Betting on Football feature: A history of shirt sponsorship in football

With the announcement of Manchester United’s record breaking initial £44.75m per year shirt deal with Chevrolet, a time when teams played without commercial association in just their club’s colours seems a world away from the modern game. You needn’t look back far however; it was not until 1977 that the FA lifted their official ban on kit sponsorship and today it’s seen as financial suicide not to have a shirt sponsor.

Both the diversity of the main sponsors, and the sums of money they invest in the Premier League, are evidence of its marketing and commercial power. Across the twenty clubs multi million pound deals are currently in place with betting companies such as BET365, DAFABET and MARATHONBET, the airlines FLY EMIRATES and ETIHAD, money lending firm WONGA and even the Malaysian tourism board to name just a few.

In this article, SBC’s Sam Cooke tracks the progress of the ever inflating relationship between football and sponsors over the past few decades.

In the beginning.

The question which maintains itself as the bane of pub quiz masters’ lives nationwide; who was the first English club to have a kit sponsor? It’s a topic for which no one seems to have a definitive answer. What we can be sure of however is that the oft repeated answer, that of Liverpool with HITACHI in 1979, is incorrect. Many also argue the case for Kettering Town, who in 1976, then a Southern League side, struck a four figure deal with local firm Kettering Tyres to splash the name across their shirts. The FA moved fast to punish the club and the threat of a £1000 fine saw this decision rescinded almost as quickly as it was put in place.

It’s necessary however to look back further, to the late 19th Century in fact, to solve the case once and for all.  In 1898, then champions Nottingham Forest endorsed the winter favourite Bovril on their kits. The side went on to lift the FA Cup, and in doing so attributed much of their success to the nutritional qualities of the drink.

Despite their success Forest did not kick start a sponsorship revolution. As recently as the 1980s having a sponsor was highly unpopular; TV stations refused to air matches involving sponsored teams until 1983. Jonathan Martin, then Head of Sport for the BBC, remarked: “We have been trying to find a way of reflecting the sponsors in football but I don’t think we would like to see footballers walking around as advertising billboards.”  A world and a half away from today wherein it’s no mean feat to watch a match without Ray Winstone growling at you through your TV sets at halftime.

The current state of affairs.


Arsenal – Fly Emirates – £30m

Aston Villa – Dafabet – £5m

Cardiff City – Malaysian Tourism Ministry – £500k

Chelsea – Samsung – £18m

Crystal Palace – GAC – £750k

Everton – Chang – £4m

Fulham – Marathonbet – £5m

Hull City – Cash Convertors – £1m

Liverpool – Standard Chartered – £20m

Man City – Etihad – £20m

Man Utd – Aon – £20m / Chevrolet – £44.75m (As of next season)

Newcastle – Wonga – £6m

Norwich – Aviva – £1m

Southampton – Aap3 – £1m

Stoke City – Bet365 – £1.3m

Sunderland – Bidvest – £5m

Swansea City – GWFX – £2m

Tottenham – HP/ AIA – £13m/£6m

West Brom – Zoopla – £1.5m

West Ham – Alpari – £3m

Totals: 2013/14 – £165.75m

          2014/15 – £190.5m (estimated)

(Figures relating to amount received per year as of this season 2013/14 unless otherwise specified) (source )

In terms of the types of industries of the companies sponsoring the current English Premier League clubs it is reasonably diverse. Here goes… there are two airlines, three gambling firms, one payday money lender, one bank, one telecoms/electronics corporation, three insurance companies, one pawnbroking franchise company, one logistics provider, one international investment company, one global IT services and recruitment provider, one global financial services provider, one property website, one multi-national IT corporation, one global FX broker, one beer firm and one national ministry of tourism.

The key industries.


Perhaps unsurprisingly the two main industries which are the most prominent main sponsors of clubs in the Premiership today are insurance and gambling. If we take into account the sponsors of the previous campaign then the gambling industry is even better represented with the affiliations between 32RED and Swansea, SBOBET and West Ham, and 12BET and Wigan Athletic.

Add the Championship into the mix and Watford’s deal with 138.COM adds to the total. The association of the gambling industry and football, especially the Premier League, is one that has since the league’s conception contributed in a major way to the revenue of the clubs in the top flight. Aston Villa will be sponsored by the Asian online betting and gaming site Dafabet until at least the end of the 2014/15 campaign. Fulham and Marathonbet, an international bookmakers established in 1997, have the same agreement with an option of a third year whilst Bet365 will remain as Stoke City’s main sponsor until the end of next season. As one of the world’s leading gambling groups worldwide it’s a firm which has refused to forget its roots and is the largest private employer in Stoke-on-Trent. The ties between Stoke and one of it’s most profitable creations run deep; it’s club chairman Peter Coates’ daughter Denise who owns and runs Bet365. Their shared wealth stood at £800m in 2012.

The relationship between the gambling industry and football is evidently one that shows no sign of slowing down.

Biggest deals in history and popular affiliations.

Partido Real Madrid & Español. Vencedor Real Madrid 3-0

The Red Devils’ forthcoming sponsorship by Chevrolet is by a substantial margin the biggest in history. The Premiership is also host to the next biggest deal, that of Arsenal and Emirates, the same airline which replaced BWIN as the main sponsors of Spanish giants Real Madrid. Bwin had been in place for six years between 2007 and 2013 at a reported £20m annually and has now become the club’s official digital partner as the company alters it’s strategy ‘to focus on social media, gaming and the integration of online with mobile usage‘.

It’s only recently that FC Barcelona succumbed to shirt sponsorship after stubbornly refusing it for the first one hundred and eleven years of the club’s existence. In 2006 they paid the charity UNICEF to host their logo on the famous club strip, but since 2010 there’s been a fight for space with the Qatar Foundation with whom Barcelona agreed their first commercial shirt sponsorship deal at £25m per year.

The deal between Chevrolet and Man Utd is poignant for another reason outside of purely cash value. A seven year deal is something of a rarity in the sport today, aside from Everton’s recent extension to their deal with Thai beer firm Chang (one which by its end will have run for at least twelve years),  long running and historic associations are few and far between. Arsenal with Emirates and Manchester City’s deal with Etihad will prove memorable in their longevity but both clubs have had to sacrifice naming rights to their stadiums to secure such lucrative deals. The likes of Arsenal and JVC, which ran from 1981 until 2000, Man Utd and Sharp (1983 – 2000), and Liverpool and Carlsberg; the main shirt sponsor for seventeen years who now continue their association as official beer partner of the club, simply do not exist in the top flight of today.

The marketing power of the Premier League is no less apparent than in the brand decline of Sharp since it’s sponsorship of Manchester United ended over a decade ago.

With the revenue stream from television rights ever increasing, as well as new audiences being located and utilised across the globe, one thing we can be certain of is that it won’t be long before even the mammoth shirt sponsorship league total of £165.75m is eclipsed and left in the dust.

Shirt sponsorship will be discussed at next month’s Betting on Football conference at Stamford Bridge.


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