When you think of sponsorship, it’s likely that the first thing that comes to mind is Sport. Let’s be honest, the two go hand in hand. There’s barely a sport out there in this day and age that doesn’t (or hasn’t) relied on sponsorship in order to survive.
Without sponsorship many sports, teams and athletes quite simply would not have been able to rise to the heights they’re at today, and without the exposure, the same can be said for many of the brands that have shelled out vast expenses to get their brand out there in front of millions.
Here we’ve compiled a list of five sports that aren’t just tied to sponsorship in some way or another but are heavily influenced by it to the extent that the money involved has helped shape the sport and push it to an entirely new level.
Football and betting, a match made in heaven?
We couldn’t start this list without the most obvious entry, football. There has consistently been sponsorship in football since the mid-1970s. You might think a behemoth of the game in the seventies such as Leeds United, Derby County, Nottingham Forest or Liverpool would be the first teams to introduce sponsorship, but it was in fact lowly Kettering Town.
The FA swiftly ordered Kettering to remove their shirt sponsorship promoting local firm Kettering Tyres, fining the club in the process. A year later both Derby and Bolton Wanderers applied to carry sponsorship on their own kits having clearly taken inspiration from the Poppies.
From the early 1980s onwards sponsorship really came into the game with Canon being the first multinational to sponsor an English league, in addition to this most teams now featured prominent kit sponsorship. Naturally year on year the money in sponsorship grew as advertisers jostled for prime sponsorship opportunities as football began to be televised more often.
By 2020 the annual combined value of shirt sponsorship in the Premier League alone was a mind-boggling €398 million, with an increasingly growing portion of this advertising money coming from gambling companies.
In the 2020/21 football season eight of the 20 Premier League teams were sponsored by gambling firms, whilst 50% of all of the clubs in the Championship (which itself is sponsored by SkyBet) are sponsored by gambling firms.
There’s currently a great debate tearing through football and politics as to whether gambling sponsors on shirts should be banned altogether, however, as problematic as this intense advertising may (or may not) be, senior officials in football have argued that removing gambling sponsorships would be catastrophic, with smaller clubs potentially suffering immeasurable financial woes by losing this key sponsorship.
Formula One – Tobacco reigns supreme
Anyone that’s ever watched a Formula One race at least once will be well aware that Formula One is all about the money… Everything is covered in branding! A sport as expensive to run like this one absolutely relies on big-money contributions from big-money sponsors.
In this day and age all 10 Formula One team have one primary sponsor and roughly fifteen or so additional sponsors, each of whom gets their branding plastered somewhere prominent, whether that be on the car itself, the driver’s helmet, their racing suit or elsewhere.
From 1968 up until the mid-2000s Formula One teams relied heavily on advertising from tobacco companies (brands such as Marlboro, Gold Leaf and John Player Special were all mainstays for most teams). It wasn’t until the EU introduced a blanket ban on tobacco advertising that this changed and these somewhat iconic brands disappeared from liveries.
It’s always been considered quite a strange anomaly that gambling companies haven’t really stepped in to fill that void left behind by tobacco, who other than a small handful of mega brands can afford to throw around money quite like they could for such prominent advertising space?
Things are starting to change though, in 2018 Racing Point (now Aston Martin) were sponsored by SportPesa and more recently, in May 2021, McLaren joined forces with PartyCasino in a deal that saw the casino’s branding etched onto the race car’s protective halo and driver helmets.
Darts – Sponsorship money leads to growth
Darts is not a sport that has always made people think of big money sponsorship, in fact, in the early days of darts rise to prominence everything was very spit and sawdust, with key sponsors being tobacco and alcohol companies, all synonymous with sitting in a murky northern pub.
In the early 1990s the top 16 professional darts players took the decision to break away from the British Darts Organisation in order to increase the profile of the sport and shed their somewhat uncool reputation, thus forming the Worlds Darts Council.
The WDC (now the PDC) introduced a multitude of new competitions and signed a deal with Sky Sports that has seen the sport televised live for over 25 years. In 2001 legendary boxing and snooker promoter Barry Hearn took the reins of the governing body and transformed the sport into something never seen before.
In the mid 2000s Thursdays nights became a mainstay in the sporting calendar as the hugely popular Premier League Darts was introduced, wowing sports fans and advertisers alike with exciting entertainment and incredibly high production values. It’s about this time that the World Darts Championship was given the same splash of glamour.
With all eyes on the growing sport, big money sponsors stepped in to get their name out there, these include gambling companies 888.com, BetWay, UniBet, Ladbrokes and William Hill. The more money these companies piled in, the bigger and better things became for the PDC.
Long gone are the days that darts were played in small smoke-filled venues in front of a hundred or so people, thanks to innovative thinking and big money sponsors the darts is played in packed out arenas in front of tens of thousands of die-hard fans.
Snooker – Following in the footsteps of darts?
Snooker is another sport that will leave many people scratching their heads as to why sponsors have been so keen to get aboard what is considered by many one of the most boring sports.
You won’t be surprised to hear that snooker has risen in popularity for one reason, and one reason only… That man again Barry Hearn. In 1982 Hearn formed Matchroom Sport Limited and turned his attention to building a stable of talented snooker players who could impress audiences on nationally televised events.
During his rebuilding process, he managed to create international stars such as Ronnie O’Sullivan, a man who needs no introduction. The bad boy of Snooker helped in raising the profile of the sport alongside Hearn who in his time in charge increased the number of tournaments from just 6 per year to in excess of 25.
With a now huge number of globally watched tournaments, advertisers were climbing over each other to be named primary sponsors of tournaments including Imperial Tobacco, Betfair, Betfred, Dafabet, Coral and William Hill, all advertisers that could afford to open the purse strings.
The sport might not necessarily be any more exciting as a result of the money that’s come in from big-money sponsors, but production values and awareness of the sport have, and that can only be a good thing going forward for snooker and the players, who have begun receiving big money sponsorship deals themselves.
Darts might not reach the same popularity as darts has, but that’s not necessarily because of money, branding or anything similar, it’s purely down to the slow-paced nature of the game.
Boxing – The ultimate money sport?
There are few sports that can captivate such a large audience as boxing can, turning millions of people’s undivided attention to just two individuals for twelve heartstopping rounds. For roughly 17 minutes the world’s eyes are glued to the screen, looking away for just a few seconds could be the difference between missing that all-important knockout punch.
Big brands and advertisers are no fools, they know that in those 17 minutes they could potentially propel their band from an unknown entity into a superbrand overnight.
The bigger the boxer, the bigger the brands… In 2019 British heavyweight Anthony Joshua was paid £8.3 million to endorse a whole host of companies including Under Armour, Land Rover, Hugo Boss, British Airways, Beats and JD. What’s most amazing about this is that not even half of these brands were actually showcased by Joshua during the fight itself.
There are multiple opportunities leading up to the fight itself for brands to earn some serious exposure, such as weigh-ins and press conferences, which are often just as explosive as the in-ring action, meaning plenty of people tune in for something that should be quite mundane.
Then there are those that’ll pay big bucks to have their logo etched onto the shorts of boxers or even more impressively the boxing ring itself. Back in 2015 it was revealed that Manny Pacquiao shattered records when a handful of brands including Air Asia and Nike paid in excess of $2.3 million to get their logos on his shorts for their highly anticipated 2015 fight billed as the ‘Fight of the Century’.