The Coming Era of Jersey Sponsors

The Coming Era of Jersey Sponsors
Chelsea Maupin
September 23, 2014
Gud Marketing Jersey

It’s fall! 

Football is back! 

Go, Chelsea! 

Wait – you don’t know the football team Chelsea? Probably because I’m excited about what we generally call soccer in America, not, you know, football football. This year was the year I fully embraced my soccer fandom and the belief that soccer is the sport of America’s future.

For most Americans today, soccer is a game their kids play or played, not a professional sport such as baseball, basketball or football football. Which is probably why when I wear my Chelsea jersey, one of the first questions from non-soccer fans is almost always, “Is your team the Emirates? What does that mean?” The confusion is understandable since Americans expect the front of a sports jersey to say the team name, Chelsea, or the city where the team plays, London. But my jersey says “Fly Emirates,” the slogan of a Middle East airline. The reason is sponsorships. 

The Land of Jersey Sponsors

Since the 1980s, soccer teams around the world have been selling the space on the front of their jerseys to companies far and wide. There is an array of sponsors to the British Premier League, from those recognizable to American viewers – such as Samsung, HP or Chevy – to betting websites 12Bet and Bet365 and even an alcoholic beverage, Chang. While the prominent placement of the sponsor’s logo is puzzlingly to most Americans, the reasoning is understandable enough: money. 

Teams with worldwide fan bases are making bigger and bigger deals, with the current top five most lucrative deals netting teams between $29 million and $80 million every year from sponsors including Emirates Airlines, Chevrolet and Deutsche Telekom. Chevrolet is paying a record-setting $80 million to English soccer team Manchester United to place the Chevy bowtie on the front of players’ jerseys. However, the Chevy deal is an outlier. More than half of the teams in the top European leagues are making $4 million a year or less from their shirt sponsors. 

Sports, Money and Marketing – An American Story 

With the value of jersey sponsorships increasing every year, it seems inevitable that the jerseys for teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL will soon be sporting a corporate logo. It’s not hard to imagine the Detroit Lions playing at Ford Field as well as rocking the Ford logo on their jerseys. In fact the process has already started. Major League Soccer led the way in the U.S., and now the WNBA and the NBA development league also allow sponsors. Since 2009 the NFL, NBA and NHL have all allowed teams to sell sponsorship patches on their practice jerseys. NBA commissioner Adam Silver believes jersey sponsorship space will be introduced in the next five years to the NBA. 

While the value of sports sponsorships is hard to estimate, the impact can be long-lasting. Spanish team Real Madrid recently sold an incredible 345,000 replica jerseys in less than a week with new player James Rodriguez’s name on the back, but those jerseys all feature “Fly Emirates” on the front too.  My Chelsea jersey says “Fly Emirates,” even though Emirates Airways hasn’t sponsored Chelsea since 2005. But the airline’s slogan is still there and exposed whenever I wear that jersey. Additionally, through a long soccer season, I looked up why Atletico Madrid’s sponsor, the nation of Azerbaijan, was the “Land of Fire,” what Manchester United sponsor Aon did and attempted to figure out what Everton’s sponsor, Chang, had to do with elephants pictured on the front of the team’s jerseys. 

It’s likely that professional soccer’s first American legacy will be in bringing jersey sponsors and sponsorship money to American athletics. But I don’t believe it will be the last impact soccer has on the American sports scene.