The nation fell back in love with the beautiful game over the summer, with approximately 35 million people tuning into the World Cup Semi Final between England and Croatia – providing the biggest TV audience in decades. And now the Premier League and Football League seasons are braced for impact.

With the value of Premier League shirt sponsorship now at over £300m, it’s no surprise that brands want in on the action. But, price tag aside, what’s the real pay-off for commercial partners investing in such a convoluted and competitive market? What has been the fall-out for sponsors so far and, finally, is sports sponsorship the right move for every brand?

Let’s start by taking a look at the size of the market, in terms of potential consumers targeted. There will be 168 Premier League games televised in the UK this season, between Sky Sports and BT. Even more are shown in 212 international markets, including the distant pre-season tournaments, and the involvement of geopolitical sponsors in wealthy territories such as the Middle East – with Emirates and Etihad heavily affiliated with Arsenal and Manchester City, for example.

By these standards, the Premier League’s global appeal blows the rest of the sports marketing sector out of the water – so it’s easy to see why the prospect of a sponsorship deal so appeals to brands.

The burgeoning relationship between sports and gambling adds fuel to this fire. In recent years we’ve seen a host of gambling companies ascend onto the Premier League sponsorship ladder – now nine of the 20 clubs in the top division are sponsored by gambling companies.

Additionally, online in-play betting has since become synonymous with a match day experience. Betfair made a wise decision when it decided to sponsor Fulham in 2002 – in doing so becoming the first gambling company to sponsor a Premier League team.

However, not all partnerships go hand-in hand like sports and gambling, and brands should be sensitive to the kind of culture they’re buying into when committing to a Premier League partnership. With a marketing ploy of ‘expectation’ the FA lost key partners such as Vauxhall and Carlsberg in previous years. It’s only by renewing focus on minimising the gap between the ‘superstar’ players and grass roots football around a more humble marketing strapline, that the FA were able to gain 2018 partners such as Lidl and long line supporter Nike who sold out of shirts during the tournament.

Premium brands aren’t jumping into these relationships blindly, seduced by big numbers, but are considering the wider implications of this kind of partnership. It also shows that consumers pay attention to the kind of companies sponsoring their favourite teams, and expect these brands to reflect their core values, on and off the pitch.
So while there’s no denying that an alliance with an English football team opens the door to vast audiences, the key to success for brands seeking to branch into this field is to ensure any partnership marries up with its ethos, in addition to that of its current following.