How to do a (un)sponsorship

I recently wrote a post about how sports seems to be big business but when compared to other industries it can’t really compete in terms of revenue.

However, it’s still one of our most important cultural phenomena and it obviously keeps growing as a business every year. Case in point, in 2012 there was only one team in the world (Manchester United) worth more than $2 billion, whereas today there are at least 50.

Of course, sponsorships are a major source of revenue for teams. And the growing commercialization of sports has created a tug of war between the fans who are nostalgic of the “good old days” when athletes played for the team and not the big fat contracts, and the team owners who have invested millions and want to get a good return.

So, in that environment, how, as a brand, do you sponsor a sports team without alienating the fans and at the same time standing out of the sponsor crowd?

A major complaint from soccer fans is that sponsorships have destroyed the aesthetics of their teams’ coveted jerseys: a sports artifact that was the symbol of what the team stood for has now turned into a vehicle for companies advertising their products.

There have been some notorious examples like Atletico Madrid teaming up with Columbia Pictures and changing their jersey sponsor every time there was a new movie release


…or sponsor names that would make English speakers burst into laughter like AC Milan and Pooh Jeans…

Image result for ac milan pooh jeans

… Olympique Lyonnais and le69…

Image result for lyon le 69

…or even Burger King featuring their mascot on the inside of the jersey.

Image result for burger king getafe jersey

Naturally, Huddersfield Town fans were not exactly amused when their teams jersey was dominated visually by a humongous diagonal Paddy Power strip in a recent preseason game.

Soon after, Paddy Power revealed it was all a prank. And they went a step further by announcing their Save our Shirt campaign, under which Paddy Power will sponsor a few football clubs by removing any sponsor logos from their jersey.

Paddy Power is killing two birds with one stone: they will still get the buzz from being a sponsor (and possibly even more than they would get by just placing their logo on a small team’s jersey) and they will keep the team’s fans happy, too. They are obviously counting on a positive word-of-mouth from fans and the media.

Now, someone will argue that Paddy Power is a gambling company and their intentions are far from innocent. Personally, I don’t bet or gamble and, as a fan, I want to make sure games are clean. There have been a few instances when athletes or team owners were involved in betting scandals and regulations should exist to make sure that betting companies do not influence sports teams or leagues they sponsor.

But when it comes to sponsoring a team, Paddy Power showed that there might be a different (and better?) way, other than the traditional one of placing your logo on a jersey.

Media formats have been disrupted in the past and will continue to evolve. Sports sponsorships is just another ad placement which can probably be done more appealingly to its audience and, honestly, in a less boring way.

Let’s see if other teams and sponsors are pushed by the fans to do something similar.