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Meet Cazoo: The new Premier League shirt sponsor topping the table with Everton and Aston Villa

Cazoo founder and CEO Alex Chesterman explains why now was the right time for the online car retailer to sponsor two Premier League clubs, and outlines how Everton and Villa are already reaping the benefits of partnering with a non-betting brand.

9 October 2020 Sam Carp

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It would be fair to say that British entrepreneur Alex Chesterman knows a thing or two about building a successful business.

First there was LoveFilm, the movie rentals firm which he co-founded in 2003 before selling to Amazon for a cool UK£200 million (US$256 million). Then came Zoopla, a property website that floated on the London stock exchange in June 2014 before being snapped up a little over two years ago by US-based technology investment firm Silver Lake for UK£2.2 billion (US$2.8 billion).

Now, though, it’s all about Cazoo. Founded in 2018 before launching in December last year, the fledgling ecommerce business is on a self-described mission to transform the way that people buy used vehicles, allowing customers to purchase cars online and have them delivered to their home just 72 hours later. Chesterman’s latest brainwave raised a record amount – more than UK£180 million (US$230 million), to be precise – for a UK startup in its first year of operation, and at the start of this month received a further UK£240 million (US$307 million) from investors, taking its total funding to date to UK£450 million (US$576 million).

“We’re going very, very fast, and building a very big brand,” Chesterman tells SportsPro in a phone interview. “You will have seen that we’re on TV, billboards and radio, and we have a lot of different strands to our marketing.”

You might also have noticed Cazoo’s branding in English soccer’s Premier League this season. The company was announced as the main partner of Everton at the beginning of June, before being unveiled as the shirt sponsor of Aston Villa just a few weeks later.

“We are in the middle of an extensive marketing campaign building Cazoo into a household brand, and sponsorship is a natural part of that overall marketing plan,” explains Chesterman, who serves as Cazoo’s chief executive. “Sponsorship, particularly Premier League sponsorship, is a unique opportunity to build a brand and to get awareness – and we’re building for maximum brand awareness as quickly as we can do it.”

Alex Chesterman wants Cazoo to transform the UK car market after building successful businesses with LoveFilm and Zoopla

Chesterman acknowledges that the decision to join forces with Everton and Villa in particular was partly based on what Premier League shirt inventory was available, but says they also appealed because of their tradition, their fanbases and their cities, with the Toffees based in Liverpool and Villa Park just a few miles from the centre of Birmingham. 

“It’s a great way of putting a brand on the map early on and building loyal supporters of the brand, people who are engaged deeply with the clubs,” Chesterman says. “One of the things we like particularly about these two clubs is the culture, which is very similar to ours, the CSR (corporate social responsibility) stuff, the charitable endeavours that they do.

“Our customer base is very national and really covers anybody who is old enough to buy and drive a car, so we have a wide demographic, a good split of male and female customers, and the fanbase of both of these clubs fits very nicely with our wider target demographic.”

We’re building for maximum brand awareness as quickly as we can do it.

When Chesterman put pen to paper on both deals, he likely would not have envisaged that Everton and Villa would be sitting a respective first and second in the table after four games of the new Premier League season. But like Cazoo, both clubs are on a growth trajectory. The two teams spent handsomely in the summer transfer window on players that command attention, with the Merseysiders bringing in Colombian star James Rodríguez and the Midlands club pinning captain and England international Jack Grealish down to a long-term contract.

Each team’s perfect start to the campaign – which most recently included a 7-2 win for Villa over reigning champions Liverpool – has also been beneficial for their foundations, with Cazoo offering to donate UK£1,000 to those charities for every goal scored by the two sides this campaign, so far amounting to a combined UK£23,000. The company is also running a Match Day Competition for the clubs, giving Everton and Villa supporters an opportunity to win a car worth up to UK£10,000.

While understandably buoyant about the positive exposure already being generated by both sponsorships, Chesterman accepts that the partnerships are not starting under normal circumstances. With games still being played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, it means opportunities to engage with fans are limited to digital activations for the time being.

“Obviously it’s an unusual situation,” declares Chesterman, who says Cazoo will measure the success of the partnerships in “all sorts of ways”, including through brand awareness, fan engagement and sales.

“In terms of the value from a brand perspective, the TV viewership is very significant and I think people are as or more engaged in terms of watching on TV,” he continues. “In terms of fan activation, it’s unfortunate we can’t do some of the stuff yet that we planned to do within the stadiums themselves, but obviously that will come at some point. There are lots of ways we are engaging with the fans in a digital way as opposed to a physical way, and I’m sure we’ll get back to being able to engage more physically in the future.”

Cazoo stands alone as a British-owned main sponsor in the Premier League, whose clubs have attracted partners from all over the world that are perhaps less interested in engaging with the competition’s UK audience than they are its international fanbase.

The betting dominance of the Premier League and other football shirts has been more follow the money opportunity for the clubs.

Those that were not familiar with the brand until its arrival in the top flight might also have been pleasantly surprised to find that Cazoo is not an international betting firm. The gambling industry has become inextricably linked to English soccer in recent times, with no fewer than 27 of the 44 clubs in England’s top two divisions sponsored by a betting company during the 2019/20 campaign. 

“The betting dominance of the Premier League and other football shirts has been more a sort of follow the money opportunity for the clubs, and particularly with some of the international betting companies that aren’t necessarily well known brands in the UK,” Chesterman considers. “But if you look at the international viewership numbers for the Premier League it makes sense for those companies to do, so I understand why the clubs have taken those sponsors.

“I do think it’s unfortunate for the fans to have a sponsor that is harder to engage with, that is not a UK-based company, not a well-known brand, or not a business that they can have an affinity to.”

There have been growing calls for stricter rules around betting sponsorships in UK sport, and a House of Lords Select Committee report published in July recommended that clubs should not be allowed to advertise gambling companies on their shirts. However, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said that while the betting industry does need firmer regulation, it is ultimately up to individual teams to choose who they want to partner with. 

Whether a blanket ban eventually comes in or not, Everton and Villa, who were both sponsored by gambling firms before partnering with Cazoo, are already seeing tangible benefits of partnering with a non-betting brand. The move means that younger supporters of the two clubs can now wear exactly the same shirt as the players – betting and alcohol sponsors do not appear on kids replica kits – which has contributed to a surge in sales. It was reported in September that Everton have seen a 50 per cent increase in shirt sales compared to last summer, while Villa saw theirs go up by 60 per cent.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other clubs that the fan reaction to our sponsorships has been incredibly positive.

That is likely down to more than just having a new logo on the shirts – Everton, for example, have a new kit supplier this season – but Chesterman is adamant that the presence of Cazoo has had an impact.

“For Everton, it’s the first time in 16 or 17 years they’ve been able to have the sponsor on the kids shirt, and seven years for Villa, so that makes a difference,” he asserts. “It’s a combination of the ability for the kids and the youth shirts to have them, which has obviously driven sales, but also I think it makes a very big difference if it’s a brand you have some affinity for and relationship with than a brand that you don’t. I think the clubs certainly understand that.”

Chesterman also believes that the positive reaction might even encourage other clubs to approach their partnerships differently moving forward.

“It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the other clubs that the fan reaction to our sponsorships – for example on social media – has been incredibly positive,” he continues. “The other clubs are sitting up, taking notice and saying, ‘actually, there’s an opportunity for us to get brands that our fans can engage with more and actually drive more shirt sales.’

“I certainly think that fans on a wider level will associate with this brand more than a brand that they’ve never heard of. You obviously have a lot of chatter in the market about betting brands, so I think the combination of what the future holds for betting brands on shirts, coupled now with some evidence that a switch away could be very positive both with fans and with sales, makes it something obviously that the other clubs are sitting up and taking notice of.”

Despite confirming that he has had “a lot of interest” from other clubs asking if Cazoo “would be interested in doing more”, Chesterman says the company is “very happy with what we’ve got”. It is, after all, unusual for one brand to be the main partner of more than one Premier League side at the same time, but when asked whether Cazoo could seek out sponsorships in other sports, Chesterman hints that the company has ambition outside of soccer.

“Watch this space,” he says.

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