Depending on your age, you probably have particular shirt sponsors that you associate with a Premier League football club. Take Manchester United, for example. If you were growing up during the 1990s, it’s difficult to picture the club without ‘SHARP’ emblazoned across the front of their matchday attire. Just thinking about the name now brings back memories of their treble-winning season. Liverpool fans might remember ‘Candy’ as their long-term sponsors. Tottenham wore shirts sponsored by Holsten for years. Arsenal? JVC. Chelsea? Commodore or Amiga. Much like the fashion of the time, we grew up in, images of those kits stay in our heads forever.
All of those sponsors had things in common, though. With very few exceptions, the football shirts of twenty years ago were sponsored by either beer companies or electronics firms. It was fairly easy to understand why; football fans were usually men. What do football-watching men like? Drinking and gadgets. It was sponsors paying money to get in front of their prospective customers’ eyes, and it was a good strategy. Why, then, have almost all of those types of sponsor completely disappeared?
Simply put, it’s all down to the rise of online casinos.
Living In A Gambler’s Paradise
As of the season that kicked off in August 2018, nine out of the twenty Premier League clubs have shirts sponsored by gambling companies. You don’t need to be Rachel Riley to work out that such a figure accounts for almost half of them. The clubs that don’t have gambling or casino sponsors tend to be the real big boys of the division, who glamorous global mega-brands want to associate with, like Manchester United and their partnership with Chevrolet. Others, like Manchester City with Etihad and Arsenal with Emirates, have deals with companies that either have major ownership stakes in the clubs, or general sponsorship deals which extend to naming rights for the stadiums. To give a full itinerary of the clubs backed by gambling money; if you’re wearing the shirt of Bournemouth, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Everton, Fulham, Huddersfield, Newcastle, West Ham or Wolves this season, you’re a walking billboard for the gambling industry.
It’s nothing short of a revolution when it comes to who’s taking a financial interest in football, and what those people believe that football fans might be interested in other than the sport. All of this change has happened since the turn of the century. The Premier League had never had a shirt sponsor from the gambling world at all until Fulham announced a deal with Betfair back in 2002. Back then, nobody knew who Betfair was. Consider the size of them now. That’s the effect that little-known companies like Fun88, who sponsor Newcastle, are hoping to get from these partnerships; a boost in global profile that would be difficult to achieve elsewhere.
So What Changed?
In the first instance, you can probably pin the shift in sponsorship types down to how global the English Premier League has become as an attraction. As it always likes to remind us, it’s the most widely viewed football league in the world, with a monumental global audience. Clubs are more business savvy these days, and they know what sort of value that exposure to an audience that large is worth to a business. They demand shirt sponsorship prices worthy of that kind of exposure. For small, British-based electronics firms, it’s a price too high to pay. It also doesn’t make good business sense for some smaller firms to take the sponsorship plunge anymore. Why spend millions having your brand name screened into African homes on a football shirt if your business doesn’t trade in Africa?
The other thing that changed is the gambling industry itself. The internet has taken it from a hobby that occurred either in a bookmakers office or a smoky casino and made it a thriving global marketplace where anybody can log on from anywhere, spend money and chase the thrill of a win. Gambling companies can pay for shirt sponsorship on a global scale because they have a product that can be played anywhere on the globe, so long as there’s an internet connection, too.
The more sophisticated that online casinos get, the more sponsorships we’ll see. There are signs that the newer names on the market are getting even smarter; Money Reels launched in May of this year, and hosts slot games like ‘Striker Goes Wild’, specifically designed to appeal to football fans. If their name appears on a football shirt next season, they can attract potential new players to their site, and offer them football-themed games to make them feel instantly at home. Most of us who follow football will either place an accumulator bet on the weekend’s results or know someone who does. If, twenty years ago, the average football fan was interested in beer and gadgets, today they might be more interested in beer and gadgets. Beer isn’t available everywhere like gambling is. You can’t log in online and drink a beer like you can play a game. It simply makes more business sense for casino companies to get involved in sponsorship, and they have the money to do it.
The Death Of Traditional Sponsors?
So does that mean that we won’t see comparatively small-time sponsors on Premier League shirts again? Who knows. Some electronics firms still think it’s worth a punt if you’ll pardon the pun. Samsung have only just ended a long and fruitful partnership with Chelsea. The time of local firms sponsoring their local team’s shirt are probably over, though. Much as we all enjoyed it when ‘Rebecca’s Jewelers of Southport’ sponsored Blackpool, we’re unlikely to see it again. We’re more likely to be squinting at Burnley’s latest offering, and wondering who on Earth ‘LaBa360’ are.
As the same time, that’s the whole point. If we are squinting at that shirt, wondering who that company are, chances are we’ll go online and find out, and so their reputation grows. It worked for Betfair, so perhaps it will work for them, too. For the casino companies, it’s a gamble worth taking.