Why Premier League And Championship Shirt Sponsors Must Kick Off A Season Of Engagement

With the new football season set to begin tomorrow and as fans like myself get ready to cheer on their team, it's interesting to see research from Aberfield Communications suggesting that one in three Premier League shirt sponsors and nearly a half of Championship sponsors are wasting their money.

The reason? They do little or nothing at all to reach out to the club's fans or the wider football community. I'll be at Stamford Bridge tomorrow (can't wait) to see Chelsea kick off the season with a new sponsor, Japanese tyre brand Yokohama. We have three years of a reputed £40m-a-year deal yet to go to see how well the new brand -- which I confess I'd never heard of -- engages with us season ticketholders, members and the wider community of football fans.

Samsung, which Yokohama replaces, comes out well in Aberfield's research for using its sponsorship in the UK to reach out to UK fans. However, a common theme in today's research is that companies in Asia are using shirt sponsorships with their domestic and nearby markets rather than the country where the games are actually being held. AIA, the Chinese insurance company emblazoned on Spurs' shirts, was singled out for limiting its ambitions to its home audience. 

Southampton's sponsor, electronics company Veho, topped the list of most active sponsors in the Premiership, while Fulham's Marathonbet topped the Championship's list of most active brands. Honourable mentions were given to departing Chelsea sponsor Samsung and Liverpool's Standard Chartered.

It is particularly interesting to me because I've been researching sports sponsorship recently and the massive takeaway supports what today's research says. Far too many brands treat sponsorship as a kind of print ad that runs around with sports stars on a pitch but isn't made to work interactively in any other way. The other big takeaway was that not only do brands not reach out to fans, they don't do enough to bring the sports sponsorship into their brand.

The answer, the experts have been assuring me, is to explore every avenue of leveraging the relationship with the club to reach out to fans. That can include offering dream experiences to fans, engaging with them on social media, opening up access to players and staff, and sponsoring grassroots training sessions. Bringing the sponsorship in to your brand effectively means that the sponsorship should be clear in marketing activity and clearly visible in physical offices and stores the public or clients might enter. 

The problem of brands simply supplying a logo at the start of a three-year deal and then sitting back to allow the CEO and pals to enjoy some comfy seats in a box is now being supplemented by brands that are not that as interested in the UK or Europe as they are the massive following English football has abroad, particularly in Asia. 

That's why the marketer in me will be very interested to see what brands do this season, and in particular, what Yokohama does with their Chelsea sponsorship, Search the Web and their tyres are clearly already available in the UK -- and so one suspects, in this case, the branding will be used to build brand awareness. We'll have to wait and see. 

With so much money at stake, Aberfield Communications calculates that £200m has been wasted over the past three seasons, it is still staggering that brands may not be putting every effort to move from supplying a logo to engaging followers of the nation's favourite sport. Let's hope this season marks an improvement.

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