From part-worns to payday loans – a potted history of football shirt sponsorship

From part-worns to payday loans, football shirt sponsorship has had a colourful past – but it has never been as profitable to top flight clubs as it is today! Premier League clubs will pull in close to £100m in shirt sponsorship this season, so it’s no surprise that sponsor’s logos have become as much a part of kit design as the club crest. But this hasn’t always been the case, so before we look at the figures, let’s make sure you know your history…

The 1970’s

Breaking the bank? Companies will pay big money for shirt sponsorship!Many people credit Liverpool with the honour of being the first English club to have their shirts endorsed as in 1978 they famously struck a deal with Japanese electronics firm Hitachi. But, two years earlier, Kettering Town had set the sponsorship wheels in motion – almost literally – as on 24th January 1976 they ran out to face Bath City in shirts emblazoned with the legend ‘Kettering Tyres’. Four days later, the Football Association, probably mindful that they could be missing a money-making opportunity, promptly ordered the Poppies to remove the sponsorship from their shirt.

Not wanting to miss out on the much needed sponsorship money themselves, Kettering removed only the ‘yres’ from their shirt, leaving the words ‘Kettering T’ which, they argued, could just as easily stand for Kettering Town as Kettering Tyres. But the Football Association remained steadfast in their refusal to allow their members’ shirts be sullied in such a way and ordered a complete removal of the lettering on Kettering. Undeterred though, the Poppies, along with Bolton Wanderers and Derby County subsequently lobbied the FA to allow shirt sponsorship and the authorities finally relented on June 3rd 1977. Ironically, Kettering were unable to find a shirt sponsor for the following season!

The 1980’s

The 1980’s saw shirt sponsorship really take off in England but it continued to cause clashes between football clubs, the FA and the country’s major broadcasting companies. 1980/81 season saw Coventry City announce their first club sponsorship deal with local car manufacturer Talbot but, to placate the BBC and their ‘non-advertising’ sensibilities, the Sky Blues were banned from wearing their normal home shirt for televised matches as it had ‘Talbot’ boldly displayed on the chest.

In a Kettering-esque stroke of innovation Jimmy Hill, the then Coventry City chairman, commissioned a shirt with a massive ‘T’ incorporated into the design and also tried to change the team’s name to Coventry Talbot. Both ideas were rejected by the FA and it wasn’t until 1983/84 season that clubs could display shirt sponsors in televised games. Even then, certain conditions were imposed upon clubs as shirt sponsors could be no bigger than 16 square inches for televised games whereas they could be up to 32 square inches for non-televised games.

Surprising sponsorship deals.

With the ban lifted on shirt sponsorship, every Football League club would soon be promoting a brand or service on the front of their tops. Some strange sponsorship deals include West Brom’s ‘No Smoking’ logo of the 1980’s, Tranmere’s deal with Wirral Borough Council and Scarborough bearing the legend ‘Black Death vodka’ on their shirts.

But it seems appropriate that potentially the strangest sponsorship deal, and one that could have led to an international incident, was struck by Kettering Town. For their 2009 FA Cup third round tie against Eastwood Town, the Poppies sported the legend ‘Palestine Aid’ in support of Interpal, a charity organisation that distributes aid in the Palestinian territories.

Imraan Ladak, the Kettering chairman had seen similarly humanitarian sponsorship deals struck at Barcelona (Unicef) and Aston Villa (Acorns) and decided he would use his club’s shirts in a similarly altruistic way. But things turned sour after Interpal’s charity account with the Islamic Bank of Britain was ordered to be closed as they were under investigation by the UK Charity Commission for indirect links to Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation! No link between Interpal and Hamas was ever confirmed but as of May 2010 Kettering Town were offering shirt sponsorship opportunities via their official website.

The current 2010/11 season has seen Tottenham lead the way in shirt sponsorship innovation as they announced a duel deal, with one company sponsoring them for Premier League games and another sponsoring them for cup games, including their Champions League matches.

This ground-breaking deal looks set to land Spurs £10 million a season from software company Autonomy as their logo will be displayed for Premier League games and a further £5 million per season from Investec, an international specialist bank that will be advertised in every cup game that Spurs take part in. All of which brings us nicely around to…

2010/11 – a record breaking season

This season will see an unprecedented amount of sponsorship money flowing into English football as the 20 Premier League clubs have brokered shirt deals worth a world record £99.75 million. This is up from last season’s total of £78.1 million and significantly eclipses the Bundesliga’s former record-breaking total of around £83 million. All of which could lead you to believe that Premier League clubs are in exceptionally rude health but, in reality, the shirt sponsorship revenue figures only serve to highlight the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

For example, £71.3 million, which is nearly three-quarters of the total amount generated from shirt sponsorship, is divided amongst just five clubs: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City. Furthermore, thanks to their record-breaking deals with two international banks, Liverpool and Manchester United account for over half of that £71.3 million.

At the other end of the scale, five clubs are pulling in less than £1m a season with Blackpool’s controversial payday loan shirt sponsors paying just £500,000 per season.

The question now is, with such a disparity in revenue and the bigger teams demanding huge sums, how long before an English league club becomes so intrinsically linked with a sponsor that it changes it’s name? Emirates Arsenal anyone?!

Article written by Les Roberts, part time kit spotter and full time writer for

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