Sponsors have become an essential part of the footballing world, since they represent one of the most important drivers for the whole system to go forward. Since the 1970s, when it became common practice to put sponsors’ names on football kits, the clubs have started to increase their prestige exponentially thanks to the huge monetary income linked to sponsorships, which have now reached astronomical levels.
The value of sponsors is of course due to the dissemination of the brands they represent internationally: the greater visibility that a club, a competition or a star player has, the more their sponsor gains visibility, and consequently the value of the sponsorship increases.
For example, it is no coincidence that the clubs with the biggest technical sponsorships are Manchester United (94 million), Real Madrid (39 million), Arsenal (38 million), Liverpool (35 million), Barcelona (34 million) and Chelsea (33 million). Nor is it a coincidence that the majority of these clubs come from the English championship, the one with the biggest global following.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that Real Madrid and Barcelona, the only Spanish clubs in the top 6 in this ranking – as well as being the two teams which in recent years have been the most successful at international level – will overtake Manchester United in this table on the expiry of the respective contracts (2020 for Real Madrid and 2018 for Barcelona).
However, when we talk of sponsors in football we don’t mean just technical sponsors or shirt sponsors, we mean also sponsors on electronic displays at stadia or sponsors of competitions. It is clear that in each of these sectors of sponsorship, even if they differ from one another, whenever it is decided to guarantee a certain monetary value to those who are being sponsored, the sponsoring company must receive positive feedback in order to be enticed to renew its contract once it has expired. If a sponsor realises that their expenditure is not being repaid in some way, then obviously they will terminate the contract.
Hence the appeal by Hans Erik Tuijt – head of the sponsorship program at Heineken – who asked UEFA and TV broadcasters to show at least one match on free-to-air TV each day, a request which so far has not turned into a real agreement, but which gives us something to think about.
Whenever matches are broadcast on free-to-air TV, the number of viewers is always double, or even sometimes triple, than the number of viewers who normally follow matches on pay-tv. Looking at those numbers, Heineken’s request to broadcast more games on free-to-air shouldn’t come as a big surprise and indeed seems more than legitimate given that the Dutch company, which includes the Champions League among the essential elements of its marketing strategy, wants to reach the highest number of viewers possible in order to make its campaigns more effective.
Obviously, the intention of Heineken, which has always seen its partnership with UEFA as one of its most profitable, was not to “threaten” to terminate the contract, but only to safeguard its future – as an official UEFA sponsor – by providing input to its commercial partner.