HomeEPL - TeamsChelseaChelsea's £60m Mega Deal: Are Riyadh Air the Front-Runners?

Chelsea’s £60m Mega Deal: Are Riyadh Air the Front-Runners?

Chelsea’s Shirt Sponsorship Pursuits: A Dive into the Blue’s Business Strategies

Chelsea’s Global Ambitions: Talking Shop with Riyadh Air

While we might think of football mainly for its on-pitch action, there’s a high-stakes world off the field too – one where millions change hands, partnerships are formed, and brands are showcased on the most revered real estate in the sport: the front of the shirt. The latest buzz in this domain? Chelsea’s rendezvous with Saudi’s newly minted Riyadh Air.

It’s been reported by The Athletic that Chelsea’s top brass hosted key figures from Riyadh Air, exploring potential avenues for a front-of-shirt sponsorship. Interestingly, Riyadh Air, despite its burgeoning association with football (they already sponsor Atletico Madrid), hasn’t taken to the skies yet and doesn’t plan to till 2025. However, their links to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the majority shareholders of Newcastle United, do make the discussions rather intriguing.

As Chelsea’s men faced off against Nottingham Forest, another game was in play off the pitch. A delegation from Riyadh Air were guests at Stamford Bridge, discussing a multi-year sponsorship that would envelop both Chelsea’s men’s and women’s teams.

The competition for the prized spot on Chelsea’s shirt isn’t just limited to airlines. Betting website Kaiyun Sports is also in the fray. Kaiyun, having recently announced a partnership with Nottingham Forest, operates in a bit of a grey area, seemingly targeting the Chinese market where gambling isn’t exactly above board. And while its provenance and ownership remain shadowy, its associations with footballing heavyweights like Real Madrid and Inter Milan have offered it some level of legitimacy.

Chelsea’s Past Ventures and The Road Ahead

Chelsea isn’t new to the dance of sponsorships. Their previous association with Asian gambling site Leyu Sports was marred by revelations (also from The Athletic) about non-existent employees. Chelsea’s decision-making seems to be influenced by these experiences. Moreover, with the Premier League set to prohibit gambling firms from front-of-shirt sponsorships from 2026, Chelsea’s blue shirts might well be eyeing longer-term, non-gambling partners.

But as the void left by mobile network Three remains, Chelsea’s also been seen courting Infinite Athlete, a novel “operating system for sports”. Born from the union of Tempus Ex Machina and Biocore, its involvement with Silver Lake (a major player in the City Football Group) only deepens the plot.

Photo: IMAGO

The Price of Association: A Look at Numbers

According to club insiders, Chelsea is eyeing an all-inclusive package, both men’s and women’s teams, to the tune of £60 million per annum. Their ambition? To lock horns with the likes of Arsenal’s enviable Emirates shirt deal. Naturally, several factors will influence the final number, including Chelsea’s participation (or lack thereof) in tournaments like the UEFA Champions League.

Controversies, Strategies, and Future Aims

It’s impossible to discuss Saudi-backed sponsorships without acknowledging the elephant in the room. FIFA’s withdrawal from a proposed deal with Visit Saudi, amidst concerns over the nation’s track record on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, highlighted the challenges brands face. Yet, Saudi Arabia has taken progressive steps, notably the inauguration of the women’s Saudi Premier League in 2020.

For Chelsea, this period marks a significant strategic shift. They’ve amplified their commercial team, roped in new chief executive Chris Jurasek, and revamped their digital and fan engagement plans.

Should Chelsea align with Riyadh Air, it’d mean a significant portion of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ would be in association with Middle Eastern state airlines, including the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal.

To round off this narrative, while Riyadh Air’s official line suggests a more muted approach – stating no “formal negotiations” but not denying meetings – it’s clear that the world of football sponsorships is as thrilling and unpredictable as the 90 minutes on the pitch.

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