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