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How did shirt sponsorship begin in football

Wednesday Aug 19, 2020

 Today, football is a multi-billion pound industry with clubs raking in huge sums of money and players able to command seven and eight-figure salaries for their work.

 This money comes from TV rights deals, ticket sales, merchandise contracts, concessions, and sponsorship. This last category feels like it’s been a part of football forever, but the reality is that players didn’t become walking billboards until way into the 20th century.


 Before then, the practice was actually banned.

 The time before sponsors

 Back in the early days of football, players wore plain shirts in the colour of their respective team. It wasn’t until August 1928 when individual player numbers would first make an appearance.

 For several more decades, players remained free from the logos and branding of private companies as the FA and their international counterparts refused to tarnish the purity of the sport.

 Kettering leading the charge

 In England, this began to change in 1976 when Kettering Town FC entered into a contract with a local tyre-fitting company. Their “four-figure contract” saw the club have the words “Kettering Tyres” printed across the players’ chests.

 The FA threatened the club with a £1,000 fine despite Kettering contesting that a ban on advertising was not written into the rules. The club later tried to get around the ban by changing the writing to just “Kettering T”, claiming it was referring to its own name. This ploy didn’t work though.

 While this sponsorship deal was short-lived, Kettering started a fire among the other teams that the FA could not extinguish. By the end of the following season, the governing body lifted its ban, although the size of the logo was restricted.

 Shortly afterwards, every club in the English First Division (the top-flight league at the time) had signed a shirt sponsor.

 Changing sponsors

 While heavy investment in football sponsorship has been consistent over time, the companies that have been forked over the largest sums of money have changed over time.
 In the 1980s, technology companies were the biggest spenders in football as companies like Cannon, Candy, and Hitachi spent millions to get their names in front of fans.

 More recently, energy drinks brands like Monster Energy and Red Bull have become more prominent. As too have online casinos and sports betting companies like STS, with many of these brands having their logos emblazoned on the chests of players, as well as elsewhere in the stadiums.

 Significant sums and expansion

 In the almost five decades that have passed since Kettering Town became the first English club to sign a shirt sponsor, the sums that change hands as part of these deals has increased dramatically.

 Shirt sponsorship deals in the Premier League are now worth over £200 million each year, the biggest of these being the £47 million per season deal signed between Manchester United and Chevrolet.

 More recently, clubs in the Premier League have been allowed a second sponsor on their kit. As of the 2017/18 season, team shirts have contained a logo on the sleeve in addition to the chest, creating more revenue opportunities.

 In the future, we’ll likely see this occur again as clubs are permitted more freedom to add more logos to their kits.

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