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.