Soccer: Global Game Attracts Global Ad Dollars

The beautiful game is a beautiful business. The global popularity of soccer, or football, just seems to keep growing, and the opportunity for big money across the professional ranks seems infinite.

One of the more prominent revenue streams is sponsor names across the front of jerseys, which are unavoidable to the TV cameras. In the U.S., the Major League Soccer has, for example, the word "Bimbo" adorning the Philadelphia team’s front (it’s a Mexican bakery company). But globally, airlines and telco giants gain far more attention from their brands on the game shirts of the top European club teams, whose games are broadcast worldwide.

Sports marketing firm Sport + Markt said recently that jersey sponsorships in the top six European leagues increased 7% to a combined $700 million during the 2012/13 season.

Aon, a little-known American insurance giant among consumers, will soon cede one of the most visible uniform positions -- the jersey front of Manchester United, perhaps the world’s most popular teams. Chevrolet is set to take it over next year in a deal worth $559 million that runs through 2020-21.



The money is ripe enough that the NBA has indicated it will become the first major American sport to move in that direction.

Are the brand monikers annoying to viewers? Like most advertising susceptible to being labeled as clutter, of course it’s a matter of taste. The bet is consumers notice the logo extensively when it changes companies, especially for a team as well-known as Manchester United. At that point, they may rue how much commercialism is encroaching on their favorite sport. After that, the logos may just become wallpaper.

Note: teams double-dip when it comes to jerseys, as logos from the manufacturers such as Nike, Adidas and Puma also adorn them, albeit with a smaller presence than Samsung or Emirates would have.

Of course, sponsorship dollars in global soccer flow well beyond the on-field gear to the signage that rings the playing field and all kinds of official this and that. Manchester United announced this week that Bulova has signed a three-year deal to serve as a global partner and “official timekeeper.” Last month, airline Aeroflot signed on as the “official carrier.” There’s also an “official beer” in Singha and an “official soft drinks partner in China” in Wahaha. (With its popularity, Manchester United probably has more official buddies than most.)

Then, there is all that TV money, notably with the British Premier League, which recently signed a three-year U.K. deal worth around $4.7 billion. It’s getting more money from NBCUniversal stateside and elsewhere around the globe.

Move beyond the top club teams such as Juventus and Manchester United, and there’s also plenty of money floating around the international competitions where it’s country against country.

And greed has followed. FIFA, which oversees the World Cup and international competitions, has had its share of trouble, just like the International Olympic Committee, with scandals involving bribery and other chicanery.

Even with its legal operations, FIFA has shown an interest in collecting every last dollar. The group collected about $2.4 billion globally in rights for the 2010 event, which will certainly escalate for the Brazil tournament in 2014.

Yet FIFA had wanted to make even money, by taking as many as 42 games off free TV in some countries and selling them to pay-TV operators. That was until a European Union court ruled that the 26 E.U. members have the right to demand all 64 matches stay on free TV.

Under FIFA regulations, national teams can wear logos from manufacturers – Nike, Adidas, etc. – on their shirts, shorts and socks. So, with uniforms hardly a commercial-free zone, there would seem to be low-hanging fruit in allowing countries to follow the standard soccer practice of adorning their jerseys with corporate brands (and, of course, giving FIFA a nice cut).

The monetary potential in having, say, Mercedes on the German team’s jersey visible to billions of people would seem massive. But FIFA draws the line there, prohibiting advertising or sponsor material on uniforms. Perhaps it’s concerned the logos could lead to an element of guerilla marketing. If France sells its jersey space to Pepsi, Coke, an official World Cup sponsor, might take offense. 

Still, it’s curious that FIFA appears to be leaving money on the table. Now, Brazil may not want McDonald’s on its famed yellow jerseys, or England might not want Visa near its three-lions logo. But, at least on the surface, it’s heartening to know that FIFA isn’t giving them the chance to consider it, leaving avarice off the field in this tiny speck of turf.

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