Premier League – Back with a Bang and a New Brand
No More Title Sponsorship
This year the Premier League enters a landmark 25th year and for the first time since its inaugural 1992-93 season the league is void of title sponsorship. Last June the Football Association announced intentions not to renew a longstanding partnership with Barclays, who previously held sponsorship rights since 2001. Instead the FA has opted to create a ‘clean’ brand for the competition moving forward, in hopes of mirroring the image of major American sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA.
Corporate sponsorship significantly affects the look of a brand and how it is perceived by consumers, with title sponsorship in particular providing advantages and disadvantages for England’s premier football league. On one hand a significant sum of money is received for associating with another brand, but at the same time a certain amount of freedom is lost due to the inevitable obligation of dual-branding expected by sponsors. Removing the shackles of title sponsorship results in the world’s most lucrative football league existing simply as the Premier League, free to grow, evolve and independently create a lasting impression upon the sporting world.
Break Away from the Football League
The emergence of paid-for satellite TV in the early 90s presented an opportunity for English football to be viewed on a global scale, which consequently attracted higher advertising and sponsorship revenues for the clubs and individual players involved. To capitalise, the highest ranking football clubs across the land broke away from the old league in order to create a new top tier league. The new league introduced rules in favour of the clubs, such as the ability to vote on major league decisions on a club-by-club basis. Most importantly, earnings under the new system would only be distributed amongst current members of the league, as opposed to the lower leagues also.
A fight to televise FA Premier League matches for a five-year period kicked off with an initial bid of £205 million from previous top-flight rights holders ITV. In the face of competition an increased bid of £262 million followed, but ultimately ITV lost out to a bid of £304 million from British Sky Broadcasting. At the time Sky satellite television was a loss-making service, meaning Rupert Murdoch did not hesitate in seizing the opportunity to increase Sky’s customer base. Describing the Premier League deal as a “battering ram” for pay-television, Murdoch’s company would go on to hold a monopoly over Premier League television rights until the 2007-08 season, when the European Commission ruled in favour of the consumer, claiming that exclusivity of rights was against the interest of competition
Richest Football League in the World
Sky’s monopoly over football television rights may have come to an end but it was their continued partnership with the Premier League that led to an increased value of live televised matches and broadcasting rights. Consequently, the Premier League has become the richest football league in the world by revenue, sitting behind only America’s NFL, MLB and NBA if all professional sports leagues are considered.
Corporate sponsorship made up a crucial part of Premier League revenue in its early days as record-breaking amounts were exchanged for the privilege. Carling were the first to strike up an agreement in time for the 1993-94 season, paying £12 million over a four-year term. Triple that amount was needed to secure Carling a four-year extension, before Barclays took over sponsorship duties in 2001. Initially a three-year agreement cost Barclays £48 million, but as was the case with Carling, the price of sponsorship rose, meaning subsequent extensions set the banking giant back £57 million in 2004 and £120 million in 2012.
Adapting for the New Era
Apart from a few sponsorship changes, largely the Premier League brand has remained unchanged since 1992, yet many clubs have evolved their brand and thus experienced a radical change in fortune. At one time it could be argued that Liverpool were the most popular team in the land, but footballing mega-brands Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and others would disagree as they compete with each other for success on and off the pitch. Such clubs have successfully adapted into multi-million pound businesses whose priority it is to generate profit. A popular commercial trend seen off the pitch nowadays sees all twenty clubs linking with an official betting partner, for example Tips Daddy, to promote a plethora of football tips that consumers hope to win on. If for example a newly promoted club did not follow suit, a large slice of income is gifted to its savvier rivals. Ultimately everything must be done for a club to stay ahead of its rivals, whether boosting shirt sales by signing a player popular in certain markets or embarking on a foreign pre-season tour.
As clubs realise and embrace their earning potential, the league is equally attempting to capitalise on its worldwide popularity. In the past, heavy reliance on title sponsorship and broadcasting deals put the league at risk of becoming stale, but a reinvigorated look serves to breathe new life into the brand. Rivals for the coveted title of richest football league are numerous, meaning the Premier League must remain ‘on the ball’ to fend off established giants Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A, as well as relative newcomers such as the Chinese Super League, whose penchant for throwing money around seems limitless.
A New Direction
As expected, a variation of the famous lion logo forms the main focus of the Premier League’s colourful new identity. The new design is simpler and more vibrant, as is common for rebrands in the digital era, making it more attractive to smartphones and social media platforms. What’s more, uniform colours of navy blue and white are gone in favour of a selection of logos sporting vivid new colour schemes. Originally a media campaign was planned to coincide with the start of the new football season but reports cite January as a more realistic time frame. Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R will be handling media duties after winning the right over Adam & Eve/DDB and M&C Saatchi earlier this year. In support of the revamp, marketing bosses will look to spend in excess of the estimated £22 million media budget spent last season, as the Premier League moves for the first time into production of above the line advertising.
The main aim of digitalising the Premier League brand relates to embracing the growing online community of football fans, which Martin Axford, Head of Digital at the Premier League, labels a “mobile-first generation”. Spearheaded by a new mobile app, Axford is offering what he calls a “mobile-first solution” by positioning official Premier League outlets as the go-to source for football. Moving forward the Premier League will package live match updates, statistics, highlights, and fantasy league all in one place, as opposed to forcing fans elsewhere to fulfil their football fix.
Will Fans Readily Accept Change?
Of course altering a well-known brand can have positive and negative consequences. Largely a brand can expect a new lease of life following a change in appearance, but the alternative may be damaging towards the brand. In today’s age of social media, fans quickly take to the likes of Twitter to vent their frustrations, and unfortunately this type of word of mouth communication spreads the quickest. Take for example the new Premier League Man of the Match trophy that has come under scrutiny by a selection of loyal Twitter followers. Labelling the colour scheme childish and likening the new award to an aftershave box are amongst the highlights, and not exactly the reaction Premier League bosses were hoping for from die hard supporters.
Alternative Sponsorship Opportunities
Prior to shedding title sponsorship, the Premier League concentrated on a small selection of brand partnerships, which could even be described as necessary arrangements. For instance, Nike supply the most integral part of any Premier League game of football, the official match ball. From 2016/17 onwards a variety of relatively smaller partnerships have been forged to fill the gap in revenue left by a lack of title sponsorship. Thus the list of official sponsors has grown this season; EA Sports has expanded a long standing partnership to become lead technology partner, Carling provide official match day refreshment, Barclays provide official banking services and Tag Heuer take on the role of official timekeeper. On the licensing side, Topps and SportingiD are the brands to look out for.
Club bosses will be pleased to know that individual club partnerships are still permitted under the league’s new commercial direction. For instance, Everton FC employ Chang Beer as their shirt sponsor, in addition to a host of other partnerships including William Hill, MasterCard and Avon Tyres. Another popular avenue clubs may go down to cash-in include stadium naming rights, which are utilised at Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City to name a few.
A Worldwide Brand is Created
Significant changes to an already well-loved brand undoubtedly ruffles the feathers of an established audience, but there is no doubt change is the catalyst needed for the Premier League to evolve into a truly worldwide sporting brand. Global broadcasting, merchandising and licensing revenue is bound to surpass previous title sponsorship income and soon the Premier League lion will be mentioned in the same vein as the Olympic rings. If true, many will question why the bold step of re-branding was not taken earlier.