The price of modern sponsorship

You may recall a couple of years ago Manchester United sold the sponsorship rights to their training kit in an effort to, unsurprisingly, generate more funds for the club.

The move seemed smart, United players are often pictured in newspapers and on websites during training so any potential sponsor would have their brand shown to a large audience.

Sensing this delivery company DHL paid the Manchester club £40m for the right to appear on all their training gear.

However since securing a gargantuan £372m shirt sponsorship deal with car firm General Motors who will replace current sponsors AON in 2014, the powers that be at United have decided that the right to advertise on their training gear cannot be bought for a paltry £40m.

To this end the Glazer family have bought out DHL’s existing sponsorship contract after deciding that there is more money to be made by selling the rights to another company.

It’s a bit like buying a car; driving home then having the dealer turn up at your house demanding to buy the car back because he thinks he can make more money from another customer. It just seems a bit odd.

Now I appreciate most chairmen are businessmen and are out to make as much profit as possible. Most however end up following the Milan Mandaric approach to ownership: “How do you become a millionaire through football? Start off as a billionaire”.

Whilst no one is suggesting United acted unfairly in buying out the remainder of DHL’s sponsorship actions like this do little to allay the tired allegations that football isn’t about players and teams and fans and trophies anymore. It’s only about the bottom line. The money.

As a relatively young football fan I love seeing grainy old photographs of players wearing their teams kit’s in all their respective colourful glory without SAMSUNG or WAITROSE emblazoned on their chest. And don’t even get me started on Wonga. Or the size of the shorts for that matter.

Of course these companies help to finance the teams, which in turn pays the players wages etc so their existence although annoying, is necessary.

After all it could be a lot worse, a quick look at Formula One demonstrates how sponsorship can get out of hand. The driver’s overalls are so covered with logos and brand names they look comical, like they have been attacked by a 5 year old with a box of stickers.

Sponsors can sometimes provide unintentional hilarity however, last season cash-strapped and administration bound Portsmouth were sponsored by job listings website Jobsite. Slightly funny, but not funny enough to cheer up long suffering Pompey fans after relegation and a subsequent 10 point deduction.

Like them or loathe them, and most fans seem to be in the latter camp, it is easy to see why sponsors have become such a prominent feature in the modern game.

And if you need another reason why they are so important, the Glazer family can give you 372 million of them.

Robert Lock