Football is more than just a game that we play, watch, debate about and enjoy. In the grand scheme of things, sport is a business. It’s very easy as a fan to just turn on the channel week in, week out and get carried away by the on-field action, not realizing the hundreds of dominoes in place behind the scenes that eventually lead up to a team taking the field for yet another matchday.
One of those things we see on live TV and don’t think much of are the sponsor logos on the kits of our favorite teams. They change every few seasons, and in some rare cases, they get tossed after just a single year. And unless you’re someone that loves to analyze every tiny detail of a football shirt, your judgment of a sponsor probably goes as far as “it looks good” or “that sponsor is absolutely shocking”.
Most of the time, you probably don’t even know what the company is about. Of course. There are obvious ones that appear from time to time, like T-Mobile, Samsung, Jeep, Chevrolet or anything that has ‘Airways’ in it. But unless your absolute passion is business and have done your research on thousands of corporations, you most likely have no clue what Sharp, O2, AIA or Pirelli are.
While the purpose of the rest of this newsletter won’t be to explain what some of these companies are about, we will be talking about how they manage to get their names on football jerseys, as well as why they are so important to the beautiful game.
The way companies get their logos stamped on football shirts isn’t complicated at all: they pay the clubs to make it happen.
In modern day football, and across Europe’s top 5 leagues, you will typically see one large sponsor located on the central area of the front of their shirt. This is the most prestigious location to have a logo because it’s typically the first thing people will see. It’s 4x bigger than anything else on the front of the jersey, like the manufacturer logo (ex. Nike, Adidas, Puma, etc.) and the badge of the club.
You’ll find the other sponsors either on the sleeves or in some cases, on the back of the jersey, usually directly below the number.
Typically, the best and richest clubs across Europe’s top 5 leagues will rarely ever have more than 3 or 4 sponsors across all areas of the kit. Having more than that will quickly make it look visually tacky, and eventually it’ll just look like a word document.
Unfortunately, some clubs have no choice but to stamp multiple logos on their shirts simply because they need the money. Since it’s a matter of the company paying the team to advertise them rather than the other way around, it’s no surprise that this type of scenario (see below) ends up happening.
Bear in mind that the photo above is an extreme circumstance; you won’t find jerseys flooded with sponsors to this extent in most professional leagues.
In most cases, though, it’s a win-win for everyone. The companies get increased global attention, and the clubs get more funds that they use to invest in themselves.
If you know your football history, you know that decades ago, football jerseys had little to nothing on them. No sponsors, no manufacturer logos, no last names, and in many cases, no club badge. It was almost always just a generic, single-color t-shirt with contrasting shorts and socks, along with the kit numbers.
The only way teams were able to stand out with the design of their shirts were through the modifications like cuff design, shade of color and pattern. A great example is the Juventus jersey of the early 1900s.
It’s just a black and white striped shirt.
The thing is, though, it was iconic. And it still is today, despite all the modern changes. One look at this kit back then and you knew it was Juventus.
This is how clubs operated for the first century or so of organized football, until it became necessary to look for other avenues of revenue.
There are multiple answers to this question, but they all tie into the same concept: integrity.
Basically, national teams don’t have sponsors on their jerseys because FIFA does not allow it. They have a ban imposed on this taking place, one that actually only applies to shirts that are used during an official game.
This means that federations can put as many sponsors as they want on their warmup equipment, and even their playing kits in non-FIFA related events, like friendlies.
Overall, FIFA is trying to protect the integrity of the competition taking place, as well as living up to their duty of maintaining the exclusivity of their various event sponsors.
Even with the previously mentioned leniency, countries still leave their unofficial match shirts untouched. Why? Maybe because, like most fans, they understand the clean look that it provides.
But there’s another reason: most federations would rather not highlight one single business partner and possibly offend the many other prominent companies in their country. After all, football federations are nationwide, meaning whoever they hypothetically pick as their #1 sponsor would gain quite a bit of privilege and clout.
Besides the obvious financial reasons as to why clubs essentially have no choice but to stamp the logos of at times random companies onto their famous kits, it really comes down to the football aspect of things.
If you live and breathe the beautiful game, then you can probably be given a blank, cropped photo of an iconic football shirt and say which sponsor is supposed to be there.
(By the way, try this quiz if you’re up for the challenge.)
On the other hand, you may be walking around town one day and come across a certain company’s logo and say “wait, isn’t that [insert club]’s old sponsor from 7 years ago?”
Which brings us to the main point.
Sponsors are important in football not only because they help clubs to buy the players that they need to be successful and improve things like their stadium, facilities, etc., but they also feed into the eventual nostalgia that will come around years after a special era of football ends.
UNICEF Barcelona, Bwin Milan, AIG Manchester United, Samsung Chelsea, O2 Arsenal, the list goes on.
Ultimately, it may end up depending on whether your favorite team goes on to win trophies that causes you to eventually assimilate a corporation’s logo to those successes. Regardless, they represent a point in football history that we can look back on and remind ourselves of why we love this sport.
A special era of our lives doesn’t necessarily have to mean our favorite clubs happened to do well.
But it certainly helps.