Premier League Club Shirt Sponsorship: Fans Are the Only Ones Missing Out in the Arms Race

It’s fair to say the 2017-2018 English Premier League season has started with a bang. The new campaign has seen a rejuvenated Manchester United side shine under the watchful eye of Jose Mourinho, Harry Kane’s customary August goal drought is now a distant memory, and Crystal Palace have shown green shoots of recovery. But what about off the pitch?

The big news is that, with shirt sleeve sponsorships being introduced for the first time ever, clubs have cashed in even more from lucrative deals. This season has seen brands including Western Union (Liverpool), Rovio (Everton) and Nexen Tires (Manchester City) all signing big money sponsorships. For the clubs, it’s clear to see how the new influx of sponsors offers an easy additional revenue stream – between £40m and £60m in total depending on what you read – as they seek to maximise commercial opportunities wherever they can.

Liverpool FC’s £25 million shirt sleeve sponsorship with Western Union has provided a lucrative additional revenue stream for the club
It’s easy to see why foreign brands have felt compelled to jump on the opportunity, as the Premier League’s global TV viewing figures of over 12 million on average per match offer them the chance to establish themselves in the market – particularly in the increasingly lucrative Asian territories. It’s therefore no surprise that 12 gaming brands are now emblazoned across the front or sleeve of Premier League club shirts, out of a total of 38 club deals, and 39% (15/38) of sponsors’ headquarters located in Asia.

But are sponsors forgetting about the fans?
In my opinion, yes.

It could be argued that the cost of deals is outweighed by the classic measures of brand exposure, but brands shouldn’t simply be buying eyeballs. I firmly believe sponsors are therefore missing a golden opportunity to engage with the thousands – and in some cases, millions – of fans who buy and wear the shirt that sport their logo on the front or sleeve. They should be trying to win the hearts and minds of football fans instead of simply branding 100cm2 on a football sleeve.

The fiercely loyal nature of fans means that brands who sign deals will, on the whole, be well received by those who now accept the commercial need for clubs to maximise their revenue at every opportunity (the Newcastle United and Wonga debacle aside). For me, sponsors should be grabbing the opportunity given to them with both hands to grow their brand by having deeper, more meaningful conversations with such a captive and passionate audience.
Sadly, for many of the shirt sleeve sponsors this season, the relationship will continue to remain solely between the club and the brand – particularly for those who view the agreement as simply a vehicle for expansion in the UK and other markets.

That’s not to say there aren’t sponsors who have made great strides in positively engaging with fans. One sponsor who wears their heart on their sleeve is home appliance brand Beko - who have sponsored the sleeve of FC Barcelona since 2014. Our work with them at the beginning of the sponsorship quickly led to a strategy where fans are at the heart of all global activations. As the club’s ‘Official Partner of Play’, it allows them to speak to the 300 million+ FC Barcelona fans worldwide, in a way that both enhances their day-to-day experience of supporting the club - through content featuring the players and money can’t buy experiences - but also effectively communicates Beko as an innovative yet playful brand.

Our client Beko has made great strides in winning the hearts and minds of FC Barcelona fans with their shirt sleeve sponsorship
A little further afield, Southampton’s front of shirt and sleeve sponsor, Virgin Media, have gained universal praise with their ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign, where they pledged to subsidise all Premier League away tickets to £20. Not only did they perfectly capture the fan sentiment at the time – that the Premier League exploited those who help make the league such a marketable product - but used a sponsorship of a single club to deepen ties with football fans across the country in the process.

Virgin Media hit the nail on the head by helping to address a genuine football fan gripe with their Twenty’s Plenty campaign.
Now is the perfect opportunity for other sponsors to follow suit, by creating activations and communicating through their shirt deals in a way which allows football fans to connect with the brand. I’m not suggesting they should give back all access to players back to the fans, but how about setting aside an amount for them to meet the players or play at the stadium? Or why not adopt an element of Beko’s approach and create content that genuinely enriches fans’ experience of following their team?

Call me old-fashioned but isn’t football about its fans, without whom the game would be simply another form of entertainment for those on the sofa or in the pub? It feels right to reward the loyal supporters who become a walking advert for sponsors when they put on their team’s shirt every week.

We’re now at a time where the new shirt sleeve deals may only be beginning. With back-of-shirt deals - which already exist in La Liga and have been agreed by several EFL clubs - already on the horizon (not to mention the advent of back of shorts sponsors), wouldn’t it be refreshing for sponsors to seize their opportunity to engage with fans, without whom there may not be any sponsorship deals in the first place.

You might have seen it in the Guardian, but Synergy’s very own Jonathan Izzard has created an interactive infographic on shirt sponsors which shows the changing commercial landscape of the Premier League. Click here to read more.

Synergy Baby Name XI

With the list of top baby names in England and Wales being released yesterday, we thought we’d take a look to see whether or not UK parents are choosing to flatter their favourite football stars by immortalising them in classroom registers for the next generation to come. Spoiler: there were no Heskeys…

To demonstrate growth in influence of a certain footballer, we’ve compared the findings against the 1996 census to see whether or not we can attribute the rise in a certain name against the success of the player in question.

On to the lineup:

Strikers

With 12 sets of parents choosing to name their child either ‘Neymar’ or ‘Messi’, it’s clear the former Barcelona attacking duo have turned the heads of elite soccer Mums and Dads hoping to bump their child up the playground pecking order. Should little ‘Neymar’ continue to be eclipsed by classmate, however, we have no doubt the nearby private school will be ready and waiting with a lucrative scholarship package.

Midfield

A near tripling in the number of boys named ‘Eden’ sees the Belgian playmaker make the team-sheet on the left flank with baby ‘Zinedine’, a hairless homage to the Madrid manager, taking the right with 11 namesakes. We’ve plumped for a risky pairing of ‘Cristiano’ and ‘Ronaldo’ in the middle of the park and will have to hope they are brought up with good manners, namely sharing the ball.

Defence

It’s an all Beckham backline as Father David’s influence over pop culture continues to reign supreme. In giving ‘Harper’ a start we’ve gone for youth over experience, however if her unrivalled stats of 1,256 copycats (now the 44th most popular girls’ name) are anything to go by, she looks set to be a solid investment for years to come.

Goalkeeper

Not strictly linked to a footballer. Well, not in any way linked to a footballer. But in terms of making the box an area of fire and fury to ward off even the most fearsome of opposition, little Khaleesi, storm-born to 69 parents in 2016, will bring a touch of the unexpected to our starting XI. Jon Snow seems to think she’s a keeper at least…

While we’ve stuck well within the football - and fictional dragon-queen - sphere, the power of celebrity and pop culture to infiltrate such an influential decision stretches well beyond our pitch-based parameters. Star of Luther and top British acting talent Idris Elba, for example, is set to share his name with 247 more individuals this year, marking an eightfold rise over the decade.Whatever the reason for parents choosing to mimic influencers in such a way – to set up their children for perceived future success, honour an individual or achievement or simply from an affinity to the name – the rise in unique names recorded in the past ten years (5k to 7.5k for girls and 3.7k to 6.2k for boys) demonstrates a clear willingness to move away from the traditional, with new entrants ‘Daenarys’ (4), ‘Arya’ (302) and ‘Luna’ (715) bridging the gap between fictional and mainstream. With the ways in which we consume sport and entertainment multiplying year on year, expect to see this trend continue throughout the decade.

Who knows, we may even have our first baby ‘PewDiePie’ by 2026.

#NeymarPSG – The View From Brazil

Brazil is naturally buzzing about Paris St Germain’s swoop for Neymar. Even with the Brasileirão at full throttle and the Libertadores reaching its knockout stages, Brazilian football has had to share the spotlight with the latest in the #NeymarPSG news cycle.

The soap opera, as Brazilians call these long player negotiations, lit football afficionados (ie everybody!) and the media on fire. There is a consensus that PSG is paying an obscene amount of money. Fox Sports pointed out that Neymar’s world record price tag would buy every player in the Brasileirão’s top four clubs. And a UOL columnist highlighted that for the same money PSG could buy the other ten first choice players in Brazil’s national team.

Santos fans, however, couldn’t wait for the move to happen as they will receive a sell-on fee from Barca having previously sold Neymar to them in 2013!

Fans and the media have also been discussing Neymar’s motivations for leaving Barcelona.

Alongside, obviously, the money, most also agree that being the star at club level, as he is in the national team, and stepping out of Lionel Messi’s shadow, have played their part. It’s also assumed, in most people’s view, that this will give Neymar a better chance of winning the coveted Ballon D’Or.

As to Neymar’s image in Brazil, although he gets criticism from some for being spoiled and a bragger, he is still worshipped by most Brazilians, and if he maintains his on-field performances for the national team, his status as the country’s top sports icon won’t be affected, and may even increase - depending, in particular, on how Brazil performs in the 2018 World Cup. And as a PSG player Neymar’s exposure in Brazil will stay high, as the Champions League is shown free-to-air here.

Meanwhile Neymar’s move does inevitably impact Barcelona’s positioning in Brazil.

The long list of Brazilian stars that have worn the Barca shirt have helped make Barcelona Brazil’s most popular international club. How much Neymar’s exit will affect this is hard to predict, but will surely depend on the club’s recruitment of other Brazilian stars.

Meanwhile PSG will surely look to leverage Neymar and their other Brazilian players to sign Brazilian companies as sponsors.

Neymar’s father’s company, who together with the agent Wagner Ribeiro represent Neymar, are in pole position for this contract. They have previously represented Barca in Brazil, closing deals with local brands like Tenys Pé. And only this week, Centauro, the biggest sport apparel retailer in Brazil, announced an exclusive partnership with the club.

A new era of Neymarketing is about to begin.

by Guilherme Guimarães of Ativa Esporte, Synergy’s partner in Brazil

Investigating the commercial landscape of women’s football and why it’s in better shape than ever

"There is a very strong brand and economic case for why a brand would sponsor women’s football. One in five women are the main breadwinners in the family. There is a fast growing female economy - women have increased financial stability and, huge buying power – and yet our research shows that women don’t believe they are being represented in brand marketing. Football in particular is a brilliant and powerful metaphor for what women can achieve.”

Read the full article here.

Room At The Top: Sponsorship & The Premier League

The annual release of the Premier League's full season payments to its clubs made for more interesting reading than usual this year, as it revealed the financial impact of the first year of the League's new commercial cycle.

Predictably, the mainstream media focused on the ker-ching effect of the Premier League's new domestic and international broadcasting deals, the engine of the League's finances, which drove a 46% year-on-year increase in the total payout.But what this storyline overlooked was that the figures also revealed the status of the Premier League's move away last season, for the first time since the League's creation in the early 1990s, from a title sponsor-led sponsorship model to a multi-sponsor model.

Financially, the transition was smooth. Premier League Central Commercial revenues, to which sponsorship is the biggest contributor, rose £5million year-on-year, to just over £95million, with the effect that the combined income from the Premier League's six co-sponsors - previous title sponsor Barclays, long term sponsors Nike and EA Sports, plus new sponsors Cadbury, Carling and TAG Heuer - more than compensated for the move away from title sponsorship.

So, so far so good, you might say. But I believe the Premier League has significant untapped potential in this space - both for itself and for brand partners.

One sign of this is that one year on from its move to the multi-sponsor model, the League is still looking for a seventh and final brand in its sponsor roster, from the tech category. If a property with the global reach and appeal of the Premier League can't find a partner from the hottest business category on the planet, something's clearly not right.

Another is that Central Commercial revenue is increasingly a drop in the ocean of the total payout to clubs: in 2016/17 it was only 3.96% of the total payout, down from 5.5% the previous season.

And when you add to that the traditional, media-heavy nature of the rights on offer, the reliance on broadcast partners' and clubs' inventory, and the fact that this inventory is finite as well as old-school, it's clear that the Premier League's prospects for growth in this space are very limited.

Unless it makes two big innovations.

First, to think beyond traditional sponsorship rights that are reliant on media and club inventory, and locked into brand categories.

If, instead, the Premier League creates new IP built around unique campaigns and powerful experiences rather than old school media and rights, it can open up new partnership opportunities and revenue streams way beyond what the traditional sponsorship model can generate.

And second, to re-purpose the Premier League brand itself.

Yes, the Premier League used the move away from title sponsorship to re-design its brand identity, and launched the Primary Stars schools programme to boost its CSR credentials.

But these haven't made a meaningful difference to the Premier League's Achilles Heel: as I wrote last year, if you ask people what it stands for other than football, the majority will say money, truckloads of money - and not in a good way. People don't believe that the Premier League has a purpose beyond profit - the essential ingredient for the most successful contemporary consumer brands.

Together with its reliance on traditional sponsorship rights, it's this lack of a purpose beyond profit that is holding back the Premier League from becoming what it can be - one of the great hero brands of the era.

A brand measured not how much money it makes, but how it uses the power of its brand to make a social and cultural difference.

And ironically, it's only by doing that that the Premier League can realise it's vast untapped marketing potential and attract a new generation of brand partners.

There's plenty of room at the top.

Protests & Progress: The Continued Rise of RB Leipzig

In September 2014, I wrote a blog about how RB Leipzig were sending shockwaves through German football as they reached the 2. Bundesliga. The team have since continued with their rapid rise, climbing into second place in the Bundesliga, only behind Bayern Munich on goal difference. Yet their ascent of German football has brought negative attention for both the club and the business model, highlighted by their recent number 1 ranking on a list of the most unlikeable professional clubs in Germany. Much of the animosity stems from the current culture and structure of German football, where fans are members and no one owner can dictate the future of a club. The Red Bull ownership model has challenged this tradition, allowing the Austrian energy drinks company to fund their rise to the top tier of German football. Opposition fans have found a variety of methods to display their resentment, including Union Berlin fans dressing in black, Dortmund fans boycotting the match, and Dynamo Dresden fans going even further, throwing a severed bull’s head from the stands. Much of the anger directed their way can be put down to their nouveau riche status and the particularly rapid ascent of the club. However, even their own stablemate, Red Bull Salzburg, has started to feel the effects of Leipzig’s success, as players, coaches and even kit have swapped Salzburg for Leipzig, whilst future investment is may also be directed into East Germany.

Out of the controversy, there have been glimmers of positivity towards the club, likely due to the emergence of a club from the former East Germany to rival the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. In fact, they are the first East German club to reach the Bundesliga since 2009 and there is hope that their ascent will, in due course, lead to the development of more East German players – Toni Kroos was the only member of ‘Die Mannschaft’ in 2014 that won the World Cup.

The club has won plenty of admirers amongst footballing purists, as they play an exciting, swashbuckling brand of football, with the introduction of plenty of young, homegrown talent – the club have a policy of only signing players under the age of 24. The club has national team players at every age level and investment in their academy is aimed at creating a sustainable platform so that outward investment in players is minimal. Their progress has been overseen by Ralf Rangnick, who is respected throughout German football and has been previously touted for the England job.

Off the pitch, they are starting to gain respect too, with a number of independent fan groups including Rasenballisten - who are trying to create an identity with loyal, passionate support: “The Rasenballisten stand for football, Leipzig and fan culture, not for sponsors!” Beyond the fan groups, the club received a lot of credit for its support during the 2015 refugee crisis, supplying 60 containers from its training centre as emergency accommodation, a donation of €50,000, with the players even donating clothing to the cause. The success of the team has also led to an improved economic outlook for the city and local area, with €35m invested into the RB Leipzig academy facilities, a regularly sold out sports venue and thousands of jobs created within the local community. The Leipzig Chamber of Industry and Commerce estimated that, in 2014, the club generated €50m for the city and surrounding areas, a figure that will now surely rise following their promotion to the top division.

The controversy remains however, and it’s a journey that has caused a good deal of reflection within football communities in Germany. One self-proclaimed ‘football philosopher’, Wolfram Eilenberger, has argued that fans are venting their frustrations over their own club’s failures: “He who hates Red Bull (Leipzig) hates himself”. There will be many neutrals who would like to see Bayern’s dominance dismantled and it is interesting to see Bayern President-in-waiting Uli Hoeness state that “if it works, it is good for all football, not just for the East”. Whilst not all are enamoured by RB Leipzig’s success, there is much to admire about the progress of the club. Red Bull’s support of football clubs in Austria (est. 2005), Brazil (2007), Germany (2009), Ghana (2008) and USA (2006) points to solidarity and continued investment, which is not to be taken for granted...and something which many football fans would welcome at their club.

Whichever side of the divide you stand, it seems likely that given the financial support and sustainable model overseen by Rangnick, RB Leipzig will be a regular name in the Bundesliga for years to come.

Why Brands Aren’t Buying The Olympic Stadium Sponsorship

Naming rights sponsorships of major sports stadiums and entertainment arenas are something with which we are all very familiar. What began as a US phenomenon in the 1970s and 80s, as brands took the opportunity to put their name on a wave of new American stadiums, is now a worldwide trend, not least in the UK, where there are dozens: in London alone for example, think of The Emirates, The O2 and The SSE Arena.So it wasn’t at all surprising that the owners of the Olympic Stadium, the London Legacy Development Corporation, set out to find a naming rights sponsor as a key part of the post-Games stadium funding plan. But it was always going to be a tough sell. In the modern era, Olympic Stadiums worldwide have struggled to find a naming rights sponsor post-Games. And many of the reasons for this are at play again in London.

For one thing, there’s the cost. Naming rights sponsorships of major stadiums typically involve multi-year commitments running into tens of millions of pounds – a huge investment which brands will need a very convincing long-term business case to justify, particularly as they also need to budget for the additional costs of marketing the sponsorship, which can be as much as the rights fee.

There’s also the fact that the stadium already has a widely-used name – the Olympic Stadium. Brands strongly prefer to name a new stadium rather than re-name an existing one, which is much more difficult and time-consuming.

But London also has its own local factors that make finding a sponsor very difficult.

The first is of course the economy. As we all know, we live in uncertain times, in which brands are much less likely to commit to long-term, high-price sponsorships.

The second, related point is that the UK sponsorship market is the softest it has ever been. Demand for sponsorships is at an all-time low, but the market is massively over-supplied, with the result that there is a huge range of major sponsorships unsold – most of them offering better value at a lower price with much less risk than the Olympic Stadium.

And finally, there is what one might term the West Ham factor.

Partly, this is the negative tone that has surrounded and continues to surround the Olympic Stadium post Games: the controversies around the process that led to West Ham’s tenancy, the controversial tenancy agreement and recently the crowd violence at West Ham matches, which reached a new low this week. Not a background that sponsors would want to be associated with.

But also it’s the fact that - in contrast to other major London stadiums and arenas - other than West Ham matches there is little else scheduled to happen at the Olympic Stadium going forward. And even when other major events do take place there, such as next year’s World Athletics Championships, an Olympics Stadium sponsor would have no visibility because the organisers will insist on de-branding the stadium to protect their own sponsors, as is always the case for major events of this type.

For as long as that continues, what brands are being offered as a sponsor of the Olympic Stadium is in effect to become a sponsor of West Ham. And that is another negative factor for many brands, because such a close association with one club runs the risk of alienating fans of other clubs, particularly in London.

Add all that together, and what the LLDC is looking for is a brand with a lot of love for West Ham, deep pockets, and who is prepared to take a leap of faith and combat a lot of negativity.

Tough sell.

This article originally appeared in City AM

Women’s Sport Week 2016

In our second instalment of special guest interviews to celebrate Women’s Sport Week 2016 we spoke to Baroness Sue Campbell, Head of Women’s Football at The FA. A former England netball player and coach, Baroness Campbell assumed her position at UK Sport in 2003, a year in which she also received a CBE for her services to sport. In that role, she was responsible for the strategies that led to Team GB’s record-breaking performance at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Baroness Campbell’s appointment to Head of Women’s Football in 2015 was made at a time when the sport has been enjoying an upsurge in popularity and is a real opportunity for her to help shape the future vision and strategy for girls’ and women’s football.
This year you were appointed as Head of Women’s Football for The FA. Tell us a bit more about this role and why it appealed to you?

It is a great privilege to be working as Head of Women's Football. So much has already been achieved, but it is now the time to take the game to a new level and ensure it realises its potential. My role is to work with everyone in the game to develop a new national strategy – doubling the number of women playing the game, doubling the fan base and achieving consistent success on the International stage.

How important is the women’s game to The FA? Martin Glenn has said it is a ‘priority’ for The FA but what does that mean?

Martin is very committed to support the development of the women's game and has made it a top priority for the whole of the FA. There is enormous enthusiasm, passion and support within the football family to get this right.

What is your vision for Women’s Football in the UK? What do you think the “step up” is after the Lionesses’ success in Canada at the 2015 FIFA World Cup?

The game has huge potential to grow and develop at every level. The success of the England team in Canada has raised the profile of the game and set new expectations. The next step is to provide a wider range of opportunities for young girls and women to play, coach and officiate, create a clear talent pathway that is accessible for all girls – no matter where they live – and develop a sustainable, successful high-performance system.

How much do you think it is lack of opportunity vs. challenging perceptions that limits the number of female players coming through?

It’s both! We need to provide a range of opportunities that meets the needs, interests and motivations of all girls and women – whether they wish to play for fun, fitness and friendship or they even have an ambition to play at the highest level. But we also need to change the brand and image of the game and develop a wide-ranging communication plan to reach more girls and women.

What power does football have to change the lives of girls and women in society?

There are some massive challenges facing girls and women in society. Growing issues over their physical and emotional wellbeing, the potential negative impact of new technologies leading to bullying and isolation, a growing complex, multi-cultural society and a lack of employment and leadership opportunities. No sport on its own can resolve these challenges, but the strength of the football brand, combined with the massive potential to grow the game means that football could make an immense contribution to women's role in society.

What do you think needs to change to get girls into sport in their early formative stages of their life?

There is no question that basic physical literacy should be in every primary school and that all sports can play their part in providing support to schools, developing quality after school programmes and providing a range of community opportunities so that all girls can experience and enjoy being active. Primary years can motivate or deter young people for life, so we have to get it right!

Does it trouble you that the likes of Manchester United have no senior women’s team? Is there a plan to get more support from the Premier League?

The teams in the FA WSL are there because of the commitment and excellence of highly motivated individuals who are passionate about the women's game. We want to spread that passion and get more people working to improve opportunities for women to play and succeed in the game. One of my first meetings was with Richard Scudamore at the Premier League, because it is important that we all work collaboratively to achieve the ambitious targets we have set for the women's game.

Are there other governing bodies in the world of women’s football and sport that you are taking inspiration from?

There is always much to learn from everyone across the world of football and in other sports. But I am sure the majority of the country was inspired by the GB women's hockey team’s performance in Rio. It was the style of their success that was so impressive. The very best of women's sport. It would be wonderful if we could have a GB football team in Tokyo to inspire us all.

If you could change just one thing in women’s football, what would it be?There is much to be proud of in the women's game. The key to achieving many of our goals is to attract the investment and marketing support of a range of commercial partners committed to the women's game.

How important is continued commercial investment for women’s football in this country?

Very important at every level. We will be seeking corporate partners who can work in partnership with us to market the game to girls and women across the country and whose business mission aligns with ours.

What do you think is the biggest area of opportunity for a brand in women’s sport?

Any brand coming into the game at this point will be entering girls’ and women's sport at a time when the physical and emotional well-being of young women is a major growing concern. Investment in women's football is an investment in the future health of the game, women and society as a whole. It is the opportunity to transform a generation of young women.

This week it is Women’s Sport Week. Can you see a time when we won’t need special weeks to raise awareness of women’s sport and how far off are we from that time?

The special focus on women's sport is key to raising awareness and celebrating all that is being achieved by women at every level of sport. The media have gradually improved their coverage of women's sport, but we still have a very long way to go!

Who do you currently think are the greatest role models in women’s sport?

Women's sport has many individual role models and the members of the England women's football team are among the most inspiring. It is not just their achievements we should celebrate but the journey they have taken to get there – overcoming so many barriers and setbacks to reach their goal. At the grassroots end of sport, my role models are the volunteer coaches who turn out in all weathers to support their players and develop their talent.

Who is your biggest influence on you when you were younger and now?

The biggest influence on me as a young person was my dad, closely followed by my PE teacher. Today I am inspired by young people who, given a chance, always amaze you!

Why Eni Aluko’s Under Armour Deal Is Bigger Than You Think

“Aluko’s unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike takes Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers”

Last week marked another welcome breakthrough for women’s sport. Under Armour announced a long term sponsorship deal with Eni Aluko, the first of its kind for a WSL player, making the England international the first UK based female footballer to join #TeamUA.

But while we celebrate another positive step forward for women’s sport, we must also take a minute to applaud Under Armour. In signing Eni Aluko they have taken themselves into a new space. Forget Lionel Messi. Ignore Neymar. They both have their (obvious) merits. Eni Aluko is the secret weapon.

So why is this partnership so special?

As a female athlete (who, by the way, has been instrumental in raising the profile of the women’s game here in the UK), Aluko has the power to transcend football. Her impact will be bigger than selling a pair of football boots. With over 100 England caps to her name, Aluko has arguably been the most high profile advocate of women’s football over the past five years and is hugely respected within the game. After becoming the first female footballer to appear as a pundit on Match of the Day, Aluko headed to the European Championship’s in France this summer as part of ITV’s broadcast team. Suddenly we have an athlete that is not only inspiring girls to play football, but inspiring women within the wider confines of sport. She is famous for her determination and drive to succeed both on and off of the football pitch.

And guess what? Under Armour share these values. A match made in heaven may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s pretty special. The brand are no strangers to addressing stereotypes that exist in sport. In fact they are proud of leading the way in this field. In 2014 they made headlines with their (literally) hard-hitting ‘I WILL WHAT I WANT’ campaign alongside Gisele Bündchen. The point of the campaign? To inspire. To break down barriers. To overcome.

So, this is where the next 12 months will be interesting. Under Armour must now activate this sponsorship in a way that is only possible with a female athlete in Aluko’s position. Her unique position as a role-model to women and girls alike will take Under Armour in to a space where they can truly connect with consumers. Challenges that women and girls face in sport can be addressed and the next generation of young aspiring female footballers can be inspired. Eni Aluko is the only athlete on Under Armour’s UK roster that can tell this story in a truly credible way.

Will other brands follow suit?

Although they are the first sports brand to strike a long term partnership of this kind with a WSL player, it would be naïve to view Under Armour’s investment in women’s football as a risk. While a recent SSE campaign proved that Aluko is already a massive inspiration for girls around the country, the potential value for brands working in women’s sport is great.

According to Sport England, there are over 7 million women engaging with health and fitness in the UK today. 75% of women want to get into sport and those participating is increasing at a faster rate than men. Couple this with the fact that women’s buying power combined with increasing influence now drives 70-80% of all consumer purchasing in the household (Ernst & Young) and you have a marketing formula that is going to work.

As Synergy’s recent ‘This Girl Does’ event uncovered, brands must connect to their audiences in an authentic way in order to engage. When you talk to people in the right way, they can’t help but want to get involved. Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign proved this by shifting women’s perception to feel like sport is a place where they can be.

So, what next?

In Eni Aluko, Under Armour now have the opportunity to engage with women and girls in a unique way. Let’s hope they do it. We can’t wait.

Pogba + United + adidas – The perfect marketing match?

An announcement under the hashtag #Pogback at 12.30am signalled Paul Pogba’s return to Manchester United after four years at Juventus. The boy who left England with bags of potential has come back as a man to finish what he started with his first senior club.Whilst Jose Mourinho has signed Pogba for purely footballing reasons, it’s clear the club, adidas and the player himself will all benefit commercially from this new partnership. From a marketing perspective it seems to be the perfect match.One of the biggest personalities and most exciting young players in the game has joined the biggest club in the world, which is just starting its second season with kit supplier adidas, for whom Pogba is already a key ambassador.

Signing up Pogba on a £31m 10-year deal earlier this year has helped adidas create a fresh, new look that capitalises on the Frenchman’s unique style, individualism, flamboyant nature and flashy personality. He has been the figurehead of the brand’s #FirstNeverFollows campaign, a brand position that builds on the previous #ThereWillBeHaters activation and mixes football, fashion and music. The aim of this is to appeal to the younger audience, the next wave of potential adidas consumers, and win them over from newer brands like Under Armour and New Balance, who are challenging the more established giants.

Pogba gives adidas a point of difference over its rivals, such as Nike, who were also competing for his signature. He wasn’t signed just as a face to shift trainers, but as a catalyst to help change the nature of adidas’ football marketing…to make his mark on the brand itself.

From United’s viewpoint, Pogba and adidas also help the club reach a younger audience, an audience that may be swaying towards supporting Manchester City, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona or another of Europe’s big clubs.

Pogba will be the face of both United and adidas for years to come. He hasn’t returned to Old Trafford for just one or two seasons; he will surely be there for a significant proportion of his career. He represents the new United, forging a new identity in the post Sir Alex Ferguson, era under the leadership of Mourinho.

Adidas, like other sponsors, do not get a say in the club’s transfer activity (although they may have had a quiet word in Ed Woodward’s ear), but for them shirt sales are clearly critical. Aligning one of their big ambassadors with one of their biggest clubs (alongside Real Madrid) will have been music to the ears of adidas, as the ‘POGBA 6’ United shirts start flying off racks around the world.

One of the reasons adidas teamed up with United in the first place is because the club has a huge fan base in the US and Asia, both target markets for the German sports brand. Pogba will help to gain cut-through in those markets.The French midfielder’s social channels have more than 13m followers. For United, this offers an opportunity a reach a new audience; whilst for Pogba, joining the Red Devils will no doubt see this figure grow and grow, as has happened with other recent arrivals to the club – a win-win. And adidas can utilise this massive reach to push out branded content and messaging to his adoring fans.This branded content played a role in the announcement of Pogba’s capture. Adidas teamed up with UK grime artist Stormzy to record a short piece of music-focused film featuring Pogba that matches the #FirstNeverFollows theme, announcing the player’s arrival at United. We are likely to see more dual-branded content like this appear as adidas and United push Pogba to the front of their marketing activity and his global appeal spirals skyward.