Colin Savage looks at the increasingly bizarre sponsorship deals now rife in football.
In the old days, it was so easy. The advertising hoardings at your local team’s ground were a catalogue of local businesses or entertainment venues. At Maine Road, these included “Trumanns for Steel”, “White City Greyhound Stadium” and “Alexander Sports”. It was the same pattern at other grounds along with the local Ford/Vauxhall/Rover dealer, a local engineering works, TV rental company, the local paper, etcetera. I never really needed any steel but if I had, I’d have definitely gone to Trumanns for it. Local company supporting my local club.
Then the sponsors took over the leagues and cups and it was Nationwide, Rumbelows, Barclaycard, Coca-Cola & Budweiser. Did anyone ever go on an electrical goods shopping spree at Rumbelows if their team won the cup bearing their name? Clearly it didn’t do Rumbelows any good as they went out of business a few years later.
We had names on the shirts – Phillips, Brother, Eidos, First Advice at City – and then on the entrance to the stadium. Boothferry Park morphed into the KC Stadium, Highfield Road gave way to the Ricoh Arena and the Victoria Ground became the Britannia Stadium. The stands were renamed and the Gasworks End became the Acme Engineering Stand. That’s when I started to get a little uneasy if truth be known.
You knew where you were when you had a North Stand, a Main Stand, a Platt Lane end and the Kippax stand. The North Stand was… do I even need to say it? The Main Stand was the one where the main entrance was (which just happened to be on Maine Road) and the Kippax Stand and Platt Lane end were the ones closest to those particular thoroughfares. Then the Platt Lane became the Umbro Stand, which fooled everyone as there was no Umbro Street in Moss Side (or anywhere else for that matter).
But, in my opinion, football really lost the plot with the rise of the “Official Partner”. I mean, what does “Official Partner” even mean? What do they do? Whoever invented the phrase wants shooting, in my opinion (preferably with one of the products supplied by the Official Firearms Partner). Things started becoming quite sinister when, if Mastercard was the “Official Credit Card Partner” of the World Cup, you couldn’t use your Visa card to buy tickets. If Heineken was the “Official Beer Partner”, you couldn’t get a pint of Carlsberg in or around the stadium (though why you’d want to even if you could get one is open to question). If Audi were your “Official Car Partner”, would you be allowed to park a BMW in the official car park (run, naturally, by your “Official Car Parking Partner”?)
It really came home to me when Manchester City announced they had an Official Car Battery Partner in Thailand, GS Battery. Given our history, with a Thai former owner, were there millions of Thais sat in cars with flat batteries just waiting patiently for this news? The one that first made me laugh was Crabbies, the Official Alcoholic Ginger Beer Partner of Everton FC. I suppose it served its purpose as I hadn’t realised previously that you could even get alcoholic Ginger Beer, even with me being partial to the odd drop of the non-alcoholic variety.
So I decided to do a little trawl of the major clubs and see what “Official Partners” they actually had. Arsenal have, in Indesit, an Official Free-Standing Appliances Partner. Bet you didn’t know that? Liverpool have an Official Car Tyre Partner (appropriately enough) in Maxxis and an Official Tool Partner in Stanley. Again, that’s quite appropriate given their fans’ liberal use of the eponymous blade in the bad old days. Chelsea also have an Official Car Tyre Partner in Nitto (who?) and seem to be the only club who have an Official Whisky Partner (Grand Royal – the number 1 selling whisky in the country formerly known as Burma apparently). But naturally the king of the Official Partner is the deal-hungry Manchester United. You name it, they have an Official Partner for it.
Their Official Logistics Partner? DHL of course. The players and staff (somewhat improbably) drive around in their Official Automotive Partner Chevrolet’s vehicles. Although they don’t have an Official Whisky Partner, they have both an Official Wine Partner (Casillero Del Diablo) AND an Official Beer Partner (Singha). Clearly there’s a huge opportunity for a number of Official Spirits Partners here and I’d guess their ever eager Commercial Team are working on these as we speak. Should you fancy a nibble with your beer or wine, they’ve though of that too and have Mister Potato (not to be confused with David Platt) as their Official Savoury Snack Partner.
If you get blind drunk, then feel free to photocopy your naughty bits on the machines supplied by their Official Office Equipment Partner Epson. They’ve even covered the eventuality of you doing something to yourself while drunk, as Toshiba are their Official Medical Systems Partner. If you want to make a phone call in virtually any country in Africa or Asia, then there’s an Official Partner for that. Finally, if you’re feeling a bit peckish, then you would naturally take advantage of Mamee, their Official Noodles Partner (I swear I’m not making this up) for Asia, Oceania and the Middle East.
And, sadly, the fact I’ve mentioned them all, is probably exactly what they intended.