A recently published report says that total shirt sponsorship for the 20 top-flight clubs has slumped from a peak of £75 million two years ago to £65 million.
Six clubs dominate the spending, accounting for £53 million. Manchester United and City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur continue to ride the crest of the wave of worldwide interest in the Premier League at the expense of smaller clubs.
Portsmouth are thought to have signed the cheapest deal, a three-year contract with a local online recruitment agency worth only £250,000. That compares with the £14 million raked in by Manchester United from the last year of their deal with AIG and the £20 million annual payment that the club will get next season from Aon, who, like AIG, are an American insurance company.
Other lowly clubs have also struggled: Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic will share a sponsor this season, 188Bet. The online gambling company is thought to have paid a total of only £1.1 million for the deals.
“The popularity of Premier League football across 220 countries means that local sponsors have been substituted by global brands, who want worldwide exposure,” said Nigel Currie, director of brandRapport, the sponsorship consultancy that produced the study. “They pay big money for the top names, but they want three or four-year deals and not the uncertainty that goes with the smaller teams, who could be facing relegation.”
However, industry experts say that the slump should be temporary and that sport stands to sweep up more cash as business swings its funds away from conventional advertising to sponsorship deals, a situation that rings true as ITV bemoans an advertising slump that has plunged the company into a half-year loss of £105 million.
“This is the age of high-tech, fastforward television watching,” Currie said. “My kids watch an episode of Friends in 20 minutes, straight through with no ads.
“Companies now know that sponsorship takes them straight into the editorial of programmes so that they cannot be ignored.”
Currie’s findings are backed up by Mintel, the research expert, which is predicting another leap in sponsorship across all sports in Britain after a year of stagnation. It forecasts that sponsorship income will improve by £1 million this year to £487 million, but, with the London 2012 Olympics driving the market, growth will accelerate to as much as £570 million by 2014.
“The insulation offered by long-term deals might now be running out,” Mintel said. “The key challenges of the next few years will be to continue to innovate to create sponsorships that will allow brands to forge even closer bonds with consumers.”
There remains concern that the biggest sponsorship spenders come from the troubled finance and banking sector, accounting for 90 deals involving 67 companies in 2008. Breweries and winemakers were the next in line, with the automotive industry, once one of the most generous benefactors, slipping down the sponsorship league table.
Football’s once buoyant shirt-sponsorship market could yet feel the effects and Liverpool will put down an early marker next year when they look for a new deal. They have enjoyed the longest-running relationship in English football, with Carlsberg, the Danish brewer, on their shirts since 1992. The present contract is said to be worth £7.5 million a year.