its local Spanish team, Valencia FC.

Charlton supporters, like those of most other teams, won't be interested in the sponsor's activities as long as the club has the money to buy new players, or in the rare occurrence that they should need to boycott something.

This disinterest is a rarely documented phenomenon of modern sports sponsorship; the harder a club and sponsor try to find and explain the synergies in a partnership, the more deafeningly silent is the fans' disinterest. Even in an era of active consumer ad avoidance, the chasm between team sponsor and core audience is so yawning it is virtually asleep.

For this reason we should not be surprised or disappointed that Premiership football teams have become global corporate equity, to be held or disposed of depending on the current value of the stock in a most volatile market.

Vodafone's decision to dump Manchester United in favour of a wider tie-up with the Champions League looks as appropriately dispassionate as its early review of its deal with the also underperforming Ferrari Formula One team.

Equally, Chang Beer's tenuous connections with Everton matter little - the shirt sponsorship was available this year and it was a good channel through which to reach a mass of Asian viewers of Premiership football.

It was the same for Samsung's deal with Chelsea, only bigger.

There may be no room for sentiment, but there should always be room for questions about relevance, price and return on investment. Despite the best efforts of sponsorship agencies and rights holders to justify the value of these deals, their real contribution to corporate profitability remains unquantified - and certainly unexplained to investors.

Manchester United is putting a brave face on its split with Vodafone, and claims it will be able to top the record £9m a year price tag paid last time around. The smart money, if you can call it that, is on an Asian giant with a global agenda and little local relevance.


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