The Ethical Fan – Navigating Football Clubs’ Moral Minefields

As I sat watching the Manchester derby with a friend the other weekend, there were two topics of conversation on our agenda: the sensational performances that we have come to expect from Pep’s team on the pitch, and City’s slipperiness off it.

On the 5th November, German magazine Der Spiegel released the first of a four-part expose that put the Sky Blues’ books under the microscope, piecing together a narrative through a series of leaked emails that brought to light numerous counts of purported systematic financial misconduct since the Abu Dhabi Group’s takeover in 2009. Despite protestations from the club that they were in fact the victims of a ‘organised and clear’ attempt to ‘damage the club’s reputation’, even my friend, a Cityzen since the days of Maine Road and Jon Macken, seemed fairly happy to concede that it was more than likely his boyhood club had taken FIFA’s Financial Fairplay regulations with a rather large pinch of salt.

As the game ebbed and flowed towards another seemingly inevitable City win, our wider footballing conversation likewise meandered around topics ranging from Emirati soft-power plays and accusations of human rights violations to its own predictable conclusion. Punctuated here and there by the odd gasp of appreciation at the masterclass we were witnessing on screen, we landed on an uncomfortable realisation: it’s difficult to stay angry at what goes on behind the scenes when the show itself is so good.

The duality of the modern game - on the one hand reaching new highs and the other new lows - creates a tension that often favours the path of least resistance. As one’s personal ethics begin to clash with an organisation that, for many, will have been a love affair that long pre-dates the latest scandal or dodgy deal, we seek to separate out football-the-game from football-the-business. For every new cover-up exposed there is a screamer to salve; for every step out of line another step-over. Simply put, most of us are just here to watch the game.

But should we care about where our football comes from? And what do we do if we don’t like the answer?

In many other aspects of our lives we are beginning to pay much greater attention to the knock-on effects of our indulgences. From keep-cups to flexitarianism, a wave of trends rooted in the rise of personal accountability have shown us to be willing to do our bit. Are we likely, then, to see ex-City fans queueing up outside Forest Green Rovers, the self-styled ‘greenest club in football’?

In a word, no. Football Clubs, unlike disposable coffee containers, are not products that can be easily dropped or changed. They thrive on a powerful brand of flag-waving and chant-singing tribalism that demands fealty at the door. We judge one another on our commitment to the clubs we hold dear and boast of mileage covered on cold Tuesday nights to far flung corners to the UK. Our fandom is an emotional, even masochistic experience that often defies reason. Teams are passed between generations, often rooting people to a place long after they have moved away. In the words of Eric Cantona, ‘Never can you change your favourite football team’.

In many ways, then, the modern football fan can find themselves tied to the mast of a complex and layered ship, simultaneously sinking into moral decay while soaring. While our personal grievances pale in comparison to those felt at the sharper end of football’s sprawling reach, we are nonetheless victims of owners whose personal baggage can contaminate the purer visions of our team that we hold dear.

But that does not mean we should abandon our own moral compass in the face of something we love. In fact, that is precisely the reason why we should hold our respective football clubs under even greater scrutiny. As mentioned before, the relationship we share with our team will more than likely vastly predate the latest ownership regime. We know the true meaning of our clubs and must therefore act as guardians of these ideals. We are the first to complain when something goes wrong on the pitch, however more fan impetus must be placed into correcting what is wrong off it. As a collective we hold great power, whilst not necessarily agreeing with the way in which it was conducted, one need only look at the #WengerOut groundswell to understand how fans can make a big noise. Imagine what could be achieved if this energy had been applied elsewhere.

To be the greatest ally to your team, then, fans must assume the role of a critical friend, and the first step towards this comes through education. Despite what rivals might say, following a certain club doesn’t make you a bad person, but remaining ignorant to the wider context might. My friend and I will almost certainly meet up again to watch another City game, but just as Pep goes into every match having done as much research as possible, by reading articles likes the one from Der Spiegel, we will have done our homework too. We all have a responsibility to keep the game beautiful.

Synergy Speaks Freestyle with Kim Seokjin (@kimfootball)

At 19 years old, Kim Seokjin has achieved two things that most people his age would dream of: he’s ‘insta-famous’ and really, really good at football. In one 10 second clip, he can amass more views than every post I’ve ever made on social media and does so without even uttering a word. That’s because for an influencer like ‘kimfootball’, his feet do the talking.

As he patiently takes me through one of his more ‘entry level’ tricks for what must be the fifth time now, it starts becoming clear to me that, however much I try and force it, freestyle footballing may not be for me. Where his pristine adidas boot orbits the ball like a carefully pre-programmed satellite, my leather chukka boot smashes straight into it like an alternate ending to Armageddon.

“I started when I was maybe 14 or 15. I played football on the weekends and trained on weekdays. I didn’t go out partying, I preferred to just practise skills.”

The practice has clearly paid off. In four years Kim has turned what was ostensibly a hobby into a business. As a sought after freestyler and content creator, Kim has collaborated with just about every major sporting brand in the game, his client list reading like a Sports Direct catalogue.

In amongst brand deals, corporate events and TV appearances, Kim even finds time to play Son Heung-min’s body double:

“My friend told me I should apply to be a body double because they said they needed someone Asian looking. I sent off my height, weight and foot-size and got a call one day saying can you come to Manchester, like now. I packed all my stuff and asked my school if I could take some time off. They didn’t tell me much about it but I got there to find that Salah, Son, De Gea, Lingard and Alli were all there: we were literally doing an adidas World Cup shoot in Manchester with over 300 people. I never thought I’d be in a commercial like that, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Asked whether he got the opportunity to meet the man he had travelled half way across the country to impersonate, Kim was in luck.

“I shook Son’s hand. I couldn’t show him my skills because we were on a tight schedule, but next time.”

Now is clearly a good time to be a freestyle footballer and content creator. With the likes of F2Freestylers boasting more YouTube subscribers than Real Madrid and Barcelona combined, the demand for social media football entertainment has never been higher. Indeed, if anyone ever needed proof of the increasing influence accounts such as these are having on the game, one need only look to Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster.

Shunning traditional representation in favour of signing on to the newly established F2Talent, Rhian is a prime example of the ever increasing blur between the worlds of social media and ‘real’ football. With 78% of Gen Zs sharing football content on a weekly basis, players are increasingly joining the cast of content creators adding to the pool of slick pics, vids and memes driving the football conversation. Global behemoths like the Premier League are, of course, still a vital anchor point that holds all these moving parts together, but one wonders whether there will be a future where tuning in for a full 90 minute match will be the sporting equivalent of dusting off the vinyl.

“Social media makes it easier for audiences to engage. It creates a link between clubs, players, content creators and the fans. You can share something instantly. If I wasn’t watching a match and someone scored a screamer, it would be shared on my feed within 20 minutes. You don’t have to actually watch the full game anymore.”

While the appetite of young fans for football content appears insatiable, the market is nonetheless competitive. Having grown his page from humble beginnings to nearly 80k followers in less than five years, Kim knows that, in order to stand out, you need to do something different.

Where you might expect some of his top-shelf tricks to gain the most traction, it is actually the more ‘achievable’ moves that rack up the views. Packaged as highly polished bitesize lessons, Kim has become known for his particular brand of explainer videos that lift the curtain behind his vast repertoire of tricks.

“Tutorials get a lot of exposure. Not many pages in the football community do what I do. They go for the crazy stuff that other people can’t do whereas I’m more about teaching people things they could actually learn.”

Part of retaining fans, therefore, seems to be about giving them some kind of added value; something they can take away or show off to their friends. Without bastardising an oft-quoted adage about a certain man and learning to fish, having a relationship with your audience beyond simply dazzling them with an unattainable level of expertise is a sure-fire way to keep them coming back. While his tutorials are annotated in English, it’s the visuals that drive the content, with the beautiful game, thanks to its flicks, tricks and turns, speaking a universal language. Kim’s core fanbase may be from London, but a quick look at his Instagram insights shows a truly global audience of followers.

As he aptly surmises:
“Everyone understands a trick”.

Rob Jennings interviewing @kimfootball for Synergy

Gareth Southgate

A Strong Start To The FA’s World Cup Gameplan

As England finish off their preparations for their assault on the FIFA World Cup (and their inevitable brave/ abject defeat in the Quarter Finals/ Round of 16/ Group stages), Gareth Southgate and The FA can be pleased with how the last month or so has gone. Yes, a certain player’s choice of tattoo created a bit of a storm and the squad are only a poor performance against Costa Rica away from the mood switching once again, but there is currently a positive – yet balanced – feeling in the air. Starting with Southgate’s squad announcement: not too much controversy regarding the selections there. He always said he would pick based on form and, in the main, Gareth has done exactly that, with the double-barrelled bolters – Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – both worthy of their spots, in my humble opinion. He also clearly has a plan about how he wants the team to play (finally a considered move away from 4-4-2?!?) and has picked the individuals that can play in this system. So far, so good.

I also think The FA’s squad announcement film deserves credit. Whilst clearly not everyone’s cup of tea (and the detractors were very welcome to stick to BBC Sport for the big news, as this really wasn’t for them), The FA’s marketing team should be applauded for taking a risk and branching out from the typical media release and manager press conference, to create something that could really engage with young football fans. In featuring young fans (and, crucially, those from the length and breadth of the country), Wieden + Kennedy’s work suitably represented the fresh, young playing squad who are ‘hungry’ and ready to ‘get to work’.

No big, pressure-building statements about belief or it being our time, just a sense that this group of players are ready to do their very best. And isn’t that all we as fans can really ask from this inexperienced squad? We often talk about the need to own a moment (see our AJ and Kano Under Armour film for more on that) and The FA managed it. I also liked how they used Twitter’s RT mechanism to give fans the chance to see the video first; and it was a lovely build to ask the players to use their own social channels to show that, ultimately, they too are England fans.

And then on Tuesday, Gareth and The FA pulled off a PR masterstroke. Taking inspiration from the Super Bowl media day, The FA opened up St. George’s Park to the media and gave access to all 23 players in the squad at the same time. The FA recognise that the relationship between the media and the national team hasn’t always been the rosiest and it is clearly in their interest to try and keep the press on side over the next six weeks (and beyond)… and initiatives like this can only help. Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday evening as Chappers and his team interviewed each and every player, you really got a sense of a group of young and hardworking players who are enjoying this open and relaxed environment – and have every intention of enjoying their Russian experience.

Obviously, this is all well and good, but we all know judgement will come when the tournament starts. If Southgate can translate this modest, good-mood feeling into some exciting performances in Russia, then perhaps we the fans, and The FA can bask in a brilliant summer.

European Success: Why it’s no longer just a male pursuit and how brands can benefit

The UEFA Champions League has been on everyone’s lips this season, with a combination of majestic football, big name clashes, astonishing goals and a certain topless striker doing his thing, helping to confirm the competition’s place at the pinnacle of the football tree. However, what’s truly made the knock-out stage so breath-taking has been the almost limitless drama on show in fixtures between teams competing at the peak of their powers. Matches of high quality and high stakes creating the perfect environment for headlines, sub-plots and stories that could hold their own against any Hollywood blockbuster.

It’s a powerful mix, and one that’s likely to be on show in a competition that bares similarities, but carries a different profile: The UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Arguably the best four women’s sides on the continent will be going up against each other later this month, as Manchester City take on holders Lyon, whilst Chelsea face former winners Wolfsburg. In a competition that averages over 3.5 goals per game and semi-finals which feature the striking power of players such as Alexandra Popp, Nadia Nadim and Fran Kirby, there are likely to be fireworks.

Yet, whilst the men’s competition can point to a host of long-term, big name partners including Heineken, Mastercard and PepsiCo, the women’s competition remains a long way off such support.

Clearly the competitions vary greatly in profile: the men’s fixtures are near guaranteed sell-outs and are regularly broadcast to millions around the world, but with the rights to the women’s competition now decoupled from the men’s, a unique opportunity has arisen for the right brand at a time when women’s sport is exploding.

UEFA’s decision to unbundle the rights and package together UEFA Women’s EURO 2021, the UEFA Women’s Champions League and UEFA’s women’s national team youth competitions along with the Together #WePlayStrong campaign is a sure-fire nod to SSE’s ground-breaking sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup.

The commercial call to separate the women’s competition rights from the men’s was one that took foresight, first from the FA and later SSE who took on the title sponsorship. It’s a decision that has ultimately led to rejuvenating the competition and creating an environment for the Final to get record-breaking attendance at Wembley Stadium, pushing the BBC to broadcast not only the Final, but also the semi-finals for the 2017/18 competition.

So there’s precedent for this at a local market level, but can it work across Europe? Naturally challenges exist, in particular the relatively low match attendances, but by looking at the bigger picture, success for a sponsor relies on more than just bums on seats in the stands.

SSE’s Dads and Daughters campaign used the sponsorship to open the door to stories that could engage people who may have never stepped inside a stadium, but crucially spoke to SSE’s target audience. When viewed alongside the SSE Wildcats grassroots football programme, a picture of true partnership emerges, one in which the brand shows they really do care.

The sponsorship landscape is currently awash with brands spending thousands, if not millions, on the latest VR and AI technology in an effort to stand out from the crowd, but this is no guarantee of genuine engagement. Consumers, now more than ever, can discern a marketing ploy from a real investment in sport, and the new UEFA package offers just this.

By building on the rich platform this progressive and female-focussed property creates, a brand has the perfect launch pad to create authentic and credible stories that can show what a brand believes in.

With all of this comes the cherry on the cake. Last year’s UEFA Women’s EURO was watched by 149.5 million people globally, and with women’s sport growing at some pace, the 2021 competition is likely to exceed those numbers, providing a golden moment for brands involved in the sport to point towards.

So, although European success is currently the reserve of the men’s competition, it won’t be for long. The SSE Women’s FA Cup pointed the way, but the future looks bright beyond England. UEFA has played its hand well, and with a level of foresight (and appropriate investment) the right brand could as well. Success in Europe has never looked more likely for the women’s game.

Tackling the Refugee Crisis


no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
Excerpt from ‘Home’, by Warsan Shire

Playing football has really helped me, now I feel like I belong somewhere
Ali, a Sudanese refugee who participates in Notts County’s Football in the Community programme

When faced with a crisis we have a choice: handle it well, or handle it badly. We, as a global society, are handling the refugee crisis badly. This is largely because policy-drivers are not doing enough to ensure that there are effective integration and resettlement programmes in place. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are currently 65.6 million people displaced. This is like picking up the UK, shaking it and scattering its entire population all over the world. If this happened we would be scrambling to get home and back to our lives. But what if home was war-ridden and we couldn’t return?

This is life for refugees. If we were in this position, we would hope that other nations would be sympathetic to a situation that is out of our control. Instead, refugees are being met with total apathy. Refugees want to go home, but until they can do so safely we need to get better at resettling them elsewhere. This resettlement isn’t just a case of finding a physical space for refugees, it’s about being compassionate and working together to resolve one of the greatest injustices of our time.

In a perfect world, resettlement programmes would allow refugees to find a home away from home. Home, in this sense, would mean being integrated with the people, the place and the culture. We know that this is important, as it prevents the main issue that we have with immigration from arising: the formation of isolated groups who cannot fully contribute to society.

Why, then, has there not been more of an attempt to make integration a priority? Simply put, it is easier to turn a blind eye than it is to address the issue. This is why we are building walls instead of knocking them down. £2.3m was spent constructing a wall in Calais, the aim of which was to stop refugees escaping on passing lorries. Ironically, the wall was completed two months after the camp itself was bulldozed.

Money being spent on fortifying borders could instead be spent on refugee resettlement programmes. Our automatic stance is “no, we cannot help refugees”, when it should be “yes, we will create a second home for refugees, even if doing so is a challenge”. We need to move away from this tendency to shut refugees out and instead seek to welcome them by whatever means possible.

In recent years, the football community has provided an ideal model for integration that society at large should replicate. Perhaps the best-known example is Football Welcomes, an Amnesty International initiative that launched last year and saw over 20 clubs engage with refugees; inviting them to participate in local tournaments, giving away free tickets, hosting opportunities to meet players and so on. The campaign commemorated the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica, which resulted in thousands of child refugees arriving in the UK from Spain. Six of those children ended up becoming professional football players, playing for Southampton, Coventry City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford, Norwich City, Colchester United and Cambridge United. Football Welcomes honours the contribution that these refugees, amongst others, have made to the sport.

One of the clubs to get involved, Hull City, has since continued to do incredible work for the refugee community. The team are closely affiliated with Kicks International, a project that aims ‘to bring refugees and migrants together over a game of football, helping people make new friends and stay fit.’ Football is at the epicentre of the project, because it is something that refugees can rally around and be incredibly passionate about. This is, however, just the starting point. Once welcomed into the fold, players gain access to English language classes, schools, and other charities. What begins as a fun kick-about becomes a lifeline.

The openness towards refugees demonstrated in these initiatives is the first step towards an extensive re-haul of our current dispirited handling of the crisis. This commitment is displayed in three key ways:

1. Widespread Action

Perhaps thanks to the immense popularity of football, the actions taken on behalf of the football community are more wide-ranging than other sports. In fact, there is so much grassroots action that Football Against Racism Europe has compiled a database.

2. Educating the General Population 

According to James Lowbridge from Leicester City FC Community Trust, football is a ‘way of helping non-refugees to understand that refugees are not here to cause problems but because it’s a safe haven away from issues they face in their own countries.’ It is not just about teaching refugees, but about educating non-refugees too. Only once this happens can we facilitate integration.

3. A Gateway to Broader Integration

Football acts as a gateway through which refugees gain access to a whole host of other vital resources. The football community acts as a microcosm that gives refugees and non-refugees alike a window into how integration would work at a higher level.

There have, of course, been numerous successes outside the football community: a boxing club in Hamburg welcomes refugees and teaches them German, the 2016 Olympic Refugee Team drew global attention to the crisis, and Social Sport in Canada lets refugees play their preferred sport. There is also important work being done outside the realm of organised sport. The Bike Project, for example, refurbishes second-hand bikes and donates them to refugees and asylum seekers, offering freedom of movement and a chance at independence.

To maximise their impact, however, these initiatives should judge themselves against football’s three successes, mentioned above. They can do so by asking themselves the following questions. Firstly, how can we spread this initiative beyond its immediate location? How can we ensure that our work is teaching the general population about the refugee crisis? And finally, how can we guarantee that this project is the starting point for broader integration?

If a range of initiatives, projects and disciplines ask and answer these questions, the refugee crisis will be an issue that is on everyone’s lips. In this way, integration will rise on the agenda of policy-makers and change will happen at a governmental level. Until this point, individuals must continue to educate themselves on the subject, get involved with local initiatives and write to their MP urging change.

Integration is complex. If we break it down and allow refugees to “enter” society, as it were, through other sports or activities that they are passionate about, then we may be able to unravel the complexities and begin to integrate refugees. For all its scandals, football is a good place to start when considering how we may best do this. It’s time to knock down walls and address the situation at hand.

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:


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.


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.


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.


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.