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Chelsea’s shirt saga, Newcastle’s Sela deal and one last bet: The Premier League sponsorship stories that defined the summer

As English soccer's top flight returns, SportsPro looks back on some of the biggest developments from the busiest period of commercial activity for Premier League clubs.

10 Aug 2023 Sam Carp

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The start of the 2023/24 Premier League season doesn’t only mean a host of new signings on show, but England’s top-flight clubs will also be sporting the logos of brands they’ve been sealing sponsorship deals with over the summer. 

Indeed, the offseason is traditionally the busiest time of the year for commercial activity. Based on my reading of SportsPro’s Premier League commercial guide, five clubs – Aston Villa, BurnleyFulhamNewcastle and Sheffield United – have officially announced a new shirt sponsor and three have extended relationships with their main partners. Meanwhile nine teams, including Manchester CityEverton, and newly promoted Luton Town, will have a new logo on their sleeve this weekend. 

As ever, though, there have been some deals and stories that have dominated the headlines.

Arsenal’s Emirates extension is a sign of strength

Generally speaking, the overall health of the Premier League sponsorship industry remains strong, which should be no surprise. England’s top flight is the world’s most popular domestic soccer competition and its clubs give brands the opportunity to associate themselves with globally recognised superstars and gain access to a highly engaged international audience.

Two of the more eye-catching deals were done in the same week at the top end of the table. Arsenal secured an extension of their shirt sponsorship deal with Emirates at an improved cost of UK£50 million per season, after Adidas had committed to paying UK£90 million annually to continue its kit supply partnership with Manchester United

According to Daniel Haddad, head of commercial strategy at sports marketing agency Octagon UK, those are good signs for the Premier League, particularly at a time when Uefa is in the market for new Champions League sponsors and properties like F1 represent an increasingly attractive alternative for brands.

“Some of the leading brands in sponsorship are really future proofing their investments, so entering into long-term deals at premium values on the elite assets” he notes. 

“It’s a big show of confidence in the strength of the Premier League and those elite clubs. That, for me, is probably the greatest indicator of health.”

Is Newcastle’s Sela deal good news for everyone?

There was always going to be plenty of interest in the identity of Newcastle’s new shirt sponsor. Whoever it turned out to be was likely to be the subject of scrutiny after the Premier League introduced rules around ‘fair market value’ to circumvent the possibility of the Magpies agreeing a deal with a company linked to their Saudi owners at an inflated price.

Sela, which is indeed owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), was subsequently unveiled as Newcastle’s main sponsor in June in a deal worth a reported UK£25 million per season. 

While supporters of other clubs might bemoan Newcastle’s newfound wealth, Haddad describes it as a “sensible value”, and actually believes it sets a new benchmark for other clubs outside the traditional ‘big six’ who have aspirations of regularly competing in European competition.

Indeed, based on reported figures, the next biggest deal after Tottenham’s UK£40 million-per-season agreement with AIA last season was Everton’s partnership with Stake.com, which is reportedly worth UK£10 million annually.

“Typically, the gap between the top six clubs – in terms of front-of-shirt value – to the seventh or eighth placed in the market has been vast,” Haddad points out.

“Newcastle have slotted into somewhere of a midway point, which is kind of unchartered territory because we haven’t really seen front-of-shirt deals at that value before.”

Why Chelsea might have been willing to stay sponsorless 

One of the biggest sponsorship stories of the offseason was a deal that was never signed. Chelsea were said to be on the brink of announcing a partnership with betting brand Stake.com but reportedly backed out of the agreement amid a backlash from fans.

Crucially, it was rumoured that Stake was prepared to stump up the same UK£40 million annual sum that Chelsea’s outgoing sponsor Three had been paying. If the latest reporting is to be believed, the Blues have now secured that level of commitment and more from sports technology startup Infinite Athlete. But for a while it looked like they might go without a shirt partner for 2023/24. 

The timing of Three’s departure, coupled with the wider overhaul of Chelsea’s commercial team, will have made the search challenging. Speaking before news of Infinite Athlete’s potential deal emerged, Haddad suggested the club would have been willing to forego a shirt sponsor for a season if they didn’t get an offer at the right price.

“You don’t want to undersell,” he says. “It’s why a lot of clubs choose to go sponsorless, because they don’t want to anchor themselves. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, Chelsea went and did a deal for 20, 25 million a season. What’s the longer-term damage of doing that deal to successfully selling at 50 million later down the line?”

Chelsea are expected to announce a shirt sponsorship deal with Infinite Athlete but there remain doubts over whether the agreement will pass the Premier League’s rules on fair market value

However, at the time of writing, Chelsea appear to have found what they were looking for. If confirmed, Haddad believes a deal with Infinite Athlete will continue an emerging trend of tech-led B2B companies buying sponsorship rights that are typically considered to be consumer facing.

“This is a much more significant trend than the previous crypto bubble that we witnessed within the sponsorship marketplace,” he adds.

Clubs can’t resist one last bet

The emergence of a new category will be good news for clubs ahead of the looming ban on front-of-shirt betting sponsors from the 2026/27 season. But for some, that is a problem for another day. The summer saw Aston Villa, Burnley and Fulham all cash in main shirt deals with brands from the gambling sector, which remains the most prevalent category across the Premier League

Haddad isn’t surprised that teams are making hay while the sun shines, particularly given that shirt betting deals are already outlawed in Spain and Italy.

He also notes that the gambling industry tends to move on “a quicker, short-term basis”, which makes brands from that sector a reliable option for sides coming up from the Championship who have a short window to get deals over the line between sealing promotion and the start of the season.

Right now, Haddad says clubs outside the big six and European places would likely see a “40 to 50 per cent drop” for going down another route than betting. By the time the ban is implemented, those teams will be hoping the sponsorship marketplace has inflated sufficiently to ease the transition.

“What you need is a category that’s going to provide multiple players all trying to grow awareness quickly,” Haddad notes. “That was the key dynamic behind the very quick rise and then decline of the crypto and trading category.

“It’s difficult to predict what those [new] categories are [going to be], but you want to look at sectors that are going to go more digital rather than physical over time.”

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