ANALYSIS: Everything to play for in football - Mark Kleinman asks whether FMCG companies are making the most of their sponsorship of football clubs

It's no coincidence that the rankings of Britain's football club sponsors looks like something of a brand Premier League. The financial services, mobile telephony and FMCG sectors are all heavily represented as sponsors of the top clubs up and down the country, and in commercial partnerships with the Football Association and the Premier League themselves.

It's no coincidence that the rankings of Britain's football club sponsors looks like something of a brand Premier League. The financial services, mobile telephony and FMCG sectors are all heavily represented as sponsors of the top clubs up and down the country, and in commercial partnerships with the Football Association and the Premier League themselves.

Investment in the game is flowing from media owners preparing for the growing fragmentation of media rights and companies increasingly recognising that an association with football is a golden opportunity to raise brand awareness and target core audiences.

Last week, premium lager brand Holsten announced its intention to take advantage of football's growing power by launching a promotion to reinforce its links with football and to further build the brand locally among fans of Spurs, for which it is shirt sponsor (Marketing, November 23).

But other than Carling and Nationwide, which sponsor the Premiership and the Football League respectively, relatively few brands could lay claim to having pushed back the boundaries in their leveraging of sponsorship properties, as programme advertising and perimeter hoardings have remained the staple of club sponsors' efforts to forge ties with fans.

An attacking game?

'Most club sponsors have done little to leverage their properties,' says Octagon senior vice-president and former FA commercial director Phil Carling. 'But AXA, for example, has shown how a brand can support its investment in football with relevant promotional activity through its backing of the FA Cup.'

He points to the insurance firm's promotional staging of an Antiques Roadshow, where fans were invited to have their memorabilia valued. Similarly, Carling's launch of the Premier lager brand was an example of using sponsorship in the development of new product.

But as money pours in to football from broadcast rights and sponsorship, rising attendances and merchandising, sponsors' attitudes to their investment are showing signs of transforming.

Significantly, Holsten is upping its interest as a sponsor at a time when main rival Anheuser-Busch-owned Budweiser is tipped by insiders to take over as the Premier League's headline sponsor at the end of this season. 'We do see this promotion as the precursor to further football-related activity,' says a Holsten spokeswoman. 'Whether that is solely with Spurs or more wide-ranging has yet to be decided.'

Such is the profile of English football that few eyebrows are raised at reports that the Premier League is seeking about pounds 60m from the next four-year headline deal. Add to that the revenue from a new broadcast deal, which comes into effect next year, and the sums look fantastical.

More than pounds 250m of new cash has already come from media companies desperate for a lucrative stake in the game's biggest clubs.

Granada, which paid pounds 22m for a 10% stake in Liverpool, has plans for a broad portfolio of new media initiatives, and the club's brand director, Davide De Maestri, is busy negotiating a series of walk-on partnerships to give brands access to its supporter base.

BSkyB, meanwhile, has stakes in three of the country's top clubs: Manchester United, Chelsea and Leeds, and holdings in Manchester City and Sunderland.

Siemens' collectively brokered deal to sponsor four of the top-flight clubs in which BSkyB holds a stake (excluding Manchester United) have given the first indication of how such partnerships can work.

Cable broadcaster NTL also has sizeable football interests, with stakes in four Premiership outfits, including Aston Villa and Newcastle United.

The need to have a strong seat at the table as the latest round of broadcast rights were negotiated was undoubtedly the motivating factor in the flurry of media activity. Now the question is what they will do with their stakes.

'The media giants are positioning themselves for a future where the concept of centralised rights deals does not exist any more,' says Octagon's Carling.

'The shining city on the hill is a future where clubs are free to produce their own channels and farm out the rights individually to global audiences.

'The broadcaster will act as gatekeeper to all kinds of customer traffic, so a club's fans will go through that media company to access a wide range of products and services. That marketing position is a very strong one for the media groups.'

But it would be myopic to suggest that media firms and sponsors are the only participants in the cultural revolution forging a new landscape for the way football is marketed.

The FA's growing role

The FA itself is playing a significant role - the arrivals of chief executive Adam Crozier and marketing director Paul Barber were recognition of the importance of developing a greater marketing focus at the sport's central administration.

Barber has already introduced sweeping changes to the way the FA's brands are managed, ahead of the renegotiation next year of all its major sponsorship deals.

'Sponsors are demanding much more from the football industry in terms of creativity in reaching consumers,' he says. 'It is a crowded and buoyant market and differentiation is key. Much greater strategic thought goes into how to leverage sponsorship, both from our side and the sponsors'.

'The crucial thing to acknowledge is that we do not have a divine right to sponsors' money, because we aren't only competing against other sports for the sponsorship budget, but also within football against other properties. We have to work with the sponsors to show how they can benefit from investing in our brands.'

Of course, football's current healthy glow does not disguise potential bouts of future sickness. A replacement has yet to be found for NTL as the pay-per-view partner of the Premier League, and it is highly unlikely that a new investor will stump up anything like pounds 327m for what would effectively be third-choice Premier League matches.

But while the money is there in abundance and sponsors remain keen to make it work, great things surely lie in wait for the marketers of football in the 21st century.

Premier league kit sponsors 2000

Club               Manufacturer    Sponsor              Value    Expires


Arsenal            Nike            Sega                   10m   May 2002

Aston Villa        Diadora         NTL                    n/a   May 2002

Bradford City      Asics           JCT 600                n/a   May 2002

Charlton Athletic  Le Coq Sportif  Redbus Investments    2.5m   May 2003

Chelsea            Umbro           Autoglass              n/a   May 2001

Coventry City      Own-brand       Subaru                 n/a        n/a

Derby County       Puma            EDS Computers          n/a   May 2001

Everton            Puma            One 2 One             2.5m   May 2002

Ipswich Town       Own-brand       Greene King            n/a   May 2001

Leeds United       Nike            Strongbow               5m   May 2003

Leicester City     Le Coq Sportif  Walkers Crisps         n/a        n/a

Liverpool          Reebok          Carlsberg              n/a        n/a

Manchester City    Le Coq Sportif  Eidos Interactive      n/a   May 2003

Manchester Utd     Umbro           Vodafone               30m   May 2004

Middlesbrough      Errea           BT Cellnet             n/a   May 2001

Newcastle          Adidas          NTL                    n/a   May 2005

Southampton        Proton          Friends Provident      n/a   May 2001

Sunderland         Nike            Reg Vardy              n/a   May 2002

Tottenham          Adidas          Holsten                n/a   May 2003

West Ham           Fila            Dr Martens             n/a   May 2002

Media investment in english clubs

Media      Club                 Investment              %

Investor                    value (pounds)          stake

BSkyB      Chelsea                     40m            9.9

BSkyB      Leeds United              13.8m           9.08

BSkyB      Manchester City             11m            9.9

BSkyB      Manchester United           67m            9.9

BSkyB      Sunderland                  13m            4.7

Granada    Liverpool                   22m           9.99

NTL        Aston Villa                 26m           9.99

NTL        Leicester City            12.5m           9.99

NTL        Middlesbrough               15m            5.6

NTL        Newcastle                   41m            9.9

English football''s major sponsors

Brand                Sponsor           Value    Expires


FA Premier League    Carling            9.5m       2001

Team England         Nationwide           3m       2002

FA Cup               AXA                  8m       2002

Football League      Nationwide           3m       2001

League Cup           Worthington        4.6m       2003


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